Corporate Executive Board study of 6,000 identifies qualities that make for high fliers

David Woods , 27 Mar 2012


Employees who can use constructive tension and push authority can not only get the best out of their peers, but are also four times more likely to be a top performer, According to a Corporate Executive Board study of more than 6,000 sales representatives.

CEB classified these effective characteristic traits as that of a challenger. Challengers understand value and economic business drivers, voice unique views and love to debate.

In addition to the challenger, CEB also identified four other profiles that exemplify the habits of most salespeople.

Relationship builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocating across the customer organisation. They are generous with their time and strive to meet customers' articulated needs.

Hard workers always go the extra mile. They will make more calls an hour and conduct more visits a week than just about anyone else on the team. They also actively seek feedback and advice for improvement.

Lone wolves are deeply self-confident, usually following their own instincts over the rules. They typically do things their way or not at all.

Problem solvers are detail oriented, focusing on post-sales follow- up and on ensuring that service issues related to implementation and execution are addressed quickly and thoroughly.

Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers' business to take control of the sales conversation and to push their thinking. They are not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive with their customers and colleagues. 
Second, when compared to actual sales performance, one profile dramatically exceeds the others in likelihood to achieve star performance: the Challenger.

On average, 39% of star performers were Challengers. In complex sales, that number rose to 54%. A quarter of lone wolves were high performers, and this reduced to 17% among hard workers, 12% among problem solvers and 7% among relationship builders.

The CEB report found the employee least likely to achieve star performance is the relationship builder. While quality customer relationships are unquestionably vital to commercial success, relationship selling is not-at least not when it is designed solely to ensure customers are happy and well taken care of. When it comes to growth, the best sales reps are challenging the status quo, not reinforcing it.

Challengers succeed by delivering the very thing customers are looking for the most from a supplier: disruptive insight that challenges their thinking and increases their competitiveness. In addition, challengers approach every customer interaction in a tailored manner, aligning that insight to each stakeholder's specific needs and priorities. Yet, Challengers are assertive enough to respectfully push back when stakeholders express skepticism about the insight or resistance to pricing.


2 comments on this article

Your comment

Click here to comment

Sales stars more at risk of derailment

Gail MacIndoe 27 Mar 2012

I’m not surprised that challengers and lone wolves make up 64% of the star performers in sales. However as a specialist in the recognition and reduction of executive derailment amongst high achievers, I have also observed that these personality types are particularly prone to major setbacks at work, both in their current role and when promoted to senior levels. The reason? I think it’s their tendency to overplay their strengths, and not adapt to different situations or people... ie: challengers can drive their teams too hard, while lone wolves may fail to engage them enough! Their ‘winning’ formulae may alienate their clients and other stake holders. I bet the successful challengers and lone wolves were those with well developed people skills, and high EQ - often a minority in my experience.

Complex Sales

Kate Donovan 31 Mar 2012

This article makes some interesting points about Challengers. In my experience, brilliant sales leaders (and these are rare) have a "point of view" to share with clients, which is business focused and provides relevant consultative insights to the client. Displaying strong professional confidence along with a high degree of sincere relationship building is a powerful combination.

In this issue: August 2015
fragment image

Stand and deliver: Fresh austerity measures are on the way – but can public sector HR seize the strategic opportunity?

Eureka moment: HR at engineering firm AMFW

Going for gold: Maintaining the Olympic legacy

On the money: Providing innovative rewards

MA Business & Leisure Limited © Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved