Timur Hicyilmaz

At Challenger we have access to one of the world’s larger databases of individual seller skills and behaviors. We also have access to each seller’s performance relative to his/her peers. This database of almost 26,000 observations from 157 companies provides us with the ability to answer many questions around the makings of a high performing seller.

One of the first questions we wanted to answer was around the relative importance of forming an enduring customer relationship in comparison to the ability to pressure a customer to make a decision when things get difficult. We often get versions of this question when we tell people that the most successful sellers focus primarily on making a difference in a customer’s business rather than anything else.

Relationship or pressure?

The image below models the answer and has important implications for managing a sales organization.

Reading from the bottom up, we model 4 things:

  • Reps who can neither pressure their customers to make a decision nor form enduring relationships
  • Reps who do not form enduring relationships but who can pressure their customers to make a decision
  • Reps who form enduring relationships but who can’t pressure their customers
  • Reps who can do both

The percentages estimate the likelihood that a seller will be a high performer. It’s no surprise that not being able to form an enduring relationship as well as not being able to pressure customers in difficult situations isn’t a great recipe for success. These sellers are only 9% likely to be high performers (the orange line to the left).

Sellers who can form enduring relationships with customers are much more likely to perform well: their likelihood of high performance goes up to 16% (the yellow line, to the left).

Where things become interesting is when you look at the sellers who can pressure customers in difficult moments (the orange line, to the right). They are 22% likely to be high performers.

But the real difference comes from the ability to do both; pressure a customer to make a decision and form enduring relationships (yellow line, to the right). These sellers are 32% likely to be high performers. That’s 3.5x better than somebody who can do neither.

Build them together

This is where the finding becomes profound. Sellers clearly shouldn’t compromise on either behavior. That said, if you had to make an artificial choice between developing a seller to (1) form enduring relationships or (2) pressure a customer to make a decision in difficult moments, then you should focus on (2), using pressure to help customers make a decision.

But there is good news for building them together. 71% of all sellers rate high on forming enduring relationships already. Being able to pressure customers, however, is somewhat rarer with only 40% of sellers able to do this to a high degree. Improvement comes from helping sellers become more comfortable with the idea that they will be rewarded for being cheerfully assertive at the right time.

And that makes a lot of sense in a world where buying is more complex, where there are more people than ever involved and where the status quo is often the real barrier to a decision. At that point, helping somebody to a decision is what makes somebody useful. In the moment, reps might feel awkward, but decisiveness is what the market rewards.

Timur Hicyilmaz

Timur has been conducting research for most of his career. He was part of the team that researched many of the original concepts behind Challenger. Mostly focused on trying to better understand how commercial organizations succeed, Timur has spent time working on everything from trying to understand consumer attitudes toward energy consumption to identifying best practices for hospital operations leaders. His passion is for trying to identify strategies that are more likely to deliver a desired outcome than any others.