The personality traits of an effective salesperson or a “challenger”

The personality traits of an effective salesperson or a “challenger”


Companies have always competed with one another to recruit the most effective salespeople in their field. That’s why they consistently outdo each other in offering benefits and lucrative bonuses; but if you look beneath the surface, you’ll find that the situation is nearly the same almost everywhere. In the end, what really matters to them is recruiting the kind of people who are driven to succeed, work longer hours, have perseverance, and are able to overcome obstacles in a challenging environment, and learn quickly and independently, while managing all of that in rather repetitive conditions.

The salesperson at the top of everyone’s list is, after all, not the brilliant seller who is able to sell a customer in an incredibly complicated situation. Rather, it is someone who is simple, but hard-working and reliable. Someone who is always doing what you would expect him to do; a person who is more about action than process.

When a market is saturated, it is difficult to focus in on the right profile and find that perfect employee who is sure to succeed. They are usually picked by companies that provide far below-average working conditions. But be careful, however, not to make the mistake of thinking that all of these “available” profiles are “not very good.” This makes it harder to distinguish high-performing salespeople from “average” ones whose performance won’t be all that impressive.

Of course, a person’s approach to sales will differ depending on the type of position, his contacts, and the sector he works in. Now, as for the analysis of character traits and their relationship to the on-the-job performance of salespeople, we have noticed a continued recurrence of the following characteristics in the salespeople that we call “challengers.”

# 1 – They are not interested in the job because of the relationship factor.

The first thing that surprised us as we analyzed the results was to learn that the “challengers” are detached in their relationships. In other words, their performance isn’t dependent on their relationships with others. This is totally “counter-intuitive” because in our discussions with them, they mention that customer contact is a key motivating factor that has led them to choose their profession. They also admit that they would find it difficult to spend a whole week sitting behind a desk.

One of the hallmarks of “challengers” is this: their relationships with customers are only a means that further their other goals, but are absolutely not their primary goal.

Because everyone values customer relationships, it is difficult to be able to identify this subtle characteristic in candidates. It is possible that you’ll accuse me of self-promotion, but the strength of good personality questionnaires lies in their ability to shed light on this factor.

# 2 – They do not sell products.

How can we exceed our objectives if we do not try to sell our products or services? The “challengers” have realized that a customer does not purchase a product or service, but the benefit that they gain from it. One of the most popular illustrations of this principle is a scenario in which we ask someone to sell us a pencil. This scenario is brought to life by the brilliant performance of Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street ( ).

How can we spot this ability in a candidate? One technique is to have them act out an attempt to sell a pencil. The problem is that the candidates have either already practiced these exercises or they are overwhelmed by them because it may not be so easy to get into an imagined scenario just like that at a snap of a finger. You want to evaluate their business not their theatrical improvisation skills.

The salespeople who possess this quality have an above-average level of “analogical reasoning.” The personality trait “Demonstrates inventiveness” is also a good indicator of the ability to offer a solution rather than just a product.

# 3 – They are never satisfied.

The typical profile of salespeople that we qualify as “challengers” assigns the following scores to personality traits:

> Relaxed: low score

> Adapts to change: high score

> Goes beyond assigned tasks: high score

As you read this, you may think: “So what? Nothing interesting here!” In fact, these traits are potentially misleading because they apply both to salespeople who do a brilliant job and those who are impulsive, unpredictable and never satisfied with their situation. Because 90% of the time, these are the same people.

As a result of this attitude, they are on a constant quest for small victories. They don’t want to feel like they are stagnating and not moving ahead. Therefore, unless the company is able to give them a chance to break new ground and provide them with opportunities that promise to lead them to success, it will witness them succeed only to see them leave as quickly as they arrived. In thinking about the future, many recruiters view this desire to constantly advance in a negative light as they fear that they won’t be able to deal effectively with the short or long-term consequences of their choice.


To be able to distinguish a “challenger” from an ordinary salesperson, one must be able to see subtle differences in personal characteristics that often seem very similar in both of them. Good assessment tools allow one to take into account both “what is seen” and “what is not seen” in a job interview. And that is what we work on every day at AssessFirst.





Chief Scientist, AssessFirst



Brendan Dougherty

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