Bullish on Books Blog

Authors of ‘The Challenger Sale’ say Building Relationships No Longer Works

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson |Co-authors of “The Challenger Sale"

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson co-authors of “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.”

The Challenger Sale - Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson

There is a very good chance that if you work in B2B sales, your company stresses building relationships with customers to help boost your numbers. "The Challenger Sale,” explains why this traditional approach no longer works in the world of sophisticated and risk-averse B2B customers.

In a study of more than 6,000 sales professionals, the reps who followed traditional relationship building tactics, like getting along with everyone and being generous about giving time to help others, came in dead last and represented only seven percent of all star performers in our research.

In contrast, those sales professionals who challenged customers thinking and offered new insights or solutions proved to be four times more likely to be a top performer and represented nearly 40 percent of all star performers in the study.

This disparity between traditional relationship building and how challengers sell becomes even more dramatic in a complex solution sales environment where Challengers represent 54 percent of star performers and Relationship Builders barely make a mark.

The good news for salespeople is that Challenger reps are not only born, but they can also be made. In fact, up to 80 percent of sales reps have the ability to become Challenger reps when armed with the right tools, training and coaching.

Ultimately, your Challenger reps will be defined not by overly aggressive behavior with customers, but by their ability to teach new insights, tailor the message for different types of stakeholders and take control of the overall sales conversation.


Challenger reps focus the sales conversation to deliver provocative insights that can help customers make money or save money. Using these insights, Challenger reps establish their unique ability to create value in the eyes of the customer. While customers may be hesitant, Challenger reps are not easily dissuaded and continue to provide solutions that make their customers think differently and recognize them as trusted partners.


Challengers have a finely tuned sense of each customer’s objectives and value drivers. They use this knowledge to tailor messages that will meet customer needs, as well as other important internal stakeholders. Rather than ask customers about how a deal is going to get done, Challenger reps take initiative and guide customers through the purchasing process, maintaining momentum by encouraging their customers to engage the right internal leadership at the right time with the right message.

Take Control

Challengers are assertive, but not overly aggressive. They are unlikely to comply with every customer request and are comfortable using constructive tension to press customers about their thinking during negotiations. Challengers also take control in negotiating commercial details — especially at that crucial moment when the customers are looking for discounts. These reps table the discount request altogether and instead focus on the value they're providing. Challengers acknowledge the request for a price concession, but defer a decision and, if pressed, offer an alternative to close the sale.

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson the co-authors of “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation” are managing directors at CEB.

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