In 2009, in the wake of the global financial crisis, most salespeople were struggling. But some reps doing business-to-business sales, in which one company sells to other companies, were thriving despite the downturn. Researchers Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, and their colleagues at Corporate Executive Board (CEB), which studies and advises businesses, set out to learn what distinguished these high-performance salespeople. After surveying thousands of sales managers worldwide, Dixon and Adamson discovered something surprising: So-called “relationship builders,” reps who bend over backwards to please potential clients, are actually the worst salespeople. The most successful are “challengers” — sales reps who aren’t afraid to challenge the customer’s beliefs about their business, who drive a hard bargain financially, and who take control of the interaction, rather than passively following the customer’s lead.
The Challenger Sale lays out the behaviors that are key to challengers’ success: teaching companies they have a problem only the supplier can solve, tailoring the message to various stakeholders in the company, and taking control of the sale. These behaviors — and the assertiveness required to put them into practice — may come more naturally to some salespeople than others, but they are tactics any rep can master for great selling success.