Be Assertive, Not Aggressive

Be Assertive, Not Aggressive

What does "Taking Control" really mean?


Standing up a new blog for Challenger has me reading a lot of content from our years as part of CEB and Gartner.  I keep finding interesting answers to questions that are still relevant.  This is one for sure, written originally by my colleague Evan De La Torre.


We get a lot of questions about Take Control, one of the three Challenger Rep competency skills. What does Take Control actually mean? How do we help our reps navigate these waters without coming off as too aggressive? Isn’t Taking Control simply good negotiation skills? We’d like to offer some insights for you and your sales organization because there’s a lot of complexity in getting Taking Control right.


The first step is to understand what Take Control actually means.

Taking Control is about being comfortable with applying what you know about a situation to drive a desired outcome; it’s about managing conversations and proactively putting commercial insight in front of customers and prospects. It means determining what customers need to understand and finding ways to show it to them despite their focus on price. It also has a strong component in pushing back (diplomatically) on objections and identifying and coaching Mobilizers, those customer stakeholders who can mobilize their organization around a purchase. It’s about suggesting to customers ways to more effectively build consensus and buy your solutions.


What about negotiation? Where does that fit into the equation?

For many people, negotiating is the most obvious and tactical example of Taking Control. Negotiation is about our reps exhibiting the unflinching nerves of steel to push back on customer objections and build constructive tension. We find that during customer interactions, reps often err on the side of being too passive, avoiding tension at any cost to make situations more amicable. This, however, allows the customer to control the interaction and it often relegates the conversation to price, or delaying decision making (perhaps to a no-decision scenario).


Our job is to focus the conversation on value, not price. Since customers often have a limited set of negotiables—mostly driven by price—Challengers are charged with broadening the customer perspective. But, there’s a common fear that, when allowed, reps might take that pressure too far and risk coming off as overly aggressive.


In order to help sales people better navigate these waters, we profiled DuPont and their negotiation roadmap as part of The Challenger Sale book. This road map mitigates reps’ potential aggressiveness and helps them maintain an assertive posture without appearing too inflexible. The roadmap guides reps on how negotiations should unfold and follows four key principles: 1. create an action plan, 2. shift discussion to value, 3. refocus and explore priorities, and 4. exchange value… don’t give it away.


To learn more about how DuPont did it, look at Chapter 7 of The Challenger Sale book. You can find more information about the book and secure at copy at


Clearly, there are many moving parts to getting Take Control right and many opportunities to steer the boat astray. If you’d like more information about any of the concepts above please contact us at Challenger and we’d be happy to set up a conversation with you.