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Can Your Team Become Challenger Types?

07-20-2018_Can Your Team Become Challenger Types_Gretchen Gordon

Ever since CEB/Gartner published The Challenger Sale in 2011, the book has attracted much publicity. It provides five different profiles based on research of 6,000 individuals.

  • Challenger
  • Lone Wolf
  • Hard Worker
  • Problem Solver
  • Relationship Builder

This research indicates that individuals with a Challenger profile will outperform all other profile types.

Good so far. 


The book also presents the concept of Challengers building “constructive tension” using three elements:

  • Teach – Offers unique perspective and maintains two-way communication
  • Tailor – Knows customer value and economic drivers
  • Take Control – Is comfortable discussing money and pressuring the customer

The premise is that because today’s buyers engage with sellers later in the process – and know more about their products and services, the salesperson’s behavior toward the buyer must change too.

I don’t disagree.

I also don’t dispute CEB’s research. I applaud them for their efforts and excellence in marketing their position and services via this book. 

But, let’s face it…

These concepts are old. Dave Kurlan and Objective Management Group have been studying what differentiates top producers since 1990 when they created the first ever PREDICTIVE assessment for salespeople.

And, while the CEB book partially identifies the traits of the best, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

You see, not everyone can become a Challenger.

Certainly, individuals can be taught the words to say. They can practice,role play and follow a process to incorporate the concepts. The disconnect is that the Challenger sale is not a process at all. It merely describes a type of individual. 

What is known about the Challenger type?

Through the help of OMG’s research on over 1.6 million individuals (vs 6,000 in CEB’s research), I’ve confirmed the Challenger profile traits do indeed describe a superstar seller, but only partially. 

What’s Missing?

CEB’s reports 17% of B2B salespeople possess both the influencing and thinking ability to be Challengers. But, here’s where CEB’s research is sketchy:

  • Their database is much less comprehensive (6K vs. 1.6M).
  • Only the world’s largest companies, who likely had comprehensive sales training and processes in place, were examined.
  • Their analysis assesses if Challengers have influencing and thinking ability, but not IF THEY WILL ACTUALLY DO IT.
  • The CEB analysis doesn’t consider motivation. It just looks at the type of person.
  • OMG’s larger-sample-based analysis says Challengers make up just 7% (not 17%!) of the selling population. That’s not many Challengers. 

What You Can Do

First, don’t despair. Instead, follow this four-step process to help non-Challengers excel.

  1. When hiring, screen for traits customized for your situation. Don’t just hire a one-size-fits-all salesperson. Create a profile based on your specific situation needs using reliable scientific-based statistics.
  2. Use a repeatable, systematic sales onboarding process to ramp hires up quickly, but allow for customized elements suited to the individual.People have individual skills, strengths, weaknesses and gaps. Enhance the good and reduce the bad.
  3. Establish a repeatable sales process for consistency based on your company’s own best practices. Manage to it, hone it, and hold everyone accountable to it. Evaluate your sales process, with this simple grader.
  4. Coach appropriately. Sales leaders not only need the skills to coach, motivate and hold individuals accountable, they must demonstrate the very skills and behaviors your frontlines need to possess. It’s likely you’ll need help preparing salespeople to become sales leaders.Take a look at our simplistic view of sales management here.

We help companies large and small with all these components, every day. Learn more here.

For another perspective on The Challenger Sale read this article by Dave Kurlan, CEO of OMG.


Gretchen Gordon, President of Braveheart Sales Performance leads a team of consultants who solve sales problems for clients.  She is an award-winning Sales Management blogger and has been recognized as a Top 50 Sales Influencer.  She is a dynamic speaker at conferences and events and contributes sales articles to a variety of publications focused on effective sales leadership including Selling Power.  Gretchen is an avid golfer and is a student of performance psychology.  She loves to explore the parallels between sport and sales performance.

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