Clients and Agencies Should Embrace “The Challenger Sale"

People often use the phrase “I don’t want to be a big fish in a small pond” to justify moving and pursuing their dreams. Children are told to “spread their wings” and take on every opportunity to challenge and find themselves.

A challenge is an obstacle that, once overcome, builds stronger character and leads to growth. And, because they make people better, we are drawn to them.

As a part of the AgencySparks vetting process, we interview agencies and their clients to determine the health of their current or past relationships. Over the course of 45 sets of interviews conducted, we have found a reoccurring theme - agencies who are “order takers” tend to have weaker client relationships.

Clients frequently express an appreciation for an agency with conviction. There is potential for serious growth when agencies have the backbone to support their ideas and challenge the client’s original plan. If there is not a healthy back and forth, the client could stagnate and the agency may never showcase their true capabilities to benefit the client.

Agencies need to become challengers in order to offer their client’s the best solutions.

The Challenger Sale Approach, which is based off of Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamsons book “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation,” is a method to help salespeople (or agencies) build healthy relationships with clients by challenging them.


How can agencies implement the Challenger Sale?

Tell a story that relates to the client.

Getting a client to see that they have significant issues may be difficult at first. Help the client recognize their problems by painting a picture “of how other companies just like the customer’s went down a similarly painful path.”

Get the client to acknowledge that they have a problem.

Before offering a solution to the problem, the client must agree that the problem looks like a challenge that exists in their organization.

Relate the client’s problem to the agency’s services.

Use previous experience and research to tie the client’s problems to the agency’s services. Use a deep understanding of the client’s business to “push the customer’s thinking and teach them something new about how their company can compete more effectively.”

Offer value.

Standing on the sidelines accepting the client’s solutions won’t help anyone. Unless the client is challenged to see everything in a new light, they will not. Don’t just be agreeable, offer value. Make the company think differently about themselves and highlight how the agency can help.

“Show them something new, and then show them why it matters.”


How can brands work better with their agency partners?

Clients need to swallow their ego.

There is a reason the agency was hired - to fill a current hole in processes or meet a certain need - they are there to help.

The agency has earned the business and is working to understand it. They also have a fresh perspective and experience that may provide new insights and growth.

Accept challenges like “opportunities to cut costs, increase revenue, penetrate new markets, and mitigate risk” in ways the brand has never before imagined.

Embrace the agency as an extension of the client’s team.

The Challenger Sale says this work is “about co-creation (i.e., thought partnership) without value judgment, about working together collaboratively to find a better way to advance a deal.”

If the client just expects the agency to adhere to specific guidelines, the agency may not meet their full working potential. Unlock the agency’s capabilities by working side-by-side with them, collaborating on ideas and timelines, and pushing each others’ strategies. The agency has a fresh look on the business that should be considered.

Create a healthy give and take balance.

Accept challenges to get better.

Complacency and routine are what make brands go stale. The world is constantly evolving. Instead of resisting change, embrace it.

Don’t have time to read the actual book, but enjoyed these insights? Here is a great summary.


Whether on the client or the agency side, it is valuable to understand the mentality of your partner. Just like in an actual relationship, communication, understanding, and flexibility lead to a more sustainable, healthy partnership.