It seems as though everyone who works in sales is discussing The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation. The book outlines the five types of sales professionals and cites research showing that the ones who focus on building relationships with customers actually perform worse than all of the other types of salespeople, with only 7% of Relationship Builders in the high performance category.

That’s right …

Relationship-based selling is not as effective as we are led to believe. In fact, the CEB stated that “when we asked 1,100 customers what they valued in salespeople, we were surprised by how few times they mentioned relationships.” Studies have instead revealed that “customers place the highest value on salespeople who make them think, who bring new ideas, who find creative and innovative ways to help the customer’s business.” This type of salesperson is known as a Challenger.

Armed with this knowledge, how should we, as B2B marketers, change our strategy? Below are ways you can apply key Challenger traits to your marketing and increase your ROI:

One of the reasons why Challengers are so successful is because they get to know their customers’ businesses, value drivers and economic drivers. It may seem like salespeople have an advantage over marketing professionals in this area, as their entire job focuses on interaction with customers, while you may spend most of your time in team meetings. However, as a B2B marketer living in the era of content marketing, you should also spend time creating buyer profiles and learning about your ideal customer’s needs, wants and key pains. If you need ideas on how to do this, check out my article “15 Ways to Get to Know Your Target Audience”.

The Challenger Sale states that many salespeople are trained to dig deep to get to know their customers’ needs and wants. However, what if customers don’t know what they need? At this point, the Challenger will tell them what they need and teach them new things about their businesses.

If you think about this from a marketing perspective, you’ll want to focus on providing your early stage leads – or potential customers who don’t know what they want – with information to help them gain insight about their key business challenges. This content can be in the form of “how-to” articles, videos, podcasts, etc. – anything that attracts leads from Google or social media and brings them to your website. According to The Challenger Sale, customers value the following types of information:


The Challenger Sale stresses the amount of group consensus that goes into today’s B2B sales. This means that you are no longer just selling to the end user. You’re also selling to the financial director, the CEO, the person who is researching options and more. Because all of these stakeholders have different needs, you should speak to all of them in your marketing. For example, the CEO will be concerned about achieving business value, while end users want to know how your product will make their lives easier.

Another key Challenger trait is the ability to push customers out of their comfort zone and get them to think about big issues (without coming across as a jerk). As a marketer, one way you can do this is by giving your audience tools such as checklists and assessments that encourage them to interact with you while thinking deeply about how they can improve their businesses. For more ways you can challenge your audience, see “Is Your Content Marketing Too Safe?”

While reading The Challenger Sale, I could not help but compare it with what savvy B2B marketers have been doing for the past few years – providing early-stage leads with helpful content, tailoring their marketing for different audiences and stages in the sales cycle, etc. To me, The Challenger Sale also further underscores the importance of content marketing in today’s risk-averse B2B buying environment, as compelling content can get customers to think differently about their problems and ultimately turn to you for assistance.

What about you? Did you read The Challenger Sale? If so, what do you think B2B marketers can learn from it? Feel free to share your thoughts below.