Sat with Nat · vendor self-defense

Nat‘s birthday gift to you: unpacking the challenger sales model

Recommended soundtrack: Good News by (Canadian National Treasure and my internet crush) Coco Love Alcorn

The video ad jumps into place, a birds eye view camera shot of a slim, muscular white woman who is younger than me. She is running on a treadmill with deliberate intensity. She looks up at the camera and smiles.

“Cardio burns fat, right?” she nods her head then flips to a scowl, slams the emergency stop and yells “WRONG!”

It’s jolting and designed to jostle us out of our world view. I find it really annoying. Ads like it are increasingly popping across my browsers, YouTube videos and social media feeds.

I was talking with my beloved about how annoying I find it because for a split second I’m engaged and the emotional pump works even though I don’t want to buy whatever fitness “solution” she is selling. He deftly replied “Oh that’s an example of The Challenger sales model. You always hate those because on some level you know it’s a trick.”

Well he is so right. The love of my life dipped his toe into sales for a few years, and filled our house with sales strategy books for a while. I then thought about when I first learned about unconscious bias and once I knew about my biases I couldn’t ignore them. I think sales strategies are like that: they lose their magic when you know they prime you emotionally to let go of your money.

It’s my birthday tomorrow and who doesn’t like gifts? Even better, this gift I give you has no ulterior motive than to offer you some tools to engage in vendor self defense. If you already have this tool you can re-gift this wisdom to your beloveds. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Ok. So back to the ad. The first emotional hook is getting the viewer to agree. The line and the nodding are intended to get us to relate to the speaker. A kind of micro-relationship forms. If it’s done well we now want the speaker to succeed.

Let’s forget you probably already know that cardio exercise is short for cardiovascular conditioning. The goals are strengthening our hearts, lungs and endurance. Note I’m not talking about weight loss or fat burning.

Measures of fitness related to cardio can be resting heart rate, blood pressure, VO2 max…that kind of stuff.

So already our speaker is kind of loosing her sale but I STILL FIND MYSELF NODDING IN AGREEMENT. Holy crap, this emotional pump stuff is powerful. She then slams us with the “WRONG” to set her hook. Now she just needs to reel us in.

At this point you are wondering where my big insight is, and honestly I often opt out of the ad as she dives into offering whatever solution she is selling. The spell breaks because the seller isn’t doing a good job. But the pattern is important. So let’s see what the components of The Challenger model are so you can keep your money for things you actually need and enjoy.

The model has three “T”s: teach, tailor and take control. The goal is to challenge a key assumption, disrupt your confidence in your world view, and create a need that the seller can fill with a product.


The seller needs you to believe that one of your beliefs about the world is wrong. The goal is to subordinate you, to position themselves as a wise teacher and you as the student. They want to blow your mind, peel back the veil of ignorance and show you a big, shiny truth that is supposed to be BIG NEWS to you.

To defend yourself from this part of the tactic you can question the wisdom. What are the sources the seller is using? Who is this self-appointed teacher? Do I need the services they offer? (It could be you are in the market for a new guitar amplifier and this person sells amps.)


If the seller has you in the right demographic bucket it might feel like they totally know what you need, your concerns and your spending threshold.

Be careful friends, you are in the sales funnel now and the seller is working hard to convert you from a prospect to a sale.

Vendor self defense move: Question if this is a need you have and if this is a solution you want and can afford.

Spoiler, you, your body and your fitness aren’t a problem and these “solutions” are often more harmful than helpful.

Take Control of the Conversation

Here is where you might see creating a sense of urgency (act now and get a big discount!) and other pressure tactics to close the deal (it’s the LAST Guitar amp IN THE WORLD UNTIL 2025!!) .

They will try to address objections. Your objection might be the price point so they offer financing or smaller monthly payments.

Your vendor self defense at this point is take so time to reflect on the sale. Literally walk away or turn off the device. It could be they are selling THE EXACT AMP YOU NEED but. Honestly. It will be there tomorrow or another one will come along.

I hope you enjoyed my birthday gift. Please do re-gift it. Save your money for the things you really need or truly want. Bonus points for those who share examples of The Challenger sales model in the wild!

This is a picture of my new orange amp for my electric guitar. It cost the same as a popular weight loss program for a year. I bough it from a nice person who didn’t use sales tactics.