Challenger Sale: 5 Types of Sales Reps

The Challenger Sale (2011) is a great book to understand sales teams. One key insight is a study where they break sales reps down into 5 persons and see which ones tend to over-perform (defined as the top 20% of reps by quota attainment).

Over attainment matters because given the same pipeline, star performers close 59% more revenue for transactional businesses and almost 200% in solution selling.

Since most SaaS tools are sophisticated systems, that means taking the Challenger approach (explained at length in the book) has the potential to triple your sales. At Demo Gorilla we’re committed to making sure all reps succeed — but we’re also committed to following the data.

Here are the 5 types of Sales reps and some reasons they may under or over perform:

1. The Relationship Builder

Someone with a rolodex of connections, they focus on building and maintaining relationships.

  • 26% of reps
  • 7% of top performers

This persona massively underperforms. For 2 reasons, we think:

  • There's absolutely a baseline of relationship you need to build -- nobody wants to buy from a jerk. But it doesn't scale linearly with effort, spending twice as much effort on relationship building doesn't turn into twice the deal size.
  • They are slightly over-represented in sales because it's so obvious that this is obviously a good skill to have (it's a baseline!) so people who have are naturals at building relationships tend to pursue a career in sales rather than exploring other career paths.

2. The Reactive Problem Solver

Exactly how it sounds: very responsive, always tries to be helpful (even if the focus isn't on the highest impact part of the funnel).

  • 14% of reps
  • 12% of top performers

This persona slightly underperforms. Pretty obvious as to why: being reactive instead of proactive, and not always investing in the highest leverage tasks.

To us this seems pretty closely related to the relationship builder, one good way to build a relationship is to solve their problems.

Also the smallest group, we suspect, because there is a real career path for post-sales and reps who are better suited for it likely end up there eventually rather than staying as AEs.

3. The Hard Worker

  • 22% of reps
  • 17% of top performers

Moderately under performs. Another self-evident group: they do the work. In addition to working hard, they are interested in feedback, learning and personal development.

Understanding why this group underperforms was one of the most eye opening aspects of the book. Star performers are able to extract 59% more revenue from the same pipeline in simple sales, and it's believable that someone can work 59% harder; not obvious but believable. When you see the star reps in solution selling closing almost 3x what an average rep closes, that's not something you can do with more hours.

4. The Lone Wolf

  • 15% of reps
  • 25% of top performers

Strongly over performs.

This one is a bit of a head scratcher: why isn't the book about lone wolves? Well for one thing, even if they get the job done, sales managers hate them because they don't follow the rules. But more importantly, they can't be trained -- these people are reps because it's one of the few jobs where you can succeed in spite of frustrating your manager -- as long as you hit your quota.

5. The Challenger

  • 23% of reps
  • 39% of top performers

Strongly over performs.

Even more strongly represented among high performers in solution sales, the focus of the book is how to learn these skills. One of the key aspects of a "Challenger" sales is that the prospect learns something and examines their assumptions throughout the process. Instead of figuring out which vendor has the lowest price for widgets, a challenger seller will help you understand how you could be using widgets in a more effective way... and naturally only they support the more effective kind of widget use.

Obviously there's a lot more to say about making a "Challenger Sale" (in fact they wrote a book!) but the key take-away was that your sales process needs to do more than negotiate a price: you need to bring valuable domain expertise to your prospects.

Of course "challenging" your prospects is not easy. You need to understand the space AND your product better than they do -- and of course, you don't have to do it alone Demo Gorilla is a great way to pull the best resources from your entire team into the conversation. Book a demo today.

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