Revealing Study of Salespeople Makes News at HBR


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Dozens of people emailed me the link to this article, which appeared on the Harvard Business Review Blog. They couldn’t wait to hear my reaction. The HBR article accomplishes two things:

  1. It categorizes salespeople into 1 of 5 styles.
  2. It concludes that salespeople who belong to the “Challenger” style dramatically outperform relationship builders.
Frank wrote an article about relationship selling last week.
I agree with the premise but there’s nothing new here. Objective Management Group has been identifying great salespeople for 20 years and while we don’t call the best ones “Challengers”, we certainly know the blueprint – DNA, sales skills and sales core competencies – that the best salespeople possess. As a matter of fact, we can put a number on it:


That’s the sales quotient of the salespeople they describe in their article. The scale goes as high as 173 but it is rare to see a score much higher than 155. Those who depend on their relationship building skills, but don’t have the supporting DNA and Consultative Skill Set to accompany it, will usually have a Sales Quotient of below 125.

I have concerns about the way the article’s authors reached their conclusions because they gathered their data by having salespeople take a survey. Surveys generally prove whatever one sets out to prove….But the bigger concern is that the Sales Executive Council Surveys are not usually comprised of companies like yours. The 6,000 participants are from 100 companies that each generate billions of dollars in revenue. What’s wrong with that?
  • Salespeople at large companies don’t face the same resistance that yours do;
  • Customers don’t usually get fired for making a decision to buy from these large companies;
  • Large companies can buy business if they choose to meaning salespeople have access to resources that your salespeople don’t;
  • Large companies spend millions of dollars on advertising so that their salespeople see the welcome mat everywhere they go;
  • These salespeople are paid differently than your salespeople;
  • These companies have salespeople performing in very specialized roles [read this article];
  • Objective Management Group’s data on salespeople that were assessed at some of these large companies indicates that their salespeople are, on average, considerably less effective than salespeople from small and mid-size firms

My point is that the stronger salespeople at the larger companies – often assigned to a single large key account – stand out more than they would at a small to mid-size company.

It has been obvious for more than 20 years that salespeople who have the right blend of strengths to support selling along with pure sales skills will outperform relationship builders. Somebody simply had to come along and put a name on it to make it news.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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