Katharina Cavano

What if many characteristics we think of as “skills” aren’t really skills at all? And, perhaps if we looked at them differently we could better address developing sellers around them and we could prioritize those characteristics that do lead to high performance.

Challenger took on this question in a recent deeper look at our flagship research of the last ten years.  Throughout that time, we compiled one of the world’s largest data sets of seller characteristics. It’s a global population of nearly 26,000 observations from 157 companies, looking at over 40 unique characteristics. We took that data and asked two simple questions:

Which characteristics are more often demonstrated by sellers? and which more often lead to high performance?

The above scatter plot highlights our findings. The horizontal axis represents ‘seller likelihood to demonstrate’ each characteristic.

The vertical axis represents each characteristic’s ‘correlation with high performance’.

Understanding the Characteristics that Make High Performers

Here is where things get interesting. Some of the characteristics are common in most sellers, some only seen in a few. Some strongly contribute to high performance, others don’t. Putting lines at the midpoints of each axis creates four distinct quadrants.

Looking at the characteristics in each quadrant, we see themes appear. These themes help us understand (1) how to think about developing sellers around the characteristics in each quadrant and (2) which quadrant to prioritize.

Top Right Quadrant: Gifts

 Being “outcomes-focused”, having “tenacity”, putting in “discretionary effort”, having strong “incentive motivation”. These are inherent components of a seller’s personality. We call them “Gifts”, because they are the beneficial things that high performers do naturally. We recommend companies Hire for Gifts.  Sellers who naturally have them will perform better.  Sellers who lack them may be better suited for another role.

Bottom Right Quadrant: Graces

You will find very few sellers actively employed with little interest in being “accessible to the customer”, or to “work with anybody”, or “give time to others”. Some sellers are arguably better at demonstrating these characteristics than others, but everyone in sales recognizes them as an important part of working with people.

That’s the reason for low correlation to high performance with “Graces”. They are the common sense things everyone in sales tries to do. We recommend companies Promote Graces as part of their corporate mission statements and values.

Bottom Left Quadrant: Chores

Sellers tend to “prospect” because they have to, they “follow a formal sales process” because it’s expected of them, they “take care of admin and management duties” because these are necessary parts of the job. 
The reason these characteristics don’t correlate strongly with high performance is because no one person can do them measurably better than anyone else. This is why we named them “Chores”, or the necessary characteristics that don’t differentiate one seller from another.

Chores are critical to a well-functioning business, like cleaning is necessary to a well-kept house. We recommend companies Automate chores so they don’t distract sellers from doing activity that can truly differentiate them. 

Top Left Quadrant: Skills

Looking closely at these characteristics, you can understand why they both lead to high performance and are not commonly demonstrated by sellers. Appropriately “pressure a customer to make a decision”, “offer unique perspective”, able to “discuss pricing and money”, “understanding customer value drivers”. These are not easy things to do. 
This is why we named this group “Skills”, or the hard characteristics that make a difference and few sellers do well. Because not every seller is willing or able to demonstrate skills, companies have an opportunity to differentiate themselves with customers if their sellers can. This is why we recommend companies prioritize Developing Skills in their sellers. 

If you are interested in Hiring for Gifts, Promoting Graces, Automating Chores and (most importantly) Developing Skills, please explore our interactive eBook linked below.

Download the interactive ebook

Explore more of the four quadrants and the Challenger Skills in-depth in the Prioritizing High Performance interactive ebook. Click below to access the content. 


Katharina Cavano