(Lesson 6 From 1,000 Assessments)
In 1969, Psynet Group was founded primarily on the ability to help companies select sales people. At that time we used an assessment that measured motivations. Over the years, our assessments have gone through several iterations and refinements and evolved into Psybil®️, a highly predictive platform for hiring and promoting the right people to help companies thrive.
Forty years later, the Challenger Sales Model was developed by the Corporate Executive Board (now part of Gartner) which, among other things, outlined five sales styles and the differences in sales success. The research cited in the book clearly identifies the “Challenger Sales Style” as superior to the others, with the “Lone Wolf Style” a clear second. The most counterintuitive finding was that sales people with a “Relational Style” performed more poorly than both.
If the research cited in The Challenger Sale is accurate, and sales style does predict sales success, shouldn’t assessing an individual’s sales style be part of a pre-hire sales interview? Our experience indicates yes.
The population we studied includes those selling capital equipment, financial services, consulting services, and technology. In each case, the sale was complex so these results should not necessarily be applied to simpler sales processes. It should also be noted that we assessed cognitive ability and mental models to compliment the sales style measure. These additional measures increased the predictability of our model but in the interest of brevity, we will focus primarily on results from the sales style assessment.
Finding One: Sales people with a challenger mentality make more sales
After the first 3 months post hire, the Lone Wolf Style edged out the Challenger Style in measures related to sales quota. However, after six months, one year, and two years, the Challenger Style was found to be superior.
To help us understand why, we interviewed 8 people with the Challenger Style and 4 with the Lone Wolf Style. Although the sample size is small, the difference between the two groups appears to be the ability to start quickly. The Lone Wolf started selling as soon as they were allowed to reach out to clients and often before completely understanding the companies’ sales processes. The Challenger Style delayed the process by focusing on becoming an “expert” on the product and the industry before contacting anyone.
Finding Two: Overall, the Lone Wolf Style was not superior to the other three styles
This finding contradicts the findings in The Challenger Sale. Some Lone Wolves were successful, but people with this style were significantly more likely to leave or be released within six months. This group is more bimodal than any other group. They are either effective or released, with almost no middle ground.
It should be noted that the research for The Challenger Sale was on current sales people, whereas ours began once they were hired. The authors mention that unsuccessful Lone Wolves were likely fired, leaving a biased sample for their study.
In conversations with our clients, it appears the Lone Wolf will be effective in loosely managed sales organizations, but will struggle when a sales manager insists on following processes or utilizing a team sales approach.
Finding Three: The Challenger Sales Style may improve the others’ wins
Although we do not have quantifiable results, multi-rater reviews show that people with the Challenger Style are much more likely to be cited as sharing information or tips with other sales people. We do not have any data related to others using that information to improve their salescraft.
Our hypothesis is that Challenger salespeople have a compulsion to share what they have learned and, even though they tend to be competitive, they focus their drive to win externally instead of internally.
Finding Four: Hiring Challenger Salespeople who lack self awareness can backfire
At Psynet Group, we’ve seen twelve instances of a person with the Challenger Style failing. Ten of those twelve scored in the 85th percentile or higher on self-deception. In other words, they lacked awareness of their true capabilities and presented as either arrogant or naive.
Specifically, one of those ten salespeople nearly lost a high-value client. The client complained to the salesperson’s sales manager by saying, “That little @#$%^ came in here acting like he knew more about my business than me and had the balls to say that our strategy would put us out of business”. Luckily, this sales manager had a long established relationship with the client and was able to recover. This circumstance, however, easily could have gone the other way, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While no psychometric assessment provides a 100% guarantee that a new salesperson will succeed, measuring sales style greatly improves the chances of hiring the right people. Therefore, it is very effective to include a sales style measure in a pre-hire evaluation process. We advise that measuring a validated sales style can be highly useful as part of a set of assessments to ensure that hiring managers have the best chance at selecting the right salespeople.