Like to push your point of view and challenge conventional thinking? If so, consider a career in high-end business sales in the near future. Or are you more the type to look for solutions to problems before and after a sale has been made? In that case, you might want to consider a job at a luxury car dealership.
It's a dynamic world out there and sales reps are more nuanced than many of us might have thought.
According to an ongoing study by the research and analysis firm, The Corporate Executive Board, the opportunities for different kinds of sellers have everything to do with their general attitudes and approaches to selling. To make those distinctions more clear, CEB has divided sellers into five general categories: hard workers, problem solvers, relationship builders, challengers and lone wolves.
"You should think about each profile as a college major," said Matt Dixon, managing director of CEB's Sales and Service Practice and co-author of the study. "It's not the entirety of who you are, but it can help you better understand and define your primary posture as a sales rep."
Below are the five profiles, the best work environments for those kinds of sellers and the pros and cons of their techniques.
The Hard Worker
A seller who defines his or her success in terms of sales volume.
Hard workers will put in the most calls per day and typically think of selling in terms of quantity. As a result, they are best suited for transactional selling environments, where the job requires them to crunch out a lot of orders, said Dixon. Think big computer manufacturers.
In many cases hard workers are fairly new to selling and want to make the best impressions. They get in early, they stay late, and they repeatedly look for feedback.
But while hard workers usually do what their managers tell them, they often lack the ability to drive big sales on their own, said Dixon.
"One of the negatives we've heard from our clients is that many of them will get caught up chasing garbage trucks," he said. "In other words, chasing opportunities that are unlikely to materialize at the end of the day."
The Problem Solver
A seller who looks to address questions and concerns through follow-up calls.
Problem solvers generally think in terms of quality over quantity and will continually look for solutions to keep customers happy about a product or service.
Problem solvers are best suited for selling environments where a big sale goes beyond the initial agreement, said Dixon. One example is at a car dealership, where customers might lease before they buy. Problem solvers are also a good fit for IT service sales, where half of selling is about fixing kinks down the road.
The downside is that when it comes to higher volume selling, they often fall short.
"Problem solvers typically drive happy customers, but not necessarily robust sales numbers," said Dixon. "In many cases, they are better suited for customer service jobs."
The Relationship Builder
A seller who values customer satisfaction and likes to keep ongoing connections.
Relationship builders are friendly by nature and typically good listeners. Outside of the sales world, they make great counselors and public relations specialists.
Within the sales world, they are best suited for real estate and hospitality, where people skills remain the key asset. Very often relationship builders are the kinds of sellers who will call a customer or client to check in and see how the family is doing, said Dixon.
The problem is that a relationship builder typically views that connection as an end onto itself and rarely uses it to driver bigger sales, said Dixon.
"People sell to people and if you don't have those interpersonal skills, it's hard to be successful," said Dixon. "But you need to know how to turn those relationships into successful business transactions."
A seller who loves to debate and feels comfortable taking control.
Challengers are the likeliest to succeed in a tough economy by engaging their customers in lively conversations and then pushing them to think differently about a product or service. As a result, those customers leave the table feeling feel confident about a purchase.
If relationship builders are similar to bartenders, challengers are more like personal trainers, said Dixon. They are up to four times more likely to outperform their peers and are best suited for complex business-to-business sales.
"Technology, pharmaceuticals and finance sales are three areas where challengers are best suited," said Dixon. "But on a broader level, they are the right answer for any company trying to sell more complex products and services."
The downside is that challengers will occasionally get managed out if they challenge too many of their own colleagues.
"Challengers tend to be very vocal," said Dixon "The problem with that is that they might overstep boundaries and argue with their own managers. As the Japanese like to say, 'the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.' In sales that often means managed out."
The Lone Wolf
A seller who plays by his or her own rules and can sell water to a well.
Even though lone wolves rarely work well in teams and will often ignore a manager's orders, they are the second most likely to succeed as sellers, said Dixon. A lot of their success has to do with their willingness to take risks and assert themselves.
"Lone wolves live by the sword and die by the sword," he said. "Their survival is based solely on them hitting their numbers. If they fail to do so, they'll usually get canned."
For that reason the lone wolf is often best suited for a small business environment, since larger companies rarely encourage their employees to do things their own way.
"But every once in a while we'll find a fairly large sales organization that is made up mostly of lone wolves. That's dangerous because there is nothing to standardize the selling model," said Dixon.
To define these five profiles and identify their success rates, CEB surveyed more than 6,000 sales reps from 90 companies as well as many of their customers. Dixon and his colleague Brent Adamson started conducting their research in 2008.
Write to Damian Ghigliotty