The Client-centred Blog

Why advisers shouldn’t avoid challenging their clients

Although the term ‘sales’ can have negative connotations these days, if you are providing a professional service then engaging new clients and re-engaging existing ones is often an important part of your business.

So, what can give you a significant advantage?

A while back I came across some research that is both eye-opening and food for thought about how you interact with your clients.

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson conducted a study of B2B sales person productivity with more than 6000 individual sales people across a broad range of industries. The results were examined and written about in a series of blog posts in the Harvard Business Review.

What they found was that most B2B sales professionals fell into one of five behavioural types:


Relationship builders… those who focus on building strong relationships

Hard workers… those who show up early, stay late and go the extra mile

Lone wolves… self-confident rule breakers that do things their way

Reactive problem solvers… reliable, detail oriented, address issues quickly

Challengers… deeply understand customers and their businesses, assertive, not afraid to challenge


Which category do you think has the most star performers?

Since seeing this research I have asked many people which category they think has the most star performers and the answer is almost always the same.

The relationship builders.

In fact, the research found that the relationship builder’s category has the least star performers with only 7% in this category. The highest percentage of star performers is the challengers, which represent 40% of this category.

So, what do you make of this? What do you make of the fact that so many business people are focused on building strong relationships and yet this research shows that there is another important factor?

Here is one of my thoughts.

When the purpose of what you do is helping your clients achieve their goals it requires a thorough understanding of your client, their situation and being able to demonstrate this understanding.

It is also true that some clients will have beliefs, ideas or views that, if gone unchallenged, could easily sabotage their success.

While relationships are important, if the professional person is unwilling to risk creating tension in the relationship it can stop them asking searching questions or allowing the client to feel uncomfortable (by confronting them with the potential consequences of their thinking or behaviour).

Just one example of this is when an adviser feels uncomfortable with silence in a conversation and so jumps in to break it.

But a silent period can often be when someone has a genuine breakthrough, epiphany or insight and is, therefore, of great benefit.

One of the reasons that Challengers have the most star performers is that they are not people pleasers. They do not shy away from the hard truth and the fact that they are willing to challenge their clients clearly demonstrates this fact.

Challengers are totally focused upon their clients and helping them get what they want – and isn’t this what it’s all about?


John Dashfield spent 14 years as a self-employed adviser. Since 2006 he has been a coach, mentor and author helping advisers create transformations in their business and personal lives.



Leave a Comment