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The Challenger Coach - Leadership Lessons from Sales


A while back I had a stint in Learning and Development for a large marketing organization I worked for. The position entailed coordinating and leading the sales onboarding program for our company. I decided to take that position so that I could learn more about our sales process, partner with our sales directors, and help coach our brand new sales execs as they got aquatinted with our products and value proposition.

During this period, I became aware of The Challenger Sale, a sales process book by CEB Inc. that was written based on extensive research that was conducted on sales reps across the country. In the study it was determined that every B2B sales rep falls into one of five categories: The Hard Worker, The Lone Wolf, The Relationship Builder, The Problem Solver and The Challenger. Based on the research, the most successful sales reps were Challengers.

The Challenger Sales Model focuses on teaching the prospect about things they were not previously aware of, tailoring the approach based on the person you are interacting with and taking control of the customer conversation. Teach. Tailor. Take Control. In essence, instead of asking the client what keeps them up at night, a sales rep should be telling the client what SHOULD be keeping them up at night and presenting them with breakthrough solutions.

As a coach, I can see the need for a study like The Challenger Sales Model to be done to determine the most effective coaching styles. I wouldn’t be surprised if similar results were found amongst different types of coaches. Especially since the concepts of teaching and tailoring are already cornerstones of coaching. The taking control part seems a little counter intuitive to coaching (we should never give answers!), but I think it can be tweaked to focus on your client. Let’s dig a little deeper.


As coaches we are told that we should be working with our clients to help them come up with their own answers, which is a little different than teaching. However, one of the key components of coaching is to raise our client’s awareness. Whether it is doing so by providing them with a suggestion they might have not considered, or by inspiring them through storytelling. Regardless, we ARE teaching our clients, we are making them aware of things they might have been blind to see on their own.


When we are working with our clients we are CONTANTLY adjusting our approach to fit the situation. Whether a client needs support, or they need someone to push them to do their best work, or even… wait for it… CHALLENGE their assumptions to ensure their intentions are sound. A good coach will always tailor their approach to fit the client’s needs, because a client’s progression is all we care about.


Now to the tricky part. Taking control. Although a coach is not supposed to lead a conversation or give advice, it is critical that a coach is in control of their sessions and the action items that stem from them. That is the whole idea around contracting. In coaching, contracting means that at some point in the session, the coach and the client will agree on what the outcomes of the session need to be. That allows for the session to be productive and allows the client to continue to make progress towards their goal. 

Adam Grant is an Organizational Psychologist and author who now has a podcast through TED called Work Life. In one of his episodes he talks about how people can learn to take criticism better and make it a positive experience in growth and development. Here is a link to the episode: Work Life.

In this episode, Adam makes a point that everyone should have a challenge network. A group of people that you feel safe being challenged by, and that can help you see your blind spots and missteps. In order to be a challenger in someone’s network you need to be able to build trust and create a judge free environment, just like coaches do with their clients.

If you are a coach, or if you are applying coaching principals with your team, remember that being a coach is not just about listening, and supporting our clients. Our goal is to always strive to help them progress, grow and develop. The only way to do that is by being a true partner and challenging them when they need to be challenged. Ask them to think differently. Raise their awareness. Teach. Tailor. Take Control. Be a Challenger Coach.

Andre Mello is a Business Coach and a fan of the Challenger Sales Model. He has been in marketing and leadership for over 17 years. If you would like to connect with Andre, please visit www.wysecoaching.com.

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