The Challenger Sale

How insight-driven sales organizations maintain their competitive edge in today’s information-rich buying environment

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    Why Challenger?

    A decade ago, we shared our groundbreaking Challenger™ sales research with the world. This research revealed a distinct sales profile characterized by a specific set of skills and behaviors that distinguish high-performing sellers. This challenger sales rep— defined by the ability to get customers to think about their own business in a different light — stood head and shoulders above the rest when it came to high performance during complex sales.

    Although the challenger sales model still shows promise...

    We couldn’t help but ask ourselves what we might be missing given current-day buying and selling dynamics. In 2019, Gartner research identified three seller approaches to information and found one clear winner: Sense Making.

    The Gartner Sense Making approach is predicated on the careful sharing of information to guide customers toward a clearer, more rationalized view of the purchase decision.

    Sellers who adopt a Sense Making approach are 26% more likely to close high-quality, low-regret deals.

    We find ourselves in an era of too much of a good thing — namely too much good, credible, believable, and fact-based information. This abundance of high-quality information presents a problem for not only sellers but also buyers. While suppliers struggle to differentiate themselves on ideas and insights alone, customers also struggle to process and synthesize the information available to confidently make decisions.

    Nick Toman

    Distinguished VP, Research, Gartner

    Three questions sales leaders frequently ask prompted the research leading to Challenger and Sense Making:

    1. What sets the best sales reps apart in a complex sales environment?
    2. How do you replicate winning sales behaviors?
    3. How do you create a differentiated sales experience? 

    Supplier out ("Challenger™") vs. Marketing in view (Sense Making).

    How does Sense Making differ from Challenger selling?

    Challenger and Sense Making operate independently, where Challenger is based on a supplier-out view, capturing how the best sales reps explain what makes their offerings distinctive and powerfully sharing your capabilities with the customer. Sense Making is based on a market-in view from the customer’s perspective. With Sense Making, sellers essentially move their chair to the customer’s side of the table, jointly “look out at the market” with the customer, noting the variety of good — if conflicting — information and possibilities, and admit it may seem like a mess. Sense Making is more of an overall posture taken with the customer.

    Is the challenger sales methodology still effective?

    We can definitively say that Challenger, while a decade old, is still highly effective. However, just as products and solutions face increasing commoditization, we are also seeing “good enough” credible information crowd out even the best sales messages. We advocate for having a sharp sales message — at best, a true commercial insight. But that’s increasingly necessary, and not nearly as sufficient as it once was.

    When should you implement Sense Making vs. Challenger?

    Our answer here depends on how mature your organization is in deploying Challenger. We see three distinctive segments:

    Companies that have been on the Challenger journey for some time.

    These organizations have conducted multiple rollouts, have strong commercial insights, and have seen the number of Challenger sellers within their sales ranks increase over time. This is the most complex scenario in which to introduce Sense Making; as such, we encourage a discussion with our team. Generally speaking, we’re seeing many clients view Sense Making as the preferred way to improve the efficacy of Challenger without introducing extensive change management.

    Companies that have recently initiated their Challenger journey.

    For these firms, which are typically in their first or second year of a Challenger rollout, we believe that development of commercial insights is still the most critical step. When the appropriate moment arises to help customers think differently about their business, you want your team armed with sharp insights. Without a portfolio of commercial insights, you’ll have no grounds on which to challenge customer thinking. However, we also believe that Sense Making should be factored into the initial training, helping reps better empathize with customers.

    Companies that have not implemented Challenger.

    For these organizations, we believe Sense Making presents a vastly improved means to make sure your message and insights are more clearly rationalized and understood by the customer — even if they’re not presented as commercial insights. Sense Making carries little risk of upsetting customers, as it doesn’t require challenging them. Our data shows customers have strong receptivity to such a commercial approach. Our guidance is to focus on a more narrowly scoped training and enablement initiative to introduce this idea to your teams and incorporate it within your sales process, account planning and opportunity management.

    Gartner Challenger and Sense Making Experts

    Brent Adamson

    Brent Adamson
    Distinguished VP, Advisory, and Co-Author of “The Challenger Sale” and “The Challenger Customer

    Nick Toman

    Nick Toman
    GVP and Co-Author of “The Challenger Customer

    Nick Toman

    Rick Karlton
    Managing VP
    Nick Toman

    Tom Cosgrove
    Senior Director
    Jonathan Grieb

    Alice Walmesley
    Director

    Brian C Cain
    Director
    Carlos Guerrero

    Alex De Fursac Gash
    Senior Director
    Matt Kiel

    Daniel Hawkyard
    Principal
    Liam Kelly

    Scott Collins
    Vice President
    Liam Kelly

    Liam Kelly
    Vice President

    Elizabeth Beard 
    Director

    Danielle Mckinley
    Director

    Matt Kiel
    Vice President

    Jonathan Grieb
    Managing Vice President

    Carlos Guerrero
    Senior Director

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