We chose a theme each year, and in 2012, we chose to focus on the ideas of “Teach, tailor, and control." While they weren't new ideas for us or our members, we wanted to highlight them as critical for the continued evolution of the broker model and ensure salespeople mastered them.

We felt particularly validated when these same principles appeared in a series of articles published by Harvard Business Review. The articles were based on the book The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, which shares the results of a significant study on selling performance.

The authors explain they conducted a study of over 6,000 sales reps where they grouped salespeople into five basic categories based on similarities of behavior attributes: Relationship, Hard Worker, Lone Wolf, Problem Solver, and Challenger. With the possible exception of the title category, most are self-explanatory.

Their study went on to show that while there is a fairly even representation of each category among salespeople, the distribution skews significantly when you start searching for the “high performers.”

In a so-called “typical sale,” the percentages of high performers are broken out as follows:

  • Relationship Builders (7%)
  • Hard Workers (17%)
  • Lone Wolf (25%)
  • Reactive Problem Solver (12%)
  • Challenger (39%)

The results get even more interesting when you look for the high performers in a “complex sale” environment (which I would argue applies to insurance and benefits advisors):

  • Relationship Builders (4%)
  • Hard Workers (10%)
  • Lone Wolf (25%)
  • Reactive Problem Solver (7%)
  • Challenger (54%)

Regardless of your natural style, it is worth the effort to become as much of a Challenger as possible. So, what is a Challenger? Challengers commit to understanding their customers' business at such a deep level that they can push the prospect or client’s thinking and take control of the sales conversation. Challengers make their audience think in ways they haven’t before. They’re confident enough in the value they can bring that they are not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and assume an assertive position to move the prospect forward.

As interesting as the study's findings were to us, what we found even more interesting were the three traits the authors used to describe what makes a Challenger so effective. You may have guessed it’s the same three principles that we have made the centerpiece of the approach we use within Q4intelligence – Teaching, Tailoring, and Controlling.

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It's time to explore why these areas are so critical to the future success of insurance and benefits brokers.


If you are going to continually bring value to a client, you have to embrace the responsibility of always bringing them new ideas and educating them on ways you can help them improve their performance. The most important time to assume the role of teacher is during the sales process. Rather than trying to demonstrate your value by providing the same spreadsheet as everyone else, prove your value by helping them better understand their own situation. Most employers can clearly see the challenges they are currently facing. However, far fewer have the vision to see the challenges out there on the horizon. This is the “lesson” you need to bring to the table. This is your opportunity to bring a conversation they likely aren’t getting from anyone else.

Here are a couple of areas where they need your vision:

Turnover – Between retiring baby boomers and dissatisfied employees, employers face unprecedented turnover. You need to educate them on why this will be the reality and challenge them to be honest about how prepared they truly are.

Communication – Communication impacts virtually every aspect of an organization's operation, but let’s just look at its impact on benefits spending. A study from The McKinsey Quarterly shows that benefits costs can be reduced by 20 percent through more effective communication. You need to educate employers on what effective communication truly looks like, explain to them the challenges that stand between where they are and their goal, and show them how to make effective communication their reality.


Rather than trying to impress the prospect with your list of value-added services or manipulate their situation to fit your “solution,” you need to tailor your solution to fit their situation. Additionally, the way you communicate your recommendation needs to be tailored to your audience.

Here are a couple of ways the message needs to be tailored:

Tailoring to their situation – Assume that your competition has the same solutions you offer. If by chance they don’t today, they will tomorrow. Rather than try to sell the prospect all of your solutions, focus on learning where they truly have needs and then align your solutions with those identified needs. After learning of needs they didn’t realize they had, the prospect will find much more value in your solutions and be much more compelled to hire you to fix their newly discovered problems.

Tailoring to the audience – You make presentations to all types of roles—Director of HR, CFO, and CEO are the most frequent. You need to have a clear understanding of the driving objectives that come with each role. If your presentation doesn’t address these varied objectives, not only do you miss out on an opportunity to pick up a supporter, you run the risk of unintentionally creating an adversary.


Perhaps the only thing worse than an empty prospect pipeline for a producer is one that is filled with stagnant prospects. I argue this is worse because you have someone who is actively wasting your time and giving you a false sense of security. The stagnation is the direct result of a producer who has ceded control of the process to the prospect. Instead of establishing a peer-level engagement with the prospect, the producer has assumed a subservient role. While we don’t condone the producer taking an aggressive role, we do recognize the need to be assertive in moving the prospect forward.

Here are a couple of things necessary to establish and maintain control:

A full pipeline – If you don’t keep your pipeline full, you will irrationally hold on to every prospect you have. Without a full pipeline, you will rarely walk away from an “opportunity.”

Belief in the value you can deliver – Until you are passionate about your ability to help a client, you will lack the confidence required to take control. It is that confidence that will allow you to challenge and push the prospect to look at their situation in new ways, to even push the prospect out of their comfort zone for the purpose of finding their catalyst to change.

So, as the book pointed out, there are five ways to be an average salesperson, but one clear way to be exceptional. Being exceptional starts with challenging your prospects to think in new ways. You won’t be able to challenge them until you challenge yourself.

My challenge to you: how badly do you want to be exceptional? To learn how, get started by downloading the Q4i Producer Annual Planning Guide below, and sign up for our sales training platform

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Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated to reflect the time references. 

Content provided by Q4intelligence 

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