Social insights and the challenger sale

What sets top salespeople apart from average performers?It’s a question that many in the profession spend their careers considering. Fortunately, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson lay out their intriguing answer in their book– The Challenger Sale

The authors examine the trends and numbers, going in-depth into exactly what separates top salespeople from their less successful colleagues. The results are based on one of the most comprehensive studies into sales success ever undertaken – and the answers are surprising.

Who makes the best salesperson?

On the face of it, many people would expect the most successful salespeople to be the ones who are most responsive to their customers’ needs. Or if not this, then it should be the ones who put in the time to forge ever-closer relationships with their clients.

The reality, as it turns out, is neither of these.

Instead the clear winners (outperforming the others by some 200%) are those salespeople that challenge their customers’ thinking and bring new ideas into play. As the authors point out:

"What sets the best suppliers apart is not the quality of their products, but the value of their insight.

So what does this mean for the social-savvy sales executive?

Gaining more insight, making more sales

It is still the case that too many salespeople treat every prospect largely the same. They use the same arguments, the same PowerPoint deck and the same follow-ups. After a quick bit of needs-search, everything quickly becomes about them. It’s not surprising it’s failing to deliver for so many.

Of course, to really challenge a customer’s thinking in a meaningful way, you need to have deep insight into their market and their individual business. You need to understand what drives success and the key issues they’re trying to overcome. More than this, you need to understand the different options they have for solving their problems and the merits of each.

Importantly, a challenger salesperson must be able to have an in-depth conversation with their customers. In doing so, their role shifts away from old-school sales and towards a more consultative relationship. The authors sum this up when they say:

"The thing that sets Challenger reps apart is their ability to teach customers something new and valuable about how to compete in their market."

Social media – challenger insights on tap


Social channels are an indispensible resource when it comes to gaining the insights you’ll need to make this transition to the challenger way of selling. From getting a broad market overview and staying up to date with the latest trends to better understanding individuals and unearthing different ways of viewing key issues – social holds the key.

So what resources should you be exploring to help you challenge your customers’ thinking?

5 resources for social-powered sales insights

  1. LinkedIn
    Following prospect companies (and their competitors). Joining industry groups and participating in the conversations. Mining your contacts for insights. LinkedIn is a treasure trove of insight and intelligence.>

  2. Google or Talkwalker alerts
    Staying up to date on breaking industry news can involve a lot of time and effort. Make it easier by setting up automated alerts on key search terms through Google or Talkwalker.

  3. Blogs and comments
    Blogs are an obvious source of insight and opinion from industry thought leaders. However, to get a richer source of more challenging viewpoints, be sure to check the comments.

  4. Specialist forums and networks
    While the big networks get the most attention, many industries have their own communities and networks offering a direct route to greater insight (and a source of knowledgeable people to ask when you need to know more).

  5. Q&A sites
    Whether or not you ask a question yourself, sites such as Quora give you the ability to find out the key questions being asked by many of today’s buyers.

Of course, these are just the start. With some time and effort, today’s salespeople can use social media to equip themselves with the context, knowledge and insight they need to challenge their customers’ assumptions and demonstrate a deeper level of business understanding.

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