Presales Library

The Presales Library: Exploring "The Challenger Sale" by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson

Hamza Abib 5 min read
The Presales Library: Exploring "The Challenger Sale" by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson
The Presales Library: Exploring "The Challenger Sale" by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson


Welcome back to The Presales Architect, a blog dedicated to providing insights, resources, and discussions for both novice and seasoned technical presales professionals. Today, we're diving into our Presales Library to explore a book that has made waves in the sales industry: "The Challenger Sale" by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. This book, published in 2011, has been lauded as a game-changer, offering a fresh perspective on the art of selling. It's not just for salespeople, though. As presales professionals, we can glean valuable insights from this work to enhance our approach and become more effective in our roles. I personally found it to be a VERY interesting read.

Book Summary

"The Challenger Sale" is a research-based book that presents a new approach to sales, challenging the traditional relationship-building method. The authors, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, are both managing directors at CEB (now Gartner), a best practice insight and technology company. They base their findings on an extensive study of thousands of sales reps across multiple industries and geographies.

The book introduces five types of sales professionals: the Hard Worker, the Relationship Builder, the Lone Wolf, the Reactive Problem Solver, and the Challenger. The authors argue that while all these profiles can be successful, it is the Challenger, characterized by their willingness to push the customer out of their comfort zone, that stands out as the highest performer in a complex selling environment.

Challengers are defined by their ability to do three things: teach their customers, tailor their sales message to the customer's specific needs and objectives, and take control of the sales process. They deliver insight that reframes the customer's thinking about their business and offer a unique solution that addresses their unique needs. Kind of sounds like something done by someone in presales right?

Key Takeaways

"The Challenger Sale" offers numerous insights, but here are the key takeaways that are particularly relevant for presales professionals:

  • Teach, Tailor, and Take Control: The Challenger model is built on these three pillars. Challengers educate their customers with new insights about their business, tailor their communication to resonate with the customer's specific needs and objectives, and assertively take control of the sales conversation. This approach is a departure from the traditional sales model that emphasizes relationship-building.
  • The Importance of Commercial Teaching: Challengers use a technique called 'Commercial Teaching.' They lead the customer to a new way of thinking by providing unique insights that spotlight the challenges in their current situation and demonstrate how their solution can resolve these issues. This approach positions them as trusted advisors rather than just vendors.
  • Constructive Tension: Challengers are not afraid to push their customers out of their comfort zone. They leverage constructive tension in their conversations to challenge the status quo and encourage customers to see the value in their solution.

Practical Applications

As presales professionals, we can apply the Challenger model to enhance our effectiveness in various ways:

  • Leveraging Insights: In the presales stage, we're often tasked with demonstrating the value of our solution. By adopting the Challenger's teaching approach, we can provide unique insights that help the customer understand their challenges better and see our solution as the best fit. I've personally seen this done (and have done this myself) when positioning conversations with previous prospects, the challenges they faced, and how we have helped them overcome those challenges.
  • Tailoring Demonstrations: When conducting product demonstrations or presentations, we can tailor our content to address the customer's specific needs and objectives, just like a Challenger would. This makes our presentations more impactful and relevant. Even if you are working with a product that pretty much sells itself and your product demos are pretty identical in terms of what you show your prospects, you can still change your talk track, right? You can use examples that are relevant to the prospect and their challenges/requirements.
  • Managing Conversations: The Challenger's ability to take control of the sales conversation is a valuable skill in presales. It allows us to steer the conversation towards areas where we can highlight the strengths of our solution and manage any objections effectively. Challenge the prospect when necessary. You have heard it said often: ask them why. Why is this a problem? Why is it a problem you wish to solve now? Why do you think this approach is the most suitable? Why is this a high priority requirement? Dig deeper.

Personal Reflection

As a presales professional, reading "The Challenger Sale" was an interesting experience. The Challenger model resonated with me, particularly because it aligns with the dynamic and consultative nature of the presales role.

I found the concept of 'Commercial Teaching' particularly enlightening. It encouraged me to shift my focus from merely presenting our solution's features to providing unique insights that can help customers understand their challenges better. This approach has not only made my presentations more impactful but also positioned me as a trusted advisor in the eyes of the customers. It made me come across as someone who 'knows their stuff'.

The idea of 'constructive tension' was another revelation. Initially, the thought of challenging the customer's beliefs seemed counterintuitive. However, as I started practicing it early in my presales career, I realized that it's not about confrontation but about encouraging customers to think differently.  It's not about being the 'nice guy'; it's about providing value, even if it means challenging the customer's beliefs. Especially when it comes to requirements and prioritisation. This approach has helped me engage customers in deeper, more meaningful conversations.

Discussion Questions

To further our understanding of "The Challenger Sale" and its implications in presales, I invite you to reflect on the following questions:

  1. How can we effectively incorporate the 'teach, tailor, and take control' approach in our presales engagements?
  2. What are some unique insights that we can provide to our customers in our industry?
  3. How can we create 'constructive tension' without alienating the customer?
  4. How does the Challenger model align or conflict with our current sales approach?
  5. How can we equip ourselves with the skills and knowledge required to become Challengers?


"The Challenger Sale" by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson is a thought-provoking book that challenges traditional sales paradigms and offers a fresh perspective on how to engage customers effectively. Its insights are not just valuable for sales professionals, but also for those of us in presales. The Challenger model encourages us to be more consultative, insightful, and assertive in our engagements, which aligns well with the presales role.

Applying the Challenger model in presales may require a shift in mindset and approach, but the potential benefits are significant. By teaching customers using unique insights, tailoring our communication to their specific needs, and taking control of the sales conversation, we can enhance our effectiveness and contribute more significantly to the sales process.

As we conclude this exploration of "The Challenger Sale," I encourage you to reflect on the key takeaways and discussion questions. Whether you're a novice or a seasoned presales professional, there's much to learn from this book. I hope it inspires you to challenge the status quo and strive for excellence in your role.

Thank you for joining me in this exploration of "The Challenger Sale." I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences as we continue to build our presales library. Until next time, keep challenging, keep learning, and keep growing.

Next on The Presales Architect: Stay tuned for our next blog post where we'll explore another influential book in our Presales Library. Don't forget to subscribe to the newsletter to stay updated!


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