Book review: The Challenger Sale – Taking Control of the Customer Conversation

In the midst of all the books I read, mostly military histories, biographies of famous people and the normal dose of business books, every now and then, one stands out among the others.  The reaction upon reading them is to wonder why such a book had never before been written.  Such was my reaction upon reading such business classics as In Pursuit of Excellence, The Goal, Getting to Yes and Built to Last.  –whose lessons have influenced my thinking over the years.

Recently, I came across another such book.  It is entitled The Challenger Sale – Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board,  an organization that puts research to work in solving problems.   

The premise of the book is that the Challenger Sales Rep, compared with all others, is far more effective in closing the deal.  The Challenger Reps are ”… the debaters on the team.  They’re not afraid to share their views, even when they’re different and potentially controversial.   Challengers are assertive – they tend to ‘press’ customers a little … and, as many sales leaders will tell you, they don’t reserve their Challenger mentality for customers alone.  They tend to push their own managers and senior leaders within the organization as well.” They are willing to persevere often to the point of “annoyance.”

Notwithstanding the persistence, the key to their success lies in their unique abilities to “teach for differentiation, tailor the message for resonance and take control of the sale.”

The forehead slapping aspect of the Challenger is its applicability to the process of changing cultures, not just driving the sales effort.  In this way, it describes the attributes of leader of all change efforts, from the boardroom to the shipping dock.

Those who have worked with me over the years will recognize Challenger genes in me, and other experienced change leaders.  Driving change requires professional confrontation, the willingness to challenge embedded beliefs or conventional thinking – and suffer the consequences.   (See “Valley of Death” in my book.)  That willingness to “push their own managers (or clients)” has always been an attribute of leaders I have sought to emulate – sometimes more successfully than others.

I encourage you to read this book, not just for its sales context, but for the applicability of its lessons to the larger world of organizational change.  These Challenger guys don’t know what they have discovered.  It will be left to the veterans of cultural change to educate them.

The book can be ordered through the Lake Forest Book Store in Lake Forest Il.  If you are reading this, you are in my website and can find the link.  You can also order more copies of my book while you are at it.  The owner is a good friend and needs the business far more than does Amazon.

As always, I would be interested in your views. Email me at

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