Salesmanship, too, is an art; the perfection of its technique requires study and practice. -James Cash Penney


I can't tell you how many times people have said to me something along the lines of, "my brother in law is such a people person, I keep telling him that he'd be great in sales." -Really? If you met someone that enjoys reading, does that mean they'd be a great writer? If you met someone that loves the show E.R. would that make them a great physician?

Selling is more than being able to quickly develop a rapport with someone. Don't get me wrong, it's helpful but it's not necessary. It's not even that important.

The Sales Executive Council launched a global study of sales rep productivity eight years ago and determined that there were essentially five different types of salespeople. Have a look below and before you go any further in this post, figure out which one you think best describes you. Which one do you think is the most successful?

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.

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.

Lone Wolves: are the deeply self-confident, the rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all.

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.

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 the Sales Executive Council found was that the average salesforce has a pretty equal distribution of all selling styles. However, of all the top performers in the companies studied, 40% of them were the challenger profile.. --Much of the stats in this post are from this article and from the book The Challenger Sale -- which I HIGHLY recommend.

So, the challenger is the most successful, but why? It's because they're able to bring a customer to a moment when they realize they have a problem that previously, they didn't realize existed. Or, they're able to get them to admit that their problems/challenges are more perilous or pressing than they were previously wiling to admit.

Okay, but like how do they do that tng?

Typically in the past (and largely still) sales reps will call on an account and do some probing and determine the problems that the customer already knows exists and then they'll position their products as a solution to these problems. This is referred to as "benefit selling." And guess what? There's nothing wrong with benefit selling, except that if it were the end-all-be-all of selling, there would be no need for outside sales reps.

Why would there be no need for outside sales reps tng?

Okay, let's say you own a business and you know that you have a problem with "x." What's the first thing you're going to do? That's right, you're going to Google, or to a product catalog to order the solution to "x." -90% of the time, this is what happens these days. If the customer knows they have a problem, they're generally savvy enough to try and figure it out on their own.

Challengers will use their knowledge of the industry they're selling in to do a deep-dive in to the customers current and future business. They'll leverage peer-set's to point out problems that exist in other peoples similar businesses. They'll ask about the customers exit strategy and they'll teach them about what their peers have found successful.

When establishing a need that the customer didn't know existed, they'll make it palpable and will create constructive tension in order to get the customer to admit that there is indeed a problem to be solved.

You might be thinking to yourself, "okay tng, this doesn't seem that unusual, it seems common sense that a salesperson that is more assertive would be more successful." -Does it? Prior to reading this, didn't you assume that the person that was the relationship builder would carry the day?

The most surprising part of the Sales Executive Council's finding's was that "Relationship Builders," make up only 4% (the smallest amount) of top performers. Dead Last.

Relationship Builders have so much invested in the "relationship" with the customer that they're afraid to disturb it. Because they're afraid to disturb the relationship, they can't close business.

Just because they don't want to upset their customers, doesn't mean they can't close business tng!

Um... yes, it does. In order to close business, regardless of what you are selling, requires a customer to make a change. In order for a customer to change something, you have to challenge them. People are adverse to change and a "relationship builder," avoids aversions.

If you are insistent on developing a strong relationship with your customers, that's great. YOU SHOULD. But make sure it's a relationship founded on your worth as a consultant. Anyone can play golf with a customer, buy their customer a beer at a ballgame, be the "funny guy" or talk about how your kids are the same age etc. ANYONE. If you base your worth on that, you will have a mediocre career, at best. But very few people can challenge their customers way of thinking in a way that develops a relationship based on mutual respect.

Which relationship do you think is more secure?

Also, no matter what kind of relationship you have with your customer, it's worth squat unless you can leverage it for increased sales. -A challenger can and does.

So remember, your customers are NOT your friends, they're your customers and they're relying on you to consult them on major business decisions. Don't lose sight of that.


My wife LOVES to take personality index tests, you know the ones; DISC/Myers Briggs etc.

We recently took Myers Briggs and it turns out we are each a personality type that only 4% of the population has. She's referred to as "The Commander," (trust me, I have my hands full) and I am "The Debater". -Essentially, I love a verbal challenge, so the Challenger selling model has been a natural fit for me.... my marriage, well it's been worth the work :)

What is your personality style? Check out this online Myers Briggs assessment. You might be surprised by how accurate it is. I was.

Take the test here. -Share your findings. Was it accurate?


Thanks for your insights in a skill that I know little about.

Personally, I think tests like Myers-Briggs do more harm than good. They're fun to do but I wouldn't attach too much meaning to the results (if any at all).

posted by thenewgreen: 1031 days ago