For most professional B2B salespeople and sales leaders, they would be familiar with the writings of Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson in the much acclaimed and totally relevant book, The Challenger Sale.

If there was one book in which I have gone crazy with my yellow highlighter pen, it would be the pages of this book. In voraciously reading it, part of me would say ‘OMG! At last someone is saying what I am thinking!’ and then another part of me would say ‘Mmm… I think they are missing something’.

So, in trying to turn my gut feeling into something solid, I pondered on what it was that I thought was the missing piece in The Challenger Sale, and basing the five profiles on my own interpretation, realised the following thoughts.

Salespeople go through various stages of development and therefore thinking, and when someone first steps into their sales role they are brand new to certain processes, culture, relationships, rules, ideas, ways to be creative and expectations.

In many instances with a financial target on their back, they are in survival stage. Very much ‘I’ focused and very much a ‘scarcity mindset’. They are typically driven by a need to earn money, pay a mortgage and keep their job.

In Spiral Dynamics, coined by Dr Clare Graves, a framework of HOW people think and not what they think, it demonstrates the various stages of development, values and thinking we, as human beings, move through. The higher your level of development and thinking, the more power and effectiveness you have.

In my opinion, each of the 5 Sales Profiles outlined in The Challenger Sale, correlate in some way to the spiral dynamics framework, with one important exception.

Firstly, if we understand for a moment a little about spiral dynamics, then we can overlay the 5 sales profiles outlined in the book over this framework, and then determine what element is missing. That key element that will take the salesperson to another level. The level today’s buyer wants and expects from a salesperson.spiral

Spiral Dynamics in an abbreviated form, is a framework of how, as a human being we evolve our thinking over time, and move up the values spiral.

It consists of 2 tiers with 95% of the population operating in Tier One, which is where I’d like to sit for a minute.

Tier One is categorised into the following colour coded levels of thinking (only for ease of remembering) and each level has a focal point of reference. The levels are:

Tier One

  • Survival {Brown} (Focus: I)
  • Tribal {Purple} (Focus: We)
  • Anarchical {Red} (Focus: I)
  • Hierarchical {Blue} (Focus: We)
  • Entrepreneurial {Orange} (Focus: I)
  • Communal {Green} (Focus: We)

In understanding Spiral Dynamics, it is important to also look at where the population sits in relation to their levels of development and the elevation of the individual power/effectiveness and then apply that to the sales role. (NB- the emergence of communal thinking {green} in the 1960’s clearly impacts the numbers)


We have already agreed a baseline of Survival {Brown} for all salespeople in their role, just as we all have a baseline of survival to exist with the focus on self. Cultural impact 0.1 percent of the population, 0 percent power.

When we look at Tribal, that demonstrates the need for all of us to belong to a community whether that be a club, a work culture, a church or a sport. Relationships are critical to us here and a sense of belonging and acceptance is key. Cultural impact 10 percent of the population, 1 percent of the power.

In the aspect of Anarchy, there are always going to be those who break away from any group and do their own thing, whether it is to start their own version of something, whether it is to go it alone, whether it is to create disharmony or war. Cultural impact 20 percent of the population, 5 percent of the power.

The level of thinking that is Hierarchical is authority and rules driven. Anywhere that there is a book driving the way someone thinks you will find them here. It could be a school, defence forces, the church or departments such as Human Resources. This level of thinking is very rules focused, fear driven and doing things by the book. Cultural impact: 40 percent of the population, 30 percent of the power

The world of the Entrepreneurial spirit is where you start to find people thinking outside the square, pushing boundaries and definitely breaking rules and being creative. Cultural impact: 30 percent of the population, 50 percent of the power

The final level of Tier One is seen as Communal and typically represented by people who are focused on doing the right thing by everyone, including the environment. They tend to want to fix the world in their peace loving way. Cultural impact: 10 percent of the population, 15 percent of the power.

In the new vocabulary of selling today, due to the works of Dixon and Adamson, the way we represent a salesperson’s profile is shown in the following graph, directly from The Challenger Sale:


Foundation – Survival still underpins every salesperson and is a given baseline where the focus is self.

The Relationship Builder shares similarities to Tribal – someone who loves to nurture their relationships, builds rapport and detrimentally doesn’t question hard or deep enough usually due to their need for approval. They believe the buyer and think that happy families/teams/partnerships is conducive to business. They fill their pipeline with intuitive sales and often don’t ask the qualifying questions and conscious about what others think. Sales Impact: 26% of core performers; 7% of High Performers

The Lone Wolf strongly resembles Anarchical – someone who tends to buck the system, do their own thing, own their own power and bring in results more times than not. They tend to be the person who turns up to meetings late, not because they are running late, but because they just do. They are the ones who might not keep their reporting up to scratch or don’t take on-the-job learning too seriously. We all know someone who breaks away from the team and can also get away with it. They don’t take being disciplined to heart and tend to focus on themselves. Sales Impact: 15% of core performers; 25% of High Performers

The Hard Worker shares much in common with Hierarchical – very focused on doing things right with very defined values and rules. Tending to shy away from authority this impacts the ability to converse with executives or the C Suite. They are usually very reliable, on time and don’t usually buck the system and tend to be conscious of what others think. Sales Impact: 22% of core performers; 17% of High Performers

The Challenger strongly aligns with Entrepreneurial where the opportunities are there to be taken, sometimes at the cost to others. They have the ability to challenge, are bold and opinionated and can create tension in the right ways. They are open to debate and not afraid to ask the hard questions with the focus generally around themselves. Sales Impact: 23% of core performers; 30% of High Performers

The Problem Solver is a lot like Communal as they are focused on doing the right thing, making sure everyone wins, focused on fixing what’s wrong and emotions drive them not logic. They are very much focused on others. Sales Impact: 14% of core performers; 12% of High Performers.


What is interesting about both these models is that the least effective position in The Challenger Sale, namely The Relationship Builder at 7% , focused on building relationships, correlates with the least effective position within Spiral Dynamics, namely the Tribal level sharing the same relationship and community tendencies.

What is also interesting in both models is that the most effective role in the sales environment, based on The Challenger Sale research, is the Challenger role at 39% correlates to the role in Spiral Dynamics that carries the most power at 50%, being the percentage of the population known as Entrepreneurial.

Here’s the point:

We all evolve through each level and we can move between each level at anytime. As a mum, I will go into red where I might yell at the kids (really?) and then a minute later might be orange, talking to a client about a sales and marketing idea, so that’s an example of how we all move between the levels on HOW we think, not WHAT we think.

Wherever we are in that level at that time, we believe we are right. The Relationship Builder believes his approach is right, The Lone Wolf believes her approach is right and so on. Put them all together to discuss a client facing approach or a team dynamic and you will find no one will agree. It’s all about perspective.

So what about the client in all of this?

What I think is missing from The Challenger Sale concept, is yet another level. A level that takes us out of ‘selling’ and into ‘serving’. It is a conscious space where as individuals we are able to take a different view of the sale, the clients business growth as well as our own business growth.

So what does that look like?

It’s when we are OK with owning EVERY level and operating from EVERY space at ANY given time.

When we are OK with making money and what that means, when we can see the importance of solid business relationships and retaining them, when we can respect other people’s ideas and abide by the rules that govern others’ world and not buck the system for the sake of it, where we can get creative, take feedback and ask the tough questions for the good of all and where we conspire for the success of everyone.

It’s moving to Tier 2 in Spiral Dynamics it’s about:

  • Interactive{Yellow} (Focus: I)
  • Global {Turquoise} (Focus: We)

And for salespeople to step up and shift gears to give their buyers what they expect and want, it’s about starting to look at themselves and their levels of development. What percentage of salespeople will buy a book to advance their profession, look at ways to develop their level of thinking to accommodate other people, or who even care about their buyers business?

This level of thinking is about change, applying knowledge and contribution to both the client and their business – it is not about another sales process. Cultural impact: 1 percent of the population, 5 percent of the power

As for the top tier, that of Global?

Well, if you’re really interested and feel you can join the ranks of Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, then go for it! If you feel you can sell change at a level many can’t even imagine, may the thoughts be with you! Cultural impact: .1 percent of the population, 1 percent of the power

The differentiator today, is not your brand, your product or your service. It is the quality of your ideas, the conviction of your values and agility of your thinking.

In the words of Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am”

Be Bold and Brilliant!

Bernadette McClelland - Keynote Speaker


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Image created by Karola Riegler

Spiral Dynamics Statistics based on Ken Wilber’s, A Theory of Everything,

Bernadette McClelland is a keynote speaker, sales leadership consultant, and a sales support team member for companies, in growth-mode, that need to quickly build a bridge between business goals and sales results.

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