Build valuable customer relationships by challenging them


Christoffer Hansen


Build valuable customer relationships by challenging them


Christoffer Hansen

Research from Gartner by Dixon & Adamson (2011) shows that customers are already more than halfway through the purchase process before even meeting a sales representative. Customers often already have an idea about what products and features they are looking to purchase. This means that sellers risk becoming irrelevant if they do not deliver an experience that exceeds products and winning a sale.

By disrupting the customers thinking and teaching them new ideas, sales organizations can increase business. In many sales organizations, a few sales representatives drive most of the sales. What is it that these sales reps are doing so well that other members of the sales team can adapt to their sales strategy?


There are five distinct profiles of sales representatives

The most common sales representative profile is the relationship builder. They want to satisfy the customers’ demands and have enjoyable conversations. But even if they are the most common, they have the fewest “star” sales representatives in this profile atonly 7%.

The average performer comprises similar amounts across all five types, but the challenger excels above all the others in achieving star sales performance. Nearly 40% of star sales reps were in the challenger category, and in complex sales situations, that number rose to 54%.

Source: Gartner (2019)


The challengers understand their customers’ business that they can use to deliver new insights and then change the way the customer is thinking. Contrary to the relationship builder, challengers are useful because they create constructive tension.


The challenger representative has three distinct skills:

  1. They teach for differentiation based on their knowledge of the customers’ business and their unique perspective, using their ability for two-way dialogue during the sales interaction.
  2. They tailor their message based on their keen sense of their customer’s economic and value drivers .
  3. They take control of the sale because they are comfortable discussing money and can pressure the customer to close.

Sales management needs to understand that not all sales representatives can adapt to the challenger’s ways by themselves. The entire organization needs to be behind the approach to provide the support the sales reps need to succeed.


The sensemaking approach is the sharing of information to guide customers toward a more transparent, more rationalized view of the purchase decision. Whether sales reps are Challengers or not, the approach they use to engage the customer with information is a critical determinant of sales success. Given the circulation of information in the marketplace, sales reps must help customers prioritize sources, combine contradictions, and qualify trade-off.

With sense making the customers are more comfortable and more likely to feel confident about the information they are receiving about the purchase they are about to undergo. This translates into high quality and low regret deals than other approaches.


Sales strategy is changing, and the challenger approach is increasing in popularity. That means that we are transitioning from pitching to commercial teaching.

A good challenger redefines the customers’ needs by providing insights, avoids pitfalls, and offers products or services that the customer does not even know exists. Applying the lessons of the challenger sale and commercial teaching to your presentation adds insight, persuasiveness, and a more memorable performance.

  1. The warmer
    To get your audience to pay attention to your message, try showing them that you understand them.

    • Establish relevance – Address typical problems they might be experiencing to show that you understand where they are coming from
    • Demonstrate expertise – Demonstrate your experience, which shows your understanding of what they are dealing with in combination with professional visuals
    • Create curiosity – Keep the content sparsely to create suspense and room for discourse
    • Use interactivity – Interactive content is a great way to get the audience talking.
  • Set the tone with thoughtful conversation instead of self-promotion
  1. The Reframe
    Do not just respond to your audiences’ needs, redefine them.

    • Stay relevant – Address the concerns they found most consistent during the warmer
    • Be surprising – Challenge them with a new point-of-view to their problem
    • Show excitement – Use bold graphics and animation
    • Deliver with poise – Practice in the mirror.
  • If all goes well, your audience should go from mildly curious to paying attention.
  1. Rational drowning
    Back up your reframe with data. Give them the facts.

    • Make explicit connections – Combine the visuals from the warmer and reframe for a clear storyline
    • Visualize data – Use graphics that have a clear connection with the information making it more memorable
    • Check for understanding – Ask if everyone understands and clarify if they do not
    • Keep it rational – Every visual should hold a purpose.
  • By presenting information in an engaging format, they will value your insight.
  1. Emotional Impact
    Your audience will feel personally connected to your presentation because you are giving them a scenario that resembles their situation.

    • Relate to pain – Come from your ability to connect your story to the pain they feel, so make sure the visuals help you do that
    • Do your homework – Research will help you anticipate the customers’ challenges
    • Tell a story – To illustrate the lesson.
    • Use infographics – Customers remember images longer than words.
  2. A new Way
    The audiences see that it will get better.

    • Do not get promotional – Connect the visuals from the previous sections to the solution
    • Alternate endings – You just created Emotional Impact by telling a story with an unhappy ending. Now revise the same visuals to glimpse into a better future if they decide to take action
    • It is still about them – Make them think that “That is how we should be doing it!”
    • Take your time – You are here to explain how they can do things better. Wait until they get it before moving on.
  • By presenting information in an engaging format, they will value your insight.


Customers often already know what they are looking to purchase before they even meet a sales representative. With facts and data, you can challenge the customers’ ideas of what they are looking for and aim them towards purchasing your solution.

By doing this, your sales organization can increase business and build more valuable relationships with your customers.

The challenger sales model is the most successful one in sales, but be careful about challenging your customers too hard, we do not want to lose them to the

If you want to learn more about the Challenger sales model and how it can increase revenue, feel free to reach out to us at Hanei Consulting Group.

If you want to learn more about the Challenger sales model and how it can increase revenue, feel free to reach out to us at Hanei Consulting Group.

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