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The role of the Challenger in a sales team

Roger Philby

Roger Philby, CEO of The Chemistry Group, on why its time to revise the Challenger Sales Model

It’s 2010, and unbeknown to anyone in our office, we posted a blog that foretold perhaps the biggest wave of change on global sales forces that we have seen since one caveman said to another “if I can do that deal for you today, will you take it?”

What we said in that blog post was that the new sales person needs content – content that must bring real value to the client. Something that makes the client more competitive or faster to market. This new sales person was different from its predecessor: who merely needed to have a good knowledge of the client’s product and the ability to engage in endless smalltalk over oysters and champagne. We foretold that the new sales landscape valued content far more than relationships. 

At a similar time Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the CEB were working on The Challenger Sale: Taking control of the customer conversation. Starting with a sample of 700 sales people they drew some startling conclusions on sales effectiveness. Their sample size is now over 6,000. Their key conclusion was that sales people could be placed in to five archetypes: The Hard Worker, The Challenger, The Relationship Builder, The Lone Wolf and The Problem Solver. 

Furthermore, they conclude that of all the archetypes there is one that consistently outperforms all the others by a “landslide”: The Challenger. Challenger archetypes formed over 40% of the star performers that were identified. When you overlay complexity of sale the emphasis on the Challenger archetype increases to 54%.

As a finding this isn’t ground breaking, as we asserted in our blog, content is king. CEB also identified that only 7% of star performers were Relationship Builders – that is the ringing alarm bell.Challenger appears to be the zeitgeist or is it a case of mass hysteria?

You see it has a spectacular flaw, a flaw that is causing a huge gap between the theory and the practical application, a flaw that only The Chemistry Group and its clients know how to navigate.

Around the world we are seeing this flaw lead to organisations struggling with questions such as:


• Does that mean I only need Challengers?

• What do I do with my relationship builders?

• What have I actually got in my sales force?

• How do I hire for Challengers?

• How do I make Challengers?

So what we are seeing is belief in the data and findings, followed by total confusion as to what is to be done. Dangerously, we are also seeing the wrong conclusions being drawn and the wrong hiring or development being actioned.


So where do we think Challenger fails?


Firstly we know that not every individual is capable of being a Challenger. CEB claim Challengers are made not born, we would agree to a certain extent, we don't believe you are born to be a challenger however we are convinced that your potential to be a Challenger is increased or decreased by the time you enter Secondary/High School. This is because your potential to be a Challenger is locked in your Intellect, Values & Motivations. The CEB conveniently ignores these human factors but they are key enablers to accelerating your sales team’s development and powering your sales hiring.

Without understanding a sales person's intellect, values and motivations, organisations today are wasting £billions on sales training and development. There is precedent for this conclusion: how many sales reps, that when put through a sales methodology training programme, apply their new knowledge 3 months, 6 months or a year after the programme? 25%? Is this the same 25% who adopted the CRM when you rolled it out? Or the same 25% that hit target every time? So whilst Challengers are not born, they definitely are not made by sales training, be it Challenger or not.

Secondly, we do not believe that archetypes are transferable, an organisation’s client market, culture, leadership, systems and processes define What Great Looks Like for that specific organisation, ie a Challenger in one organisation may not be a Challenger in another. 
This is the nub of the issue, in CEB's own research 50% plus of the high performers were not Challengers. What we and you should be interested in is "what do High Performers look like in my organisation?", define it objectively and then measure all your hires by it and develop your sales force to it. If it makes you feel better call them Challengers, the truth is it really doesn't matter.


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