Challenging In The Channel

Challenging In The Channel

Bring your customer's insight together, as true partners 

Selling through channel partners represents a significant part of the go-to-market strategy for many companies. If you're transforming to a Challenger way of selling, you want to think about best practices for bringing your channel partners along.  This post by my former CEB colleague Scott Collins provides some good ideas.

Our research on the Challenger Rep has taken hold in many organizations and with many sales leaders. Many of these organizations sell directly to their end customer. But there are many sales organizations out there that sell indirectly through partners and distributors (and of course those that have both direct and indirect sales channels). How do the Challenger concepts relate to them?

Here, the questions often come at a fast and furious pace: “How does Challenger work in the indirect environment? Who should I be teaching for differentiation? How do I manage this effectively if we want to implement the Challenger approach?”

At the end of the day, here’s the big issue underlying all these questions: a lack of control of your partner’s sales force. It can be a lot to expect them to sell your products and solutions in a differentiated way.

Now, it would be easy to say that it’s impossible to do or that we shouldn’t spend the time and the money. But, there’s a major reason we shouldn’t do that: customers still require unique perspective on their business and need their assumptions “challenged” (in fact, this drives 53% of customer loyalty).

Knowing that we can’t ignore this changing sales environment, what can we do? Here’s a few ways to overcome the hurdles of implementing Challenger in the indirect channel:

  1. Teach your partners—Leverage Commercial Teaching concepts to explain “why” partners should care about selling your products better, differently and in a unique way. In short, teach your partners and provide them unique perspective on why you are best positioned to be a leader in the markets they sell to.

In the indirect environment, it’s really about creating two different teaching pitches. One that will help you be successful with your channel partner – and one that will help your channel partner be more successful selling to their customer.

  1. Certify on Challenger skills—Not only develop commercial teaching messages for partners but also upskill and certify them on their delivery of those messages and other Challenger Rep skills. You can mine and provide the insight to teach end customers, through your partners. But this requires the extra effort of training and certification to overcome the lack of control issue.
  2. Collaborate with partners on the Challenger approach—Utilize effective account planning to build strategic goals with partners during the account planning/category review process.
  3. Reward the Challenger behaviors—Use metrics to hold partners accountable for the outcomes you want to achieve, and tie incentives to their demonstration of the Challenger behaviors.

While it isn’t an easy answer by any means, there are ways to drive Challenger Rep behaviors if you’re selling in an indirect or channel model. Visit our Web site at to connect with our team and start a conversation about bringing the Challenger concept to your channel partners.