It was 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 small-talk 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 book, 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 much larger. 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.
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 put into action.
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 and 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.
Before we go any further, let us first define these terms: intellect, values and motivations.
Intellect is a measure of the speed and accuracy at which an individual takes in, retains and processes information. That’s it. It is NOT a measure of academic achievement. In the world of business, two things impact the level of intellectual horsepower required: ambiguity and complexity. The more these factors increase, the greater the need for intellectual horsepower.
Values are the innate characteristics that define your behaviour at work. It is how we approach relationships and decision making; it is how we feel about authority and being told what to do; it’s whether we are conscientious or 'trader'; it’s whether we empathise with others or not. Think about behaviours you are highly regarded for, you will find that it is the behaviours you value the most that end up making you! Values are also those things that mean most people have decided they are leaving the business they’ve just joined within the first three months.
Values are essential to understanding an individual’s propensity to be a Challenger, a Relationship Builder or any other archetype. If you do not understand your employees’ values or those of the individual you are hiring, we would argue you don’t know them at all.
Motivations are perhaps the trickiest to define; this is perhaps best described as the factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic that compel us to act. In a business context, this would be; what job you like doing? What types of environment do you like doing it in? How do you like to work? What speed do you act? What speed do you then deliver at? And what’s your attention span like?
Without understanding a sales person's intellect, values and motivations, organisations today are wasting billions of pounds 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 three months, six 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, while Challengers are not born, they are definitely not made by sales training, be it Challenger or otherwise.
Secondly, we do not believe that archetypes are transferable. An organisation’s client market, culture, leadership, systems and processes define 'What Great Looks Like' (WGLL™) for that specific organisation, ie a Challenger in one organisation may not be a Challenger in another; hell, you may not need a Challenger at all.
This is the nub of the issue, in CEB's own research 50%+ of the high performers were not Challengers. The answer is to determine WGLL™ for your organisation, that may be Challengers, that might be lone wolves or even (god forbid) relationship builders. 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.
The Challenger Archetype is in fact too simplistic and focused on competency or skill. No wonder the application of the archetype is difficult to manage in sales organisations when every individual is so different.
As users what we actually need is a set of simple tools, data led (not opinion led) that ascertain rapidly:
What archetypes are present in my sales force?
What is the time, effort and intervention required to shift individual salespeople to the archetype we need?
How do we change our hiring processes to hire the archetype we need?
As you will have noticed I have referred to the archetype you need.
Herein lies the final challenge, that of an obsession with Challenger as the ONLY profile that works. This is simply not true for every business. Remember of the Star Performers 54% were Challengers, this means 46% were a mix of the other archetypes.
Therefore, working out what Archetype works for your business is a really clear goal to achieve, ie What Does Great Look Like for your sales business, with your culture, your systems, your process, your leadership and your customers… the archetypes in The Challenger Sale are a great starting point, the real upside is being able to identify what Archetype, positioned where, delivers high performance.
So, bringing the principles of Challenger to life in a way that has the maximum impact on your business is about identifying the unique ingredients for high performance for your sales force and then changing your hiring and development processes to fill your sales organisation with high performers. Managers should ask themselves this question: “What if 75% of your sales force behaved and performed the same way as your top 10%? What would that do for your career, your revenue, your profits, your customers and ultimately your shareholders?”
About the author: Roger Philby is the CEO of The Chemistry Group, a consultancy that drives business improvement through behaviour change.