Editor’s Note: Though regular readers will note that most Challenger articles follow the conventions of U.S. English, we feel the spirit of this post dictates we maintain the original U.K English in which it was written. This article is by Veronica Coli, Challenger’s senior director of client success, based in the U.K. 

Since the publication of its namesake book in 2011, the Challenger Sales Methodology has been adopted by thousands of organisations worldwide. Thirteen years into helping organisations implement Challenger, I find it still courts controversy as a methodology in international sales circles. I often hear sellers say “Challenger was made for an American audience; it does not work outside of America.”

For one thing, the skeptics tend to think that Challenger vocabulary and colloquialisms won’t translate to international audiences. I also hear the misconception that some of the more “challenging” concepts in Challenger methodology, such as Creating Constructive Tension, only work in the context of Americans’ very direct style of business communication.

The reality is that Challenger teachings can adapt to fit any culture — and can even help sellers expand into new markets with time-tested skills. Let’s debunk the idea that “Challenger is only for Americans” once and for all by unpacking some of the more common myths.

Myth #1: Most Challenger programmes are implemented in the U.S.

Challenger offers training to clients across the world. In fact, of the organizations who partnered with us to implement Challenger methodology in their sales organizations, over 40% come from outside of the US. That doesn’t include the U.S.-based organizations with whom we partner on implementations in offices around the world.

Myth #2 – Asian and European markets differ too much from the U.S.

While it’s true that “The Challenger Sale” grew out of research conducted by CEB (now Gartner) among American sellers,  the Challenger Sales Methodology has grown and evolved internationally as CEB’s research on high-performing sellers began to spread across European and Asian markets. And, as you might expect, CEB’s original research revealed some interesting distinctions.

For instance, in Asia, we found that nearly one in two salespeople were Hard Workers (as opposed to 21% in the U.S.). The Hard Worker profile adeptly reacts to demand and converting customers who indicate a clear intent to buy. Due to underpenetrated markets, most deals in Asia have been fairly transactional, which historically favoured Hard Workers. However, while the Hard Worker is the most prevalent seller profile in Asia, Hard Workers are significantly more likely to also be core performers.

As we know, Challenger sellers perform best in complex sales. Given the trend toward greater sales complexity in all industries and markets in Asia, the Challenger is the best profile to seek when hiring and upskilling.

a chart showing distribution of high and core performers in asia by profile

As we know, Challenger sellers perform best in complex sales. Given the trend toward greater sales complexity in all industries and markets in Asia, the Challenger is the best profile to seek when hiring and upskilling.

distribution of higher performers in asia by profile

As we supported an increasing amount of organisations implementing the methodology across Europe and Asia, our findings continued to validate the original study. This proved that not only was B2B-buying dysfunction and aversion to risk just the same in international markets, but also that high performing sellers in those markets exhibited the same skills as Challengers — and won more often — than their peers. For this reason, I would argue that failing to understand why the Challenger wins in diverse cultural landscapes is a risk most businesses can’t afford.

There are, however, some nuances and “rules for the road” to consider so you can ensure cultural fit and avoid the risk of rejection.

That leads me to Myth #3.

Myth #3 – Challenger is too assertive for some cultures

At its core, the Challenger Sales Methodology rejects the traditional notion of sales as primarily driven by relationships. Instead, it advocates for sales professionals to become educators who offer valuable insights and perspectives to reshape customers’ thinking. The methodology outlines five profiles of sales reps, with the Challenger profile emerging as the most effective in driving high-performing sales teams.

Challengers excel at deeply understanding their customers’ businesses, uncovering hidden needs, and bringing disruptive insights that reshape customers’ perspectives. By doing so, they establish themselves as trusted advisors rather than mere vendors, driving not just transactions but long-term partnerships.

Of course, Challengers working in diverse markets must take cultural sensitivity into account. This is where understanding local customs, communication styles, and business practices is essential for success. By leveraging insights into regional trends, industry-specific challenges, and competitive landscapes, sales professionals can bring tailored insights at the right moment and in the right way. This requires flexibility in communication styles and a willingness to adapt to different cultural norms.

Luckily, Challengers naturally exhibit this flexibility and adaptability in spades. One of the strengths of the Challenger Sales Methodology lies in its ability to read local market dynamics and customer preferences.

  • In Europe, where we place an emphasis on relationship-building in business dealings, those giving Challenger only a surface-level review might balk. When we dive deeper, we see that the methodology does not diminish the importance of relationships. It instead encourages sellers to bring a new or distinct perspective to those relationships, making them of added value. This perspective shift helps convince European audiences of Challenger’s utility. Understanding regional differences is paramount here, too. For instance, the assertive business culture of Germany differs quite a bit from the more relationship-focused dynamics of Southern Europe.
  • In contrast, Asian markets, known for their emphasis on hierarchy and respect for authority, require a more nuanced approach. Challengers must navigate these differences delicately, focusing on building trust and credibility over time. Patience, humility, and a genuine interest in understanding the client’s perspective become extremely important for Challengers working in this context.

The bottom line: Sellers must adapt strategies to local contexts.

Does the Challenger Sales Methodology work for international sales?

Regardless of geographical location, the underlying principles of the Challenger Sales Methodology remain consistent: a focus on value creation and insights that make the customer think differently. By demonstrating a deep understanding of customers’ needs and providing insights that challenge conventional thinking, sales professionals can position themselves as indispensable partners in their clients’ success.

At Challenger, the Client Success team excels at implementing programmes tailored to the individual organisations and their regional rollouts. Over the years, we configured the following approaches to successfully localize our client engagement experience:

  • Engage local leadership early and share details (what / why / when)
  • Understand each of the local markets included in the full scope
  • Work with facilitators to determine local and relevant examples
  • Organise calls with the facilitators
  • Local facilitators emphasize the collaborative nature of the Challenger skills and selling approach in the classroom. They teach participants that Challengers embrace collaboration by bringing intriguing information that benefits the customer in a manner that helps them to think critically about the topic – and act.

Challenger supports sellers working in diverse markets around the world by helping them change how they sell. Explore our success stories to learn more.

To summarise

The Challenger Sales methodology isn’t just for Americans or American companies. It works across all kinds of cultures when sellers show a commitment to navigating varying communication styles, relationship dynamics, and rules of business etiquette. If businesses embrace cultural diversity and tweak their implementation journeys accordingly, they can successfully unlock new growth opportunities in markets all over the world.

Veronica Coli is senior director, client success, at Challenger. She is based in London and loves leading tailored implementation journeys with our most strategic accounts, seeing customer results, and sharing learnings across cultures and regions.

Veronica Coli