The Challenger Sale: Identifying different types of Sales Reps


Solution-based selling

I think we are all familiar with this highly popular sales method across the B2B world.

With suppliers looking to be viewed as trusted advisors and strategic partners to their customers – and ultimately recognising the value in selling a product(s) which have proven value to a customer, whether that is solving an immediate issue, generating revenue, or cutting costs.

From a supplier perspective, the solution-based approach gives them a way of meeting a customer’s needs, whilst maintaining a great USP over their competitors than simple product selling. The nature of the supplier / customer relationship becomes more strategic and less transactional as a result.

From a customer perspective, it allows them to expect, and obtain, from one supplier, a bundled offering that meets their broader requirements. They can expect a real problem to be solved and a clear return on investment seen.

 Sounds ideal?

But how can this work best in practice?

And how can it be maintained, even during economic recession / other challenges?

‘The Challenger Sale’ by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, is the summary of extensive research conducted into how to be successful in sales.

The research was conducted following the economic crash of 2008 and set out to explore how successful sales reps had managed to stay successful, even in such a difficult climate.

Interestingly, unlike a lot of research where high performers are compared to low performers to analyse the difference in style, this research compared high performers to core performers – to better understand the difference between good and great.

Over the next few weeks, we will explore their research in more depth, however this week we are going to start with their first discovery:

They believe there are five different types of sales reps

When factor analysis was conducted on the data they had obtained, it clearly indicated that certain characteristics tend to clump together. Of the 44 characteristics tested, they found they fell into five distinct groups whereby if a sales rep was good at one characteristic, they tended to be very good at all within that group.

So, what were the identified different groups?

The Hard Worker:

“Hard Workers are exactly who they sound like”.

Typical traits:

  • Self-motivated
  • Don’t give up easily
  • High volume of activity
  • Frequently seek out feedback


The Relationship Builder:

“Relationship builders are all about building and nurturing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organisation”.

Typical Traits:

  • Generous with their time
  • Ensure customer’s needs are met
  • Ensure they are seen as accessible and offering a good service


The Lone Wolf:

“Lone Wolves are deeply self-confident. As a result, they tend to follow their own instincts instead of the rules”.

Typical Traits:

  • No / limited compliance with process and administration tasks
  • Can be seen as ‘cowboys’
  • Will do things their own way


The Reactive Problem Solver:

“The Reactive Problem Solver is highly reliable and very detail orientated…..these individuals are naturally drawn to ensuring that all of the promises that are inevitably made as a part of a sale are actually kept once that deal is done”.

Typical Traits:

  • Focus heavily on post-sales follow up
  • Find ways to make the customer happy
  • Can be seen as “a customer service rep in sales rep clothing”


The Challenger:

“Challengers are the debaters on the team. They’ve got a deep understanding of the customer’s business and use that understanding to push the customer’s thinking and teach them something new about how their company can compete more effectively”.

Typical Traits:

  • Not afraid to share their views – even if potentially controversial
  • Assertive
  • Will ‘press’ both their customers and managers a little, to get them thinking about complex issues differently

Next week we will explore which sales rep type the research showed was typically the most successful, but in the meantime, thinking about your sales team:

 Which of these five sales types describes your sales team?

 Which types of sales reps are you trying to recruit currently?

 Which type would you like your reps to behave more like?

 If you want to learn more in the meantime, the book can be purchased here.

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