Challenging vs. Adapting – The New Winning Approach

Brian Williams, PhD

For years we’ve shared our view on the flaws of a one-size-fits-all sales methodology. Our research shows that the best reps don’t rely on one way to sell. They’re situationally fluent, sensing the unique dynamics of deals. They pattern-match to past experiences and deploy the right sales plays for a given situation.

Sales plays are combinations of tactics and messages that improve a rep’s selling position. They represent pivot points along today’s messy sales process. In the past, the sales process was more linear and predictable. Today, risk aversion, multiple influencers and decision-making complexity derail too many deals. Top reps use different plays at different points to pivot their selling actions.

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The need for adaptability is why so many companies experience disappointing results with Challenger. This model no doubt works, but only in certain situations. It is simply one of many possible sales plays that needs to be in a rep’s playbook.

The fact is, it’s been nearly ten years since the original Challenger research. Market dynamics have continued to evolve. Complexity is even greater for buyers. The number of pivot points has exploded for sellers. Adaptability is now the foundation of today’s sales success. Building your entire sales process around a single approach like Challenger is a flawed strategy. And the same can be said of any one “silver bullet” methodology.

  Era of Challenger Research Today's Reality

Prevailing Market Conditions

  • Economically distressed times; corporate budget constraints
  • Early days of SaaS – move from CapEx to OpEx spending

 

  • Broad capital availability
  • Investment community focus on growth metrics
  • Strong demand in key product-markets; low unemployment fueling need for services

High Performer Model Profile
  • A "Challenger" – alternative to endless questioning "solution selling"
  • Highly adaptive, situationally fluent

 
Key Drivers of Success
  • Teach
  • Tailor
  • Take Control
  • Situational awareness
  • Pattern matching
  • Sales play execution

  
Organizational Support
  • Individual capability supported by marketing-driven insights and messages
  • Organizational capability enabling reps to run the right plays in the right situation
 
Outcomes
  • Low to moderate adoption even after significant investments in training and marketing support
  • High adoption, especially by top performers
  • Faster close rates, lower discounting, larger overall deal sizes

 

The surface appeal of one-size methodologies like Challenger can be strong. CSOs hunger for more consistency and visibility into their team’s behaviors. But the sense of control promised by one-size sales methodologies is just an illusion. Don’t let the illusion derail your sales results.   

High-performing sales organizations embrace adaptability. And they’re doing it in a way that also respects the need for process standardization. Our adaptive approach involves building a custom methodology based on plays that match a company’s most common selling scenarios. The ideal trait for reps is no longer mastery of any one sales tactic. Instead, reps fine-tune their situational awareness and master specific pivot points in common deal types.

Our adaptive model provides the parameters, structure and guidance necessary for effective sales leadership. But it does it in a way that responds to today’s buying reality. The research finds the highest-performing reps are most likely to adopt an adaptive methodology. In contrast, this group is the least likely to use traditional methodologies.

Sales enablement has also evolved to support the adaptive model. Messaging, collateral, training and coaching are changing to this adaptive approach. The real power comes as these areas reposition themselves to operationalize the adaptive methodology. The focus shifts from disconnected skill building, tools and marketing actions to an integrated operating platform.

An adaptive approach to sales methodology is improving the sales performance for our clients. Beyond adoption, key metric improvements include faster close rates and higher average deal price. More strategically, the adaptive model better aligns sales and marketing. And it becomes the scalable system to drive more effective onboarding and field coaching.

Sign up here for to receive our latest research into the benefits of adaptive opportunity management. We’d love to discuss how we’re helping companies across multiple industries improve their sales results using this new approach.  

Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.