Let’s start with Challenger and begin by mentioning that, although written primarily for Sales Managers and Sales Reps, many of the tools, methods and lessons contained in Challenger theory apply to anyone representing his or her company: field teams, consisting of Sales, Consulting and Applications Engineers, as well as the Executive Team.

Challenger theory comes from the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) (ref 3) and is based on the CEB’s own research. The first “key finding” presented in its book “The Challenger sale” (ref 4) is that Sales Reps can be classified according to 5 types:

Sales rep types according to Challenger

When I first read this, I was struck by the resemblance between these types and some of the key personality profiles in PCM theory:

Personality types according to PCM

These similarities are not only interesting, they also suggest an explanation for the CEB results that, if confirmed, would have practical, and quite optimistic, consequences.

One of the features of PCM that distinguishes it from other profiling systems (e.g. MBTI (ref 5), DISC (ref 6)) is that it incorporates a notion of a person’s development over time. A personality is not described in terms of just one of the six PCM Types in the table above, but by a combination of the types. These are represented as a stack, or “building”, where the width of each of the types that are present (depending on the person, they may not all be present) represents the degree to which the person exhibits that type, or has exhibited that type in the past. The lowest type in the stack is called the base. This is the fundamental, underlying PCM type of the person. The other layers in the stack are called phases, and the one on the top is the current phase - the one that the person exhibits most at the present time.

The “building” metaphor is used to explain that everyone has the choice of “taking the elevator” and moving between the phases in his PCM personality stack. The ability to do this allows a person to adapt more easily to different situations. Clearly, the more phases that one has in one’s PCM building, the more potential for flexibility they have. So much for the theory – what does it “look like”? The best analogy that I have come across for the personality types uses the characters from the American TV series, star trek:

Mr Spock has the PCM Thinker profile. Solid, reliable and logical, he is mightily attached to rules and principles. He is a good fit to the Reactive Problem Solver profile in Challenger, though the CEB says nothing about pointy ears.

The Persistor is Scotty, the engineer-perfectionist that looks after the engines of the Starship Enterprise, dilithium crystals and all. With an eye for detail and a passion for procedures – “she was not made to go at this speed Cap’n - another 90 seconds and she’ll blow t’ bits!” – Scotty is also an excellent example of the Hard Worker type in Challenger.

Then there is Bones, the medical officer, looking after the physical and mental health of all aboard. Much more concerned by people can by things and schedules, bones fits PCM’s Harmoniser profile and, hence, the Relationship Builder of Challenger.

So where is Captain Kirk, I hear you ask. The Rebel? The Imaginer? Surely not!


The answer is “yes and no” – he contains all of the profiles. Kirk is the perfect leader, able to change his attitude and behaviour according to circumstances. When a beautiful alien, the spitting image of Marilyn Monro, beams aboard, then Kirk is your man! If someone is needed to throw a rock at a grumpy space monster, then it’s Kirk again!


In PCM terms, Kirk is someone that has developed all aspects of his personality – Imaginer, Thinker, Harmoniser, Rebel, Persistor, Promotor – and is able to move between them as necessary. For me, Kirk has the Challenger profile.

This leaves us with the problem of the Lone Wolf.

Well, you will not find a Lone Wolf among the enterprise crew. They were all screened out at the Space Academy – teamwork is the watchword aboard a Starship. I suggest that the Lone Wolf corresponds more to a superhero profile – Batman or Flash Gordon maybe. As far as PCM is concerned, the Promoter profile would seem to be a good fit. Challenger theory stresses that Lone Wolves are often very high performers, but that they live and die by the sword. Since they are not team players, they have no place in an organisation once their individual performance drops below par.

What can we learn from all this? If you accept the comparisons, then you might be interested in an observation that follows from them: anyone wishing to develop stronger Challenger behaviour for commercial work should be encouraged by the fact that the associated personality profile is a combination of various PCM types, rather than an inescapable individual trait. With work and time most people should be able to develop an effective Challenger capability.

In summary ...


You may have noticed that the Rebel and Imaginer at PCM profiles do not have corresponding Challenger types. Without more knowledge of the CEB research, I cannot fully explain this. While it does not surprise me that the Imaginer profile is rarely found among salespeople, I might have expected to see some Rebels. Perhaps the CEB would be able to comment on this?

1. Eric Berne (May 10, 1910 – July 15, 1970) was a Canadian-born psychiatrist best known as the creator of transactional analysis and the author of Games People Play. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Berne

2. PCM® was developed by Taibi Kahler PhD. It is a personality and communication model, applicable in professional and personal lives. Source: http://www.processcommunication.com

3. The Corporate Executive Board is a membership-based advisory company that offers consulting and training services to its members in the area of Sales. Source: http:www.executiveboard.com

4. Dixon and Adamson, The Challenger Sale, www.thechallengersale.com

5. MBTI. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment is a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator

6. DISC is a behaviour assessment tool based on the DISC theory of psychologist William Marston. Marston's theory centers on four different personality traits: Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance. This theory was then developed into a personality assessment tool (personality profile test) by industrial psychologist Walter Vernon Clarke (July 26, 1905 - Jan. 1, 1978). Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DISC_assessment