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3 Myths & Truths about the Challenger Sales Persona

If you’re in sales, you’ve probably heard of the Challenger persona – from the book “The Challenger Sale” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. Their research showed that it’s not relationship-building that makes a great salesperson, as traditionally believed, but challenging the customer that leads to consistent, high performance.

The Challenger takes control of the conversation with the customer. The Challenger is not afraid to insert themselves and push back. Most people would agree on that point, but it’s also where the confusion begins about what the Challenger actually is.

As a corporate sales trainer, the Challenger often comes up in my work with clients. Some people readily embrace the persona, while others reject it based on misconceptions. So here are three common myths about the Challenger debunked:

Myth #1: The Challenger is aggressive and intense.

Many people hear “challenger” and immediately think “bull” – aggressive, intimidating, unwavering. These characteristics tend not to be desirable socially, and so some salespeople, who are probably still more focused on relationship-building, reject the Challenger persona, claiming it doesn’t fit their style and even makes them uncomfortable. But this is not what the Challenger is at all.

Truth: The Challenger is soft and curious.

The Challenger actually is a thoughtful, intentional speaker and engager. The Challenger asks how and why questions that reveal the specific needs and wants of the customer and uncovers any misunderstandings about the product (or service) and any hesitation to buy. Being a good listener is part of the Challenger’s strategy for success.

Myth #2: The Challenger argues with the customer.

People think the Challenger shuts down the customer to prove a point and that, by being condescending, the Challenger demonstrates expertise and wins the sale. In reality, this approach makes the salesperson come across as a jerk and closes communication – and it’s not really channeling the Challenger.

Truth: The Challenger educates the customer.

Even if the customer insists they know everything about the product or service and just wants to see the pricing, the Challenger will pump the brakes and ask the customer what they’re really looking for. This creates space for the customer to explain their needs and wants for the Challenger to, in turn, explain how their product or service fulfills those requirements and desires. The Challenger wants to help the customer understand all the points of value that the product offers. In this way, the Challenger challenges the status quo and what misconceptions the customer might have. It also sheds light on the value the customer might not have previously known about.

Myth #3: The Challenger is about short-term success.

Some people believe that the Challenger is aggressive in order to push through an easy sale.

Truth: The Challenger cares about long-term success.

Because the Challenger is a listener and a teacher, the Challenger also is a collaborator, a partner in their customer’s success. The Challenger wants the customer to understand all their options and choose the best solution to their problem – and be equipped with enough knowledge to possibly purchase an upgrade whenever they need it in the future. The Challenger wants the customer to be successful in using the product or service, so the customer will come back later to buy again.

It might be a surprise to some that the Challenger is not an opponent but an ally. The Challenger does not challenge the customer as a person but their misconceptions. The Challenger helps the customer understand value, and building relationships naturally follows. As salespeople, we have to remember that we are not vending machines. We are there to be guides who challenge perceptions the customer has and help them find the right solutions. That is what builds a successful career in sales.


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