How to Manage Opportunities like a Challenger: The 3 “Rights”

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

We’re huge fans of the principles espoused in the seminal sales classic, “The Challenger Sale,” authored by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board’s Sales Executive Council. The research-packed book covers so much ground about the buying process and the modern sales rep – it’s required reading as part of our onboarding process for new reps – including:

  • an emphasis on the buyer’s journey over the sales process
  • the segmentation of different sales professionals, each falling into a distinct profile. The Challenger is the seller that is most fitting for today’s buying landscape
  • the rise of consultative solution-selling; and so much more!

At Dreamforce ‘14 in San Francisco, one of the most eye-opening sessions we attended focused on “Using Smart Software to Manage Opportunities like a Challenger.” Hosted by Jaime Kleinerman, Director of the CEB, and Mark Handron, the VP of Strategic Alliances at The TAS Group, the session touched on using smart software and aligning it with Challenger principles. However, for our money, the most interesting parts were when Jaime focused on the three “rights”:

The right Sales Funnel. The right Customer Verifiers. The right Stakeholders.

Learn how to identify those three “rights” and how to use them to manage opportunities like a Challenger to be a more successful sales rep.

The Right Sales Funnel

You know what the typical sales funnel looks like, and how to analyze conversion rates of prospects and opportunities between stages, all the way down to Closed-Won. This is represented by a funnel because, the thinking goes, that there is a progressive drop-off of poor-fit prospects at each subsequent sales funnel stage. The majority of sales organizations and reps – core performers – use funnels that look like The Wedge; they are quick to engage prospects at the top of the funnel, try to feat in a huge quantity of leads at the very top and perform limited qualification on these prospects.

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On the other hand, high-performing Challenger-based sales reps – star performers – engage only the right prospects that truly are a good fit for the product or solution they are selling. They care more about the quality of the leads and prospects they work, rather than reducing sales to a numbers game with a high-volume of leads. Finally, they are extremely diligent and rigorous with their qualification. As a result, their sales funnel looks more like a “Nail.”

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This means that of all the leads and prospects that enter at the very top of the sales funnel, very few actually make it to the second stage. However, instead of a progressive drop-off between stages 2 and Closed-Won – as in a typical sales funnel – the Nail-like funnel will see a great conversion rate after that first stage all the way to the bottom. After all that stringent qualification early, only the best and most qualified opportunities – the ones who are really a good fit and really likely to buy – remain. Challenger sales reps don’t waste a great deal of time selling to and engaging with disinterested buyers.

The Right Customer Verifiers

As buyer-centric sales reps, Challengers rightfully care a great deal more about the buyer and their journeys, rather than diligently following their own trained-on and implemented sales process. These reps understand that for every action they take as sellers – making a phone call, sending an email, doing a demo – there should be a response from buyers. Call it Newton’s Law of Sales – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It’s important for sales reps to track those responses, or “Customer Verifiers.” These are tangible signals of where the customer is on their journey, and how they are feeling. You need to make sure that the buyer is on the same page as you are throughout the entire process.

Yet, most sales reps don’t operate with this type of mindset, focusing only on the seller’s stage and process, rather than the buyers’. That is one reason why so many companies suffer from inaccurate sales forecasts – these sales forecasting methods are rooted largely in what the rep has done; not how the customer reacted. Challenger sales reps are always looking for that affirmation from buyers to ensure that they are aligned throughout the entire process.

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The Right Stakeholders

You could have the best sales conversation ever, with the wrong stakeholder, and your great pitch might as well fall on deaf ears. The Challenger identified seven typical stakeholders: the Go-Getter, the Teacher, the Skeptic, the Guide, the Friend and the Climber.

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Average sales reps and performers tend to engage most frequently with “talkers,” and some of them even make great conversationalists! That’s also the problem; all they do is talk and talk, without getting anything real done. Both parties can get information from the other on these conversations, but not enough to drive real action.

On the other hand, Challenger-sales reps will seek out conversations with “Mobilizers.” These types of prospects – the Skeptic, the Teacher and the Go-Getter – won’t make your life easy at all. They will ask you tough questions and engage in debate with you. They will try and push your buttons and really challenge you to prove the value of your product to them.

However, if you can get them convinced and on board, building consensus with them, these are the people that other members of the buying group will listen to, people whose opinions they respect. These are serious buyers who won’t waste your time. These are the right stakeholders to engage with and sell to.


The Right Sales Funnel, the Right Customer Verifiers, and the Right Stakeholders. Get these three right in your sales process and you will be well on your way to managing opportunities like a true Challenger. Work on these three aspects and you’ll see your sales success soar.

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