Aug 072023

Challenger Selling



There is a Mandarin saying that rhymes nicely. It is, “Bu zuo, bu cuo.” It translates into English as, “I won’t do anything wrong if I do nothing.” That, in a sentence, is the summary of what the newest ‘Challenger’ book addresses. Millions of salespeople, knowingly or unknowingly, face that dilemma during the course of their work and The JOLT Effect makes the problem its subject matter.

As it turns out the calamity that befell the planet in 2020 became an opportunity for the authors and researchers behind the book. Matthew Dixon and Ted McKenna took the transformation that occurred in the sales world when all interactions went virtual and threw AI at it in order to use the words, information and structures to figure out what makes a customer move from inaction to action. In the process, to structure the data across millions of sales calls, the writers tagged more than 8,300 unique factors across the recorded sales calls and marked the sales that closed versus those that ended up in a loss.


Earlier, the first book of the two writers, The Challenger Sale of 2011, found that whereas 5.4 people were involved in modern B2B sales the number of stakeholders has ballooned to 6.8 now. It discussed how the best salespeople make customers see themselves differently.

The Challenger Customer of 2015 spoke of mobilizers and how to get customers moving.

The latest book is called The JOLT Effect and addresses the issue with customers who cannot decide. Resulting in ‘no decision’ losses, the conundrum translates into months of wasted time for both sides in B2B sales. In fact, 40 (for more complex sales) to 60% of sales are lost to a check-mate when the customer does nothing because making a decision is difficult.


It is often said, and JOLT repeats it, that today’s buyers are 60% through the buying journey by the time they connect with sale. They are learning on their own. Sales needs to reframe the customer’s journey.


Customers know they must do something, but still do nothing. What do the salespersons do? They dial up the fear to overcome the status quo. Yet the book argues that overcoming indecision needs sellers to instead dial down the fear of purchase. Customers fall into omission bias mode. The book points at loss aversion and how people prefer to minimise losses rather than maximise gain. It is better to miss out than mess up. This is termed as FOMU (Fear Of Messing Up) and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and the former, which is a fear of personal failure and responsibility, is mightier and more dominant than the latter.


FOMU occurs because the buyer suffers from:

  • Fear of picking the wrong thing
  • Fear of not having done adequate research or
  • Fear of not getting the expected benefits

So the seller is instructed to instil the need for change and address 1, 2 and 3 in order to bestow confidence to the buyer.


By the way, what does ‘JOLT’ stand for?

J is for Judge The Indecision. People are indecisive and sellers need to use SONAR to understand and actively hear if the customer is conveying something akin to, “help me, what should we include in the first phase?” Remember that some people are more comfortable with the level of ambiguity than others. Pages 46 and 47 help the salesperson diagnose the source of indecision and the book’s website helps in grading and lending the sale a probability score! Sellers need to understand whether the concern is a. valuation problems, b. Lack of information or 3. outcome uncertainty and, as a result, gauge the ability of the prospect to decide and to buy.


O is for Offer Your Recommendation. Prospects are overwhelmed with choice. Limit choice and recommend strongly. This is something that has preoccupied this reviewer for years: how choice is bad and has the opposite effect to freeing folk. Offer your recommendation with confidence as the customer is overwhelmed!


L is for Limit The Exploration. Sales should deconflict information by stopping the flow of it and also inserting what customers don’t need into the flow as well. Discourage customers from spinning their wheels! Data is clear: limit it


1- Owning the flow of information

2- Anticipate need + objections

3- Practise radical candour

Ask why and find out what the questions behind the question is.


T is for Taking Risk Off The Table. Start small and add insurance. For example, get Professional Services involved. This may be counterintuitive because it makes the sales more expensive money-wise, but in fact this piece of insurance allows buyers to gain confidence in their eventual success with the product or solution. Manage expectations!


Indecision could be due to:

1- Value

2- Lack of information or

3-  Fearing that purported benefits are unreal.

These concerns are addressed through the JOLT process.


To start, convince customers candidly that a change of status quo is needed. The purchase will be a success and it will get over the line. Be the soother that counsels that failure will not occur.

High performers in sales do not go for fear, but plan and share proudly with the customer. They may, for example, map out the first three months for customers inclusive of quick wins and expected long-term outcomes after that.

While presenting research-based facts and anecdotes, including all of the above, the authors shatter a couple of myths along the way. Good sellers talk more and, in fact, interrupt customers (who are on the wrong track). Having said that, I did laugh at the “cooperative overlapping” phrase, which is when one talks along with someone, as it sounds like such a euphemism.

Customers are always thinking about it more, need more information and resources, have more questions and require proof. What does sales do: introduce FUD. Customer has outcome uncertainty and the salesperson begins to scare them! Here the customer is afraid that a decision will make them lose, is afraid of the cost; is afraid of looking foolish and then…  the sales team begins to frighten them. It does not make sense, right? Often it is not missing out on winning that the buyer is concerned with (perhaps they have been burnt before?), but the aforementioned issues. Don’t make them feel bad, make them feel good and outline a plan. For example, offer multiple options or paths forward. Starting small also could build relationships.


The book expands into foretelling how employing JOLT actually builds customer loyalty and also offers a chapter on how sales managers could make the right hiring decision by bringing on folks who will do the right thing for the sales process. This is specifically relevant to hiring managers.

The JOLT Effect is a good read and more valuable than the average sales books because it comes at you courtesy of empirical data.