Ask any sales leader how selling has changed in the past decade, and you’ll hear a lot of answers but only one recurring theme: It’s a lot harder. Yet even in these difficult times, every sales organization has a few stellar performers. Who are these people? How can we bottle their magic?
To understand what sets apart this special group of sales reps, the Sales Executive Council launched a global study of sales rep productivity three years ago involving more than 6,000 reps across nearly 100 companies in multiple industries.
What they found is that every sales professional falls into one of five distinct profiles:
1- Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet customers’ every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
2- Hard Workers show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team.
3- Lone Wolves are the deeply self-confident, the rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all.
4- Reactive Problem Solvers are, from the customers’ standpoint, highly reliable and detail-oriented. They focus on post-sales follow-up, ensuring that service issues related to implementation and execution are addressed quickly and thoroughly.
5- Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — with both their customers and bosses.
What it is documented is that Challengers dramatically out-perform the other profiles, particularly Relationship Builders. When we look at average reps, we find a fairly even distribution across all five of these profiles. But while there may be five ways to be average, there’s only one way to be a star. They found that Challenger reps dominate the high-performer population, making up close to 40% of all-star reps.
What makes the Challenger approach different?
– Challengers teach their customers. They focus the sales conversation not on features and benefits but on insight, bringing a unique perspective on the customer’s business. They come to the table with new ideas for their customers that can make money or save money — often opportunities the customer hadn’t realized even existed.
– Challengers tailor their sales message to the customer They have a finely tuned sense of individual customer objectives and value drivers and use this knowledge to effectively position their sales pitch to different types of customer stakeholders within the organization.
– Challengers take control of the sale. While not aggressive, they are certainly assertive. They are comfortable with tension and are unlikely to acquiesce to every customer demand. When necessary, they can press customers a bit — not just in terms of their thinking but around things like price.
– In the end, Challengers win the sale, but it’s almost more eye-opening who loses. Relationship Builders come in dead last, accounting for only 7% of all high performers.
Why are Relationship Builders dead last? What can be concluded is the nature of the relationships is what matters. Challengers win by pushing customers to think differently, using insight to create constructive tension in the sale. Relationship Builders, on the other hand, focus on relieving tension by giving in to the customer’s every demand. Where Challengers push customers outside their comfort zone, Relationship Builders are focused on being accepted into it. They focus on building strong personal relationships across the customer organization, being likable and generous with their time. The Relationship Builder adopts a service mentality. While the Challenger is focused on customer value, the Relationship Builder is more concerned with convenience.
The bottom line — Challengers win and Relationship Builders lose — is one that sales leaders often find deeply troubling, because their organizations have placed by far their biggest bet on recruiting, developing, and rewarding Relationship Builders, the profile least likely to win.