Everyone knows that the most successful type of sales rep is a relationship builder who gets along with everyone and is generous in giving time to help others. Unfortunately, everyone is wrong, according to Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in their book The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation. When the Sales Executive Council conducted research to find the characteristics which distinguished the most successful sales people from the rest, the results were surprising.
When the research data was analysed, the researchers found that sales reps could be classified into five different types according to their dominant characteristics: the hard worker, the challenger, the relationship builder, the lone wolf and the reactive problem solver. When selling simple items or services, there were high performing sales reps in all five categories, but when selling complex solutions the highest-performing reps were challengers and the lowest-performing were relationship builders.
The book goes on to explain in depth the three key activities of a challenger – teaching, tailoring and taking control – and it explains that challengers are made, not born, so that any sales force can be trained according to the Challenger Selling Model. There are chapters on the three key activities, as well as a chapter on how a sales manager can coach for optimum success and another on building challenger organisations.
The hardest part of becoming a challenger seems to be coming up with an insight which is valuable to customers and differentiates your organisation from your competitors. Once you have such an insight, it seems logical that a potential customer’s degree of enthusiasm will be proportional to the perceived value of the insight.
I am not fully convinced that research results are strong enough to show that every organisation should adopt the Challenger Sales Model espoused by the authors. For low-complexity selling, hard workers did better than challengers, and even for high-complexity sales there were numerous star performers who were not challengers. Nevertheless, in my opinion this is an outstanding book containing important insights which are likely to make it an important text for anyone involved in marketing.