How to build a better Challenger Sales presentation in 2020

Challenger Sales Presentation

Six steps to craft more persuasive messaging for a Challenger Sales presentation in 2020.

B2B sales has never been a walk in the park. But in 2020, it feels like buyers are fully in control. Digital disruption is real and everyone does their own research online now.

In fact, B2B buyers are typically 57% on their way to a buying decision before actively engaging with a sales rep, according to research by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB). Prospects have preconceived ideas about what they want and what they don’t want to spend money on. For B2B sales reps today, connecting your features and benefits to a customer’s needs isn’t enough to consistently close deals.

It’s not what you sell, it’s how you sell it.

Of course, having a superior product or service still matters. However, the companies that win today don’t just provide a solution that customers already think they want—winners teach their prospects a whole new way of thinking.

That’s the power of a transformative insight.

This powerful sales strategy was popularized in the book, The Challenger Sale, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, based on research by the CEB. The book makes the case for the Challenger Sale model, which focuses on the seller teaching their prospect and tailoring their sales process for each individual—in order to take control of the customer conversation. Any sales rep can master this proven sales approach if they craft their messaging following the six-step structure outlined below.

The CEB discovered through extensive research, as described in the book, that top salespeople across a wide variety of industries actively challenge their customers, instead of just building relationships or reacting to their needs.

The challenger sales approach redefines their need. It’s not about delivering a buttoned-up, formal presentation, it’s telling an impossible-to-ignore story. To deliver that story convincingly, you need a well-crafted messaging choreography.


The six steps of crafting messaging for a Challenger Sales presentation:

  1. The Warmer:

In this first step, you identify with the prospect and the problems they have to deal with. Most companies and presenters love to talk about themselves. They start right off with capabilities, locations, features, and blah, blah, blah. Why should they care? If you want an audience to actually pay attention, first prove that you truly understand them. This isn’t the time to fish for information. A prospect doesn’t give you their time to teach you about their business. You must come prepared.

Begin with your assessment of their biggest challenges. Then reassure them that they’re not alone by sharing a similar example from an existing client. Then conclude this step by asking for their reaction. The takeaway should go something like this, “You’re facing X,Y, and Z challenges. Our customer X dealt with the same issue when X happened. Are you experiencing that? What would you add to the list?”

  • Convey relevance.Prove that you understand their world by listing problems that other people in their position and industry typically face.
  • Build curiosity.Don’t lecture; instead, lead a real conversation with examples and open-ended questions. Slide content should be simple and visually intriguing.
  • Demonstrate expertise.Your words should convey your deep knowledge of their business.

Remember, you must demonstrate empathy to build credibility. Mutual understanding is the foundation of trust.

  1. The Reframe

In this step, you introduce a fresh insight that connects the challenges you discussed in the warmer to a much bigger problem or opportunity that they were not aware of. What is the real problem behind their problem? Then, you break the news that the usual solutions they rely on or think they need aren’t effective against this huge challenge.

Think of your reframe as the big headline across the front page. It should grab their attention and leave them wanting to know more.

  • Adapt for impact.Home in on the challenges that they responded to most during the warmer.
  • Be controversial.A great reframe isn’t just surprising, it’s shocking. This new point of view should shake them out of their comfort zone and inertia.

Remember, you must base your reframe on a strong insight. Your goal is to make them think, “I never thought of it like that before!”

  1. Rational Drowning

The purpose of this step is to back up your reframe with cold, hard data. Your insight is not just surprising, it’s true.

Present information that quantifies the scope and hidden costs of the challenge. You want them to realize that the problem is bigger than they imagined and more of an immediate risk than they feared. Achieving this emotional state is sometimes called the “dialing up the FUD factor”—Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

  • Visualize your data.Don’t just rely on graphs, tables, and charts, especially if they’re dense or difficult to follow. Include visual metaphors to make the information memorable.
  • Connect the dots.Repeat visual themes from your warmer and reframe to reinforce your main points.
  • Acknowledge alignment.Confirm that they understand your major points. Don’t worry if you need to pause and review something again.

After laying out such a compelling problem, you may feel a strong impulse to jump into your solution. It is mission-critical that you hold off on any self-promotion. This step is about discomfort, not buy-in. Before you can sell your solution, you must convince your prospect that the problem is worth solving.

Remember, it’s okay (even desirable) to make them squirm a bit. This step is called Rational Drowning because it should feel like they’re drowning in overwhelming evidence.

  1. Emotional Impact

In this step, you’ll humanize the problem and convey that the cost of doing nothing is too high. If rational drowning is about the numbers, then emotional impact is about the narrative. You must ensure that your prospect sees themselves in the story you share in this step.

First, paint a vivid picture of a similar company facing the same challenge. Then describe the painful outcome as they continue business as usual with the traditional thinking and typical reactions in the industry. Ideally, your prospect will nod their heads in agreement that their coworkers would react the same way. Then, you should dwell on the true cost of failure—not just on the company’s bottom line, but also on the career and well-being of the people involved. Your prospect needs to relate to and feel that pain.

  • Spin a good yarn.You are not reciting a case study. You’re telling a great story. Make it one that they’ll want to repeat in the breakroom.
  • Press on the pain.The examples in your story must be relevant and relatable. The negative outcome should be so vivid that no one wants it to happen to them.

Remember: no pain, no change. Once a prospect recognizes that they can’t afford the risk of business as usual, they are ready to hear about new ways of doing things.

  1. A New Way

In this step, you’ll set up your value proposition and a new framework for truly solving the problem.

First, review a point-by-point list of the specific capabilities and features that your prospect would need to solve the underlying problem or rise to the new opportunity that you’ve helped them recognize.

This may feel like a natural place to start promoting your solution, but you need to hold off just a little bit longer. There should be no mention of the name of your product or service—or even your brand or company.

  • Loop back to the pain.Each point on this list should connect to an issue raised in your warmer or reframe.
  • Keep the conversation going.Actively listen to objectives and then thoughtfully answer them. You’re not defending your company’s position, you’re discussing what an idealized version of the perfect solution might look like.

Remember to be thorough and take your time with the details. You want to get them fully on board with a vision of what the ideal solution should be before you reveal that your brand is that answer.

  1. Your Solution

This step is when you show how your product or service is the optimal solution. It’s finally time to sell. The goal is to demonstrate how your company can help them rise to the challenge better than your competition.

This portion of your presentation can take whatever form best showcases your value. It could be as simple as an outline of your key benefits and unique features, or as dazzling as a capabilities video. If you sell a service, a diagram of your strategy or process can be very effective. If you sell a product, a demo might be the most compelling option. After presenting what makes your solution the superior choice, you should highlight your implementation map or describe how easy it will be for your prospect to utilize your solution.

  • Look sharp.Your presentation should be well-designed and executed. Choose the format that works best for your audience and the situation, whether it’s a printed booklet, slides projected on a screen, or a deck shown on a tablet. Make sure every salesperson has the right tools and knows how to use them.
  • Practice more.You want this presentation to feel like a natural conversation, but you’re also putting on a performance. The only way to pull both off is to know your material inside and out. Role play with your team. Tell yourself the story in the mirror. Record your pitch and listen to it in your car or on the plane.

Remember, if you follow these six steps to craft your message, you will teach this soon-to-be-new customer something different about their business and about how to succeed in their job.

At The Marketing Blender, we’ve seen firsthand the power that a challenging insight has to transform results. We’ve helped dozens of clients implement the Challenge Sale approach to craft persuasive messaging and build unbeatable presentations.

For more on how to structure your messaging to close more deals, read this post on the most compelling language you can use to sell.

The Marketing Blender is a full-service B2B marketing agency focused on accelerating growth for clients in manufacturing, healthcare, software, and professional services.

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