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Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in their book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation (2011) outline their findings from a study of over 6,000 sales reps across 45 dimensions of sales performance. In essence they fly in the face of long held beliefs that relationship focused sales people are the most effective in complex selling situations. Instead they argue that the relationship builder is the worst performer by far of the 5 types of sales people, namely:

The Hard Worker: the rep “that shows up early, stays late, and is always willing to put in the extra effort.”

The Relationship Builder: “is all about building and nurturing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization.”

The Lone Wolf: are loners in the organisation who often work independently of company rules. Their self-confidence drives them to  follow their instincts more than process.

The Problem Solver: is “highly reliable and very detail-oriented.”  They make sure to manage expectations and follow-up well to deliver committments.

The Challenger:  “They’ve got a deep understanding of the customer’s business and use that understanding to challenge the customer’s thinking and teach them something new about how their company operates.”

The authors saw no significant difference between the five groups in relation to average sales performance. But you dont want to be just average do you?

For HIGH performers, by far the greatest percentage came from the Challengers (39%).  Followed by Lone Wolf (25%), Hard Worker (17%), Problem Solver (12%) and finally Relationship Builders were the lowest percentage at only 7% .

Our view

The Challenger principles are well founded and go to the heart of modern day consultative selling. The underlying principal that effective sales people use their insight of the clients environment and their business to challenge their thinking is a good one and this is the basis of our Discussions approach (more here).

Using your deep understanding of your clients competitive situation will help them to focus on areas where performance can be most improved. Sales people must be credible across a broad range of contacts in a client  both functionally (IT, sales, finance etc) and seniority (C level to operational). Therefore good planning and focus is essential.

We feel that success is not about challenging INSTEAD of building good relationships, it is AS WELL AS. After all, nothing builds relationships faster and stronger than being the sales person that helps a client see improvement opportunities and helping them to realise them.

One thing is clear, the Gin & Tonic sales people (who believe their personality will win through) are doomed to fail and if this is what the authors refer to  as the Relationship seller we whole heartedly agree. Today, success is more than doing everything asked by your client and avoiding conflict (relationship sellers?) and more about being consultative in your approach to helping them deliver success in their organisation.

Can we help you to construct your value proposition to challenge your clients or support the development of your team in taking this to market? If so please do get in touch.




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