The Challenger Sale: My Thoughts From A Sales Enablement Perspective – Part 2

Here you go – the second part of my little series about The Challenger Sale. Today it’s about the so-called death of solution selling.

As we discussed in part 1: The Challenger Sale provides a broad range of valuable, very interesting research results and insights on sales behaviors – what are successful behaviors, what’s not working anymore and and what are the behaviors that lead to high performance. Let’s think about that for a moment: How can a behavior-based approach lead to the death of a selling strategy which has a totally different design point?
Maybe that’s only me, but I don’t feel very comfortable with that.

Let’s focus on the evolution of sales, and then let’s discuss the conclusions.

Product selling is focused on what a product is. That worked pretty well, especially for products without a big need for complex knowledge transfer. It worked also pretty well before the buyer could gather all this information online. Now, that’s going to be transactional business and we need to design this business as efficient as possible, with lean integrated processes from prospect to contract, with process automation technologies, inside sales etc.

Solution selling is focused on how to solve customer problems and how to create a measurable result regarding the solved problem. The solution sales based value messages explain what a solution does (to address a specific problem or challenge).
There is often one big confusion: What are we talking about – are we talking about vendor  solutions or about customer solutions? Didn’t too many vendors just change the label? Didn’t too many vendors just try to sell their (!) solutions as they sold their products?

Outcome selling or result selling, is the next level of the selling evolution.
The focus is on the customer’s desired business outcomes, which means to think about how to improve the main customer business drivers, which is often only possible if we as a vendor really understand the business models our customers have with their customers. The outcome selling based value messages are focused on what a tailored approach means for the customer business results – and not what it does and not what it is – that’s backup information.

So what? The main difference between solution and outcome selling is, from what a solution does to solve a specific problem to what a solution or a tailored business approach means in terms of business outcomes, business results. Both selling strategies have a solution in mind, but with a different purpose. If implemented the right way, it’s always about the customer’s solution to solve a problem, to master a challenge or to drive a specific business outcome. Defining solution selling from the vendor’s portfolio of products and services, from the inside to the outside, was probably never a very successful and sustainable idea. Because – as we know from a variety of research results – customers don’t care. They don’t care, what we offer as packaged, bundled solutions. They value, if vendors can map their capabilities to their specific problems and challenges, and they value if a vendor can develop a shared vision of success with them, to drive their outcomes. That’s valuable and that makes a difference for them – if we show what it means for them, not what it is or what it does.

From my point of view, it’s pretty obvious, that we need a variety of challenger skills for different selling strategies and different selling situations – to create customer value regarding their specific business challenges, to drive their business outcomes, to create a shared vision of success. But, let’s avoid to pronounce solution selling dead, because:

First, it’s strange for me to promote a behavior-oriented approach – which is actually valuable – and declare at the same time the end a solution selling, which has a totally different design point. For me, that devaluates the initial research value.
Second – yes, it’s true that many organizations implemented solution selling the wrong way, from the inside to the outside, based on their own set of solutions. It’s also true that many organizations didn’t focus on ongoing improvement efforts.
But, most of the time, it’s not the “dead” selling strategy or the “wrong” sales process – the root causes are bad implementation and bad execution. Is it fair to blame the whole approach for that? Of course not, but we can blame bad implementation and bad execution, missing vision and missing leadership, as most of the time.
Additionally, let’s talk about the solution selling questions. Are these questions still necessary, yes or no? Of course, they are. All these questions have to be answered – but nowadays no longer in front of the customer – that’s a waste of time and of no value for them. This is the sales person’s homework and has to be done before the conversation, whether you are a challenger or not.

Furthermore, none of these selling strategies is dead. I truly believe that we need a portfolio of different selling strategies. The real challenge for us practitioners is, to analyze our different revenue streams, the transactional, the solution and the outcome related business, to predict the future of these revenue streams and to make the right decisions for a  mid- and longterm transformation journey. What will be transactional and highly automated business tomorrow, and which part of the solution business will be transactional tomorrow? How to enable a sales force to grow the complex business area to drive customer outcomes?

Two dimensions are mandatory for such an analysis. First, it’s the complexity of the portfolio, connected to the scope of problems you address at your customers and the increasing complexity of business related knowledge that has to be shared. This dimension describes your set of selling strategies. Second, it’s about your buyer role map, the different functions and altitude levels that have to be addressed. Third, it’s about the right predictions of growing and shrinking revenue streams, per regions. Fourth, maybe the most important issue from an enablement perspective, it’s about the comfort zone of your sales force. Where to start, where are low hanging fruits and quick wins?  All that’s easier said than done – and there is no silver bullet to do so – nowhere.
Now, we can talk about how to implement the challenger skills in which ways, for each of the relevant selling strategies. Let’s think about where do we need them and in which characteristic.

Mastering all these issues, that’s science and art at the same time. That’s of real value for a sales organization. It’s where the rubber meets the road, as my good friend Dave Brock would say. It requires very experienced practitioners and executives with a very deep knowledge and holistic understanding of the entire selling system, the different comfort zones of sellers and sales managers to drive change in the right direction.

Let’s focus on the entire selling system, identify the relevant selling strategies and then let’s implement the relevant challenger skills along the customer’s journey, considering the buyer role map and then, let’s integrate all of that into an account management framework (see part 1).


  1. Tamara, you are unhappy with the TCS claim “solution” selling is dead.
    But, although unspecified, you like “some” of the TCS research.

    You then define THREE selling types, but offer no research or evidence to support your claims for viability or failure. You simply claim they are not “dead”!

    You offer TWO dimensions then describe FOUR strategies, in vague terms.
    One of which is a “prediction of the future?”

    In summary, you want to fit Challenger Selling inside your current belief system.

    The Challenger Sale used extensive evidence, which highlighted your current beliefs of a system of Customer Journeys, Buyer Role “maps” and the existing models of Account Management frameworks are based on Falsehoods.

    Yet, you want to “adapt” TCS, to fit YOUR framework.

    That is precisely why only 25% of Salespeople in Telecom contribute to profitability, and 75% are simply a burden. While 40% of Telecom salespeople actively destroy their own Company’s Value and Profits.

    The greatest difficulty in strategic thinking is to see the world differently,
    but most importantly accurately, to see the truth.

    Business Value “Constructing” Strategies comes from FOUR Activities
    (OK you may call it Value “creating”, but Value cannot come from nowhere).

    One: Discovering new truths (to discard falsehoods)
    Two: Discarding falsehoods (replacing them with truth)
    Three: Appropriating knowledge (or insights)
    Four: Relinquishing errors (to make room for insights)

    You conclude:
    “It requires very experienced practitioners and executives with a very deep knowledge and holistic understanding of the entire selling system, the different comfort zones of sellers and sales managers to drive change in the right direction.”

    These very people, with their current beliefs, based on their current Values,
    have brought about the Sales Situation where the
    Top 15% of sales performers are producing 60% of their Company’s Profits.

    Their “leadership” and their “strategy” (experience, knowledge and understanding) has led to the measureable outcome where only 25% of the sales force are producing 90%, yes ninety percent, of their Company’s profits.

    These “practitioners” have allowed 40% of the sales people (and their sales managers) to DESTROY 10% of their Company’s profits.

    We have been going in the wrong direction.

    The very people who clearly do NOT have understanding, holistic or any other kind, led us in the wrong direction.

    The “very experienced practitioners and executives” you require,
    have been measured and have been found wanting!

  2. Hi Tamara,

    You make some very interesting points, and I think it is good that this debate is arousing so much interest: Not sure if you have seen this report from Chally? A good chum sent it to me today -

    I do believe that it is terribly important that all viewpoints are aired in an open and honest way, so that we can all make up our own minds – I think that is called “free speech” and it is what intelligent people indulge in.

    I also heard from the Top Sales editorial team that you are featuring with an article on the same topic? Look forward to reading what you have to say.


    • Hi Jonathan,

      thanks a lot for the link to the Chally report. That’s an excellent piece of work and it’s good to see, that I’m not alone with the opinion that the Challenger Sale is not complete und ignores for instance the different customer and buyer levels.
      All these issues have to be addressed, the gaps have to be closed, many open questions need answers – to make a real difference. I hope, this will happen soon in a collaborative, honest and open way to create a holistic view – to create real value.

      Yes, the Top Sales editorial team is right!
      Have a look in the Top Sales October Magazine, I’m very happy to be published in such an excellent, highly regarded top magazine with a few more details.
      I’m looking very much forward to get your feedback!

  3. PS: Don’t take Brian’s comments too much to heart. I know he can come across like a rabid Rottweiler patrolling the perimeter fences of “Camp Challenger” but he is simply a passionate disciple, and I have found in my personal communication with him that actually, he has a heart of gold!

  4. Hi John and Tamara,
    Let me correct the first error, I am NOT a disciple of The Challenger.
    Indeed, I wrote a Philosophical Criticism of The Challenger Sale,
    almost 11 months ago:

    I expressed my concern that those who are Speculation Based Sales Trainers would confuse the Challenger Sale for imitation, and the five seller types were the trap they would fall into!

    HR Chally’s opinion falls into the trap, a superficial, frankly trite “study” of no depth.

    HR Chally fails to examine the evidence presented by CEB-SEC.
    As is usual for HR Chally instead they resort to “stories” and an advert for their 139 competencies idea.

    HR Chally’s review is bereft of any evidence, full of claims and innuendo.
    At best it is shoddy journalism,
    at worst it is a Competitive knock, which completely failed.

    Today, 11 months after I wrote my TCS criticism, where I state that only Implementation will prove the CEB-SEC claims, we have measured Competitive Advantage, increased Opportunity and more effective Customer Engagement,
    with Revenue, Margin and Profit pull though as well as improved Customer Satisfaction.

    However, YOU measure sales, other than by anecdotes, war stories and speculation The Challenger Sales is proving extremely successful.

    Sales has a choice, stick with the traditional stuff of
    Farringdon (HR Chally), Brock and Richardson,
    which give 40% of Salespeople destroying profits,
    and 25% of salespeople producing 90% of their companies’ profits.
    (Where most of their employers no longer make a return,
    as they are pursuing losing strategies offered by Traditional Sales Consultants,
    Gurus and Sales Leaders or Sales Enablers)

    Or, we can look at the evidence presented by CEB-SEC and others.
    We (Sales) can change, we can adapt, we can succeed.

    I am implementing Challenger Selling, based on the evidence presented by the book.
    Added to more than 20 years of Sales Behavioural Analysis research
    in Adaptive Selling and it is working.

    We can attempt to continue with 101 varieties of Problem Based Selling,
    we can title it Consultative, solution (small s no trade mark),
    or use words like “Outcome” outside-in which only reflect where we were in 1985 with SPIN®.

    Or, we can change.
    We can embrace the truth, reject falsehoods and move on.

    Two final points.
    SPIN is without doubt the best Behaviourally Researched Sales Methodology,
    and it continues to work, outside-inside and back again. Combined with the insights from CEB research, endorsed by N.Rackham we have an innovation it would be foolish to ignore.

    It is adapt or die.

    I love golf metaphors for selling, I love golf and selling. It is a shame that HR Chally chose to make a point based on Tiger Woods’ ability to “scramble”,
    after he, individually, lost America the Ryder cup on the 18th green
    making mistakes in both his Chip and his Putt, he could not scramble an egg!

    It is worth noting, John F. that my “Rottweiler” reputation comes from when you, personally, fail to credit the originators of work which is presented as if your own by blog, your latest example is in Networking “types”
    where you fail to credit Frost & Sullivan!

    In the interest of disclosure I have no commercial relationship with: CEB, SEC or the Challenger Sale Authors, I just know Evidence Based work when I see it.

  5. There you go again Brian – I am sending you over some fresh meat: We love it when you are angry!

    And just for the record, poor old Tiger didn’t lose it for the USA – Kamer had already putted out by the time Woods got to the 18th – it was all over! You really must try and be more accurate with your comments.

    By the way, are there any more jobs like yours going? I’d love to be able to spend all day surfing the net and palying copyright policeman.

    Anyway, thank goodness we have you to make us smile, life would be so much duller without you around.


  6. PS: Can you send me over some of your own written work as I would love to re-publish you as a guest post on my blog?

    Many Thanks


  7. Jonathon,
    You almost understand Sales, as well as you understand Golf, vaguely.

    14 Points RETAINED the European hold on the cup as the previous winner of the Ryder Cup, with Kaymer. It was at that stage that The Ryder Cup was a draw!

    But, the Ryder Cup was WON by Francesco Molinari Europe (14 and one half points) when Tiger dropped his one hole up lead, on the eighteenth green by failing to “scramble” for an easy half on the hole and deny Europe the win!

    “Tiger Woods claimed neither he nor the United States team were interested in salvaging a tie from the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah as bookies were left raging at the 14-time major champion.
    Woods conceded a putt to gift Francesco Molinari a half in the final singles match just moments after Martin Kaymer had made sure the Europeans would keep hold of the trophy.”

    Jonathon, it is that kind error, but said with your self-appointed “authority”,
    which is (IMO) damaging Sales. Almost right does NOT win in Sales,
    but apparently is good enough to be a Sales “Ex-pert”.

    You still have not sent me, as you promised, the source of The Aristotle-Alexander dialogue where they entitled you to republish Ken Blanchard’s Leadership Model without credit and again, incorrectly!

    Best, not use me as a guest Blogger, as I am an Evidence Based Blogger,
    mostly my own stuff and I give credit where credit is due.
    I do not think I would fit in, on a Speculative Blog!

  8. Hello Again Brian,

    Excellent riposte! I do agree that I can only aspire to your incredible success as a sales guru, and I am certain that Linda, Dave, and everyone else feels the same. You are truly awe inspiring, and our lives are so much richer for your regular considered words of wisdom and wit – so thank you again for proving to everyone what a huge heart of gold you have.

    I do have a question which you might be able to assist me with: Before the Challenger program came into being, and before the book was written, Matt, Brent and the team initially interviewed 6000 of “the world’s top salespeople” So the suggestion is that they were already top sales professionals. Do you happen to know which company or companies trained/coached/mentored them to be the best, or do we think they developed themselves? What do you think?

    My Very Best Wishes To You As Ever


    PS: May I ask, do you have a problem with your “Caps” button?

  9. Tamara,
    in part I, you expressed your concern how to fit the behavioral model presented in TCS with a selling system. Brent Adamson’s answer confirmed that TCS was never intended to be a selling system.

    In this part, you consider solution selling, a selling system, and question whether the claim that solution selling is dead is legitimate. Given Brent’s answer, I concur with you that it is not.

    TCS admittedly brings incremental insight, but it is not the revolution that some people think it is. There is no such thing as a silver bullet. But claiming other methods obsolete just sells better and increases demand for the book and free publicity by all the discussion it creates.

    Too bad that some people can have reservations about a topic, but when others voice valid concerns, they are not accepted but considered as a sign of not wanting to change. Maybe some of the known sales methods have not totally left up to the claims they made about the results to be obtained. But I share your view that this is probably more due to bad implementations t than the contents.

    TCS is not immune to this either, to the contrary. Being a behavior based approach it would not produce any results in the hands of a sales manager adhering to a result based sales force control system.

    I know I will draw flack for my opinion from those having engaged into this vivid debate. I however will not engage in any further debate, trying to prove myself right. If somebody disagrees with my beliefs then be it so. I prefer to agree to disagree.

    • Christian,
      thanks a lot for your very elaborated response!
      You raise a very important point in addition to the selling system issues, I addressed – sales management as a discipline and the role of a sales manager, who is confronted with different selling strategies and performance systems with other design points.
      Definitely worth to write a separate blog post!

  10. Jonathon,
    For the specifics of TCS, before the book, ask the authors.

    I have been using Behavioural Analysis of Top and Average performers for 25 years more or less. I can measure, through behavioural observation, if a sales person is using the skills “taught” on any one of 15 different Sales Training systems, Methods and Processes.

    Post Training, most trainees cannot use the skills taught, in some cases thankfully.
    Many of the “skills” taught are dysfunctional, the more you do the less you sell.
    Two examples of this are “ABC”, and “overcoming” objections.

    I can say, with measured certainty that some Sales Training does not work,
    some partly works, and some works.

    There is in your comment “So the suggestion is that they were already top sales professionals.” the implication that The Challenger Sale is not original. You suggest that they have not “invented” anything new.

    Frankly, this is a “Penicillin Fallacy”. The idea that Fleming only “discovered” what was already there, he did not “invent” something new!

    “When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionise all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer,” Fleming would later say, “But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”

    Fleming “discovered” Penicillin, where no others had. His discovery was part of a scientific effort to understand bacteria, it was not “accidental” it was prepared.

    This is exactly what Rackham did. He made scientific effort with his Behavioural Analysis tool, which led to developing SPINFAB, and to the discovery of the dysfunctional ABC and “overcoming” objections.

    CEB-SEC and the Book’s authors have used Statistical Analysis, in their scientific effort, to understand selling, which has led to their fresh discoveries, published in their book. Validating and Invalidating Sales Behaviours systematically, scientifically, is the most effective “Selling System”.

    Comparing, the systematic discoveries of Rackham and the CEB, to the endless Speculative, unstructured, nonsensical and dysfunctional Sales methods, systems and processes is the real revelation from their two books.

    I compare four methods of “Changing the way we Sell”, in my dissertation part of which I published here:

    All Sales theories are NOT equal or just the same. Most Sales “Theories” are at best ineffective, at worst dysfunctional and harmful. To wilfully promote a dysfunctional Sales Behaviour is wrong, to promote dysfunction Sales Behaviour out of ignorance is as stupid as giving a stranger wrong directions to the railway station.

  11. “Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.”
    ― Seth Godin

    Since we have such a vivid discussion here, let me take a few moments to say thank you!

    Thank you for your time to read my posts, to challenge my thoughts and to write comments on my blog! I really appreciate that, especially as most of us are incredibly busy.

    The reason why I’m leading this blog is to create a platform for spreading ideas that work, learning from different view points and new ideas, sharing lessons learned and best practices, challenging our thoughts to make a difference.
    Yes, to make a difference in terms of the value we can create in our organizations, for our customers and for the tribe.

    So, I’m very happy about healthy discussions, contributions, comments, challenging thoughts, new ideas and concepts.
    If, and that’s very important – if they are based on core netiquette principles, if they are not personal and if they respect other people and their view points.

    I will be very consequent in the future to spam comments that don’t meet basic netiquette principles.

    “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
    ― Abraham Maslow

  12. I find this a most interseting post. I’m not a training professional and find the insight and honesty from everyone refreshing. I have a pretty good track record with building successful sales teams and have never commited to a single “one size fits all” sales process. The sales profession is progressing at the speed of light and with product and services information readily available to prospects today via the internet a lot of the decision is made before the selling process starts. I do think salespeople with a “Challenger” mentality will be the survivers here in the US. Good technical knowledge, good discovery skills, and the ability to move a sale forward, coupled with great work ethic seem be common traits a person needs to succeed. If you can’t select the right candidates even the best training still creates an average or less than average salespeople. I think candidate selection is as important as the training process trained. I’ve enjoyed all the comments, thanks.

  13. Fred,
    Thanks for your “pragmatic practitioner” view, your Challengers are likely to be the survivors. I will not argue with your “traits” view (although I might add a few 😉

    Selection (and onboarding) Sales people is vital, yet recruitment seems to be failing fast. Would you agree this might be a Sales Management ‘training’ issue?

  14. Tamara, I am reminded that Maslow also is quoted as saying “behavior in the human being is sometimes a defense, a way of concealing motives and thoughts, as language can be a way of hiding your thoughts and preventing communication” 😉

    Thank you for both stimulating the discussion and for the patience and forbearance to let it run…

  15. Tamara,

    I started with a comment – but it got too long – so I wrote a blog post. I think we may be missing the point. Here is the post.

    The Challenger Sale Debate. Is it missing the point?



  1. Thank YOU – Let’s Welcome 2013! | Sales Enablement Perspectives - [...] and discussing “The Challenger Sale Part 1” and “Part 2“: Deriving the gaps that need to be considered before…

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