Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What "The Challenger Sale" Can Teach Us About Content Marketing

The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson is one of the most important books on selling that's appeared in the last several years. The book is based on an in-depth research project conducted by the Corporate Executive Board. The research involved an analysis of over 6,000 sales reps from all major industries and geographies.

The objective of the CEB research was to identify what skills, behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes separate top-performing sales reps from average performers. What the researchers found runs counter to much of the long-held conventional wisdom about what drives sales success.

The first major finding is that salespeople fall into one of five distinct profiles:
  • The Hard Worker
  • The Challenger
  • The Relationship Builder
  • The Lone Wolf
  • The Reactive Problem Solver
The second important finding is that one type of sales rep - The Challenger - clearly outperforms all of the others. Thirty-nine percent of all "star" salespeople are Challengers. One of the major surprises in the research is that Relationship Builders are the big losers. Only 7% of all star reps fall into that category.

The Challenger Sale is written from a sales perspective, but it has a lot to say to marketers. The connection to marketing becomes clear when we look at what causes Challenger sales reps to be successful. Dixon and Adamson found that Challenger reps excel because they provide customers and prospects new, valuable, and unique insights that help them compete more effectively in their markets. Challengers pressure their prospects and customers to question their assumptions and think about their business in new and different ways.

It turns out (as shown by other Corporate Executive Board research) that this is what prospects and customers really want. Buyers say they highly value sales reps who:
  • Offer unique and valuable perspectives on the market
  • Help them navigate alternatives
  • Provide ongoing advice or consultation
  • Help them avoid potential land mines
  • Educate them on new ideas and outcomes
These are exactly the things that Challenger sales reps do. Rather that just asking a bunch of questions to identify needs and then offering a solution, Challengers bring new insights (and therefore value) to the conversation with the buyer.

Today, marketing content must perform many of these same functions. Because business buyers are doing more research on their own, your marketing content must act as your "surrogate sales rep" early in the buying process. This research shows that your content needs to be a "surrogate Challenger sales rep."

Those of use who write about content marketing emphasize the importance of using content that is primarily educational, that is customized for specific buyer personas and that speaks to where a potential buyer is in his or her buying process. All those things are important, but what really separates great marketing content from content that is merely good is that great content also provokes new thinking. Great marketing content provides unique and valuable perspectives that prod potential buyers to consider new alternatives for improving their business.

How much of your marketing content would pass the "Challenger" test?


  1. Thanks for the tip on this book. Because of this post I bought this. Great blog by the way, I consistently share these posts with associates.

  2. Jonathan,

    Thanks for your comment, and thanks for sharing the blog with your associates. Please feel free to comment often.