The Challenger Sale in Marketing: Gain Buying Group Consensus

buying committee

The Challenger Sale has turned sales on its head in some ways since Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson wrote it nearly a decade ago. With the shift to more account-based marketing (ABM) and targeting buying groups rather than individual personas, it’s time to also turn some of our ideas about personas on their heads in our content marketing strategy.

What Is the Challenger Sale?

In a nutshell, the Challenger Sale moves the role of the salesperson as a partner to instead take the role of the challenger who shows the customer that the status quo needs to go.

According to Dixon and Adamson, we need to present customers with “a credible demonstration that the customer’s current mental model is not only flawed, but costing them money or exposing them to risk in ways they never fully realized.” Those who take this challenger role tend to be the most successful salespeople.

Beyond this, it recognizes the complexity of today’s B2B buying process, with buying committees made up of an average of 5.4 people who have already done research and are far along the buyer’s journey. Because it focuses on the entire buying committee, it fits nicely into the SiriusDecisions buying group model.

Find the Mobilizer

We can apply The Challenger Sale to content marketing, especially as part of an ABM strategy where marketing and sales work together to take the buying group from buyer enablement to sales enablement seamlessly.

To accomplish this, we need to rethink content marketing. Rather than focusing on individual personas, we need to target what the Challenger model calls the Mobilizer. Challenger identifies different roles in the buying committee:

  • The Talker: Will readily share information but is only focused on himself/herself
  • The Blocker: Resists change
  • The Mobilizer: Has a healthy skepticism and will help build consensus within the group

Marketing needs to develop content that will help sales identify the Mobilizer. The earlier you can identify a potential mobilizer in the buying journey, the easier it will be to persuade the whole team to make the purchase.

Look for these personality clues to help identify the Mobilizer:

  • Responds to commercial insight: This is less about thought leadership and more about demonstrating deep understanding of the industry and market and its challenges, and especially with previously undiscovered insights. (We’ll talk more about commercial insight in a future blog.)
  • Is open to exploring the topic critically: The Mobilizer isn’t someone who says, “This is the way we’ve always done it.”
  • Cares more about the greater good of the organization than simply his or her role on the team: The Mobilizer is a team player and your champion.

Stop Talking to Individual Personas

Traditionally, we target personas individually. But this is too complicated and counterproductive when trying to create content for a buying group. Instead, what we need to do is create content messaging that challenges the status quo for the Mobilizer and provides information that the Mobilizer can use to build consensus among the other buying group members.

This person may be the decision maker or an influencer. That really becomes of secondary importance in this strategy. We’re appealing to the entire committee through the Mobilizer, who is the champion.

Understand the Mobilizer's Journey

Once you know who the Mobilizer is, how do you appeal to the Mobilizer and provide ammunition to convince the rest of the buying group? In a recent episode of the Content Pros podcast, Pat Spenner offered some tips:

  • Understand the Mobilizer’s buyer’s journey and use that to provide content that will help him or her build consensus.
  • Spend less time diving deep into the pain points and objectives of an individual stakeholder and spend much more of your research time figuring out how that individual stakeholder interacts with the other 4.4.
  • Instead of personas, do “interpersonal personas.” Create stronger connections between stakeholders to build a consensus.

Here’s where your sales team can play a big role. Chances are, they have insights into the buying committee personalities.

Create Content That Connects

When you have a good understanding of the Mobilizer buyer’s journey, you can create content to build consensus. There’s a good chance the buying group has already done a fair amount of research and is looking for more detailed information to evaluate options and make a purchase decision.

Since we’re using the Challenger Sale model, it’s important to provide detailed information that challenges the status quo. Think middle- to late-stage marketing and sales enablement content.

Dig Deep

For this content, there’s no need to start at the beginning with high-level thought leadership pieces that tell the buying group what it already knows. Instead, demonstrate a deep knowledge of the industry and the macro and micro forces it’s facing. Provide insights that speak directly to the challenges your buyers’ businesses face—challenges of which they may have only been superficially aware, and that can make or break their businesses if not addressed.

Go Long

Don’t be afraid to create long-form content. You’ve got to make a strong business case here. This is the last quarter of the game. It’s not the time for snappy, bite-size assets.

Good content formats to consider using here include E-books, white papers, research reports, technical briefs, best practices guides, checklists, Q&As, podcasts and videos. Certainly, you can create derivative short-form content to guide the Mobilizer to the longer-form assets, but the goal is to get them to the meaty stuff fast.

Make Connections

You need to convince the Mobilizer to make a change. You also need to give this champion the case to persuade the rest of the buying committee. Take a cue from SiriusDecisions buying group strategy, and look for common themes.

I take a much deeper look at this in a previous post, where I noted that when you’re targeting a large buying group, you need to develop value propositions that bridge the individual personas. The buying group value proposition must address a need, the ‘desired outcome for the buying group and the associated value.’

Here’s the SiriusDecisions buying group template:

buying group template
Image courtesy of SiriusDecisions

Keep It Going

No ABM strategy can stop with marketing. Arm your sales team with content that will bring the buying group to a purchase decision. If your sales team is familiar with or uses the Challenger Sale model, the transition should be smooth. If not, meet with the sales team to discuss how to move forward with the targeted account to make the sale.

To dive deeper into buyer enablement content, check out our recent webinar, New Trends in Buyer Enablement Content: Top Formats & Tactics That Drive Conversions & Build Trust.

Brenda Caine

Brenda Caine is a senior content strategist at Content4Demand. She works with B2B clients on content marketing strategy, personas, messaging and ideation; content audits, gap analysis and content mapping; blogs; content development and more. Brenda has a black belt in karate, and when she’s not immersed in technology, you can find her dancing in the ballet studio, lifting weights at the gym or strolling down the avenue in a 1930s dress with a smart hat to match. 


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