There’s more than one type of sales rep, but it takes the right mixture of skills and abilities to create a top performer, the director of advisory services at Arlington, Va.-based global consulting firm the CEB (formerly the Corporate Executive Board), told dealers March 8 during the ProSales 100 Conference in New Orleans.>

Ted McKenna's firm’s surveyed more than 6,000 sales reps on key observed traits—such as attitudes, skills and abilities, activity, and industry knowledge, and not hardwired personality traits—across a range of geographies, paying mind to their varied backgrounds and experience levels. His team found that one personality profile encapsulated the qualities that more often than not resulted in a top-rate performance record. This group, dubbed “Challengers,” use measured tension to drive urgency in the customer decision-making process. In other words, they know how to sell efficiently.

“They’re coming in and using insight to win in the sales process,” McKenna said. “It’s a fundamentally different conversation with the customers and, in the process, they differentiate you as a company just by the conversations they’re having.”

Challengers combine insight with a tailored sales message to offer customers options and guide them to a decision.

“[Challengers] are finding ways to explain how the 'pain of same'--the pain of what you’re doing now--is greater than the pain of change,” he said.

Along with Challengers, CEB’s project identified four other personality types commonly seen among sales reps. These personality types aren’t mutually exclusive, McKenna notes. One rep can show skills from multiple categories.

“Hard Workers” These highly coachable employees are the first in and last out each day. They want to be better performers and will work hard in pursuit of that status.

“Relationship Builders” Are highly flexible when working with employees—they’re keen on giving customers access to the sales process. And modern management thinking tends to prefer this type of hire. “Relationships are still fundamentally important in sales,” McKenna said. “What it does is call to the fundamental basis of that relationship.”

“Lone Wolf” This rep doesn’t follow routine processes but her status as a high performer often allows this quality to be overlooked.

“Problem Solver” These workers are reliable but often have trouble letting go of service issues and delegating.

Read more about how Challengers create their value proposition in CEB’s The Challenger Sale.

Download a copy of McKenna's presentation here .

Back to our coverage of the ProSales 100 Conference