Pretty much from day one I was taught that one of THE most important aspects of sales is to build strong relationships with your customers and prospects. And I think building solid relationships is still VERY important, especially in a complex selling environment. But in their book "The Challenger Sale", Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson reveal research that yields some eye-opening results.

In their study, Dixon and Adamson broke down the sales styles of the most successful salespeople into FIVE distinct profiles:

  • The Challenger (Offers customers unique perspectives, pressures the customer, likes to debate) 
  • The Relationship Builder (Very generous with their time, works hard to ensure customer’s needs are met, gets along with everyone)
  • The Hard Worker (Makes the most sales calls, gets to work early, leaves work late, always seeking out feedback and constantly looking for opportunities to improve their game) 
  • The Lone Wolf (Deeply self-confident, tends to follow their own instincts and rules) 
  • The Reactive Problem Solver (Highly reliable and very detail-oriented, tends to focus very heavily on post-sales follow up) 

Which profile group do you think turned out to be the LEAST likely to succeed?

If you guessed the Relationship Builder, you would be CORRECT!

Take a look at the figure below from the book. 

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What do you notice? 

For me, the data that jumps off the page the most, is the fact that not only is the "Relationship Builder" the least successful, but for complex type sales, only FOUR PERCENT of Relationship Builders are likely to succeed. WOW!

So how do you take this data and apply it to your company's sales teams?

That question is obviously for you to decide, but I think the point is that focusing solely on building relationships might not be good enough anymore. Especially if your business operates in a complex sales environment. 

Is it time to start building your sales teams into Challengers?


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Brad Telker
Director of Commercial Sales at cfm Distributors, Inc.

Brad joined the cfm team in 2006, and now as the Director of Commercial Sales, he focuses on business development, as well as helping contractors and engineers find creative and unique solutions to any size project. When he’s not at work, Brad enjoys photography, running and spending time with his family.


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