Successful salespeople are a special breed. Ask a group of outstanding salespeople what the secret to their success is, and you’ll undoubtedly get a dozen different answers. For sales-making machines with a natural talent, they may not even know what sets them apart from the rest of the pack.
University of Southern California Marshall School of Business teacher Steve W. Martin has performed extensive research on top performing salespeople. In his 2009 book, Heavy Hitter Sales Psychology: How to Penetrate the C-level Executive Suite and Convince Company Leaders to Buy, he administered personality tests on 1,000 successful salespeople who were ranked based on annual quota attainment.
This research found some interesting personality traits of successful salespeople that other prominent experts in sales have also discussed. Below, we’ll look at the essential characteristics that all top salespeople possess.
In sales, you’re going to hear a lot of no’s before you land that coveted yes. Perhaps the most important trait of all in sales is the ability to pick yourself up quickly after a loss.
More than this, successful salespeople can see the good in all situations. Perhaps the target wasn’t ready yet, for example, but the salesperson has confidently laid the groundwork and can contact them again in the future.
Optimistic salespeople don’t get deterred by a slump in sales or a perceived cold streak. This allows them to keep their performance high and push through where others give up. And sociology research has shown that happiness is contagious. Happy people spread their positivity through the work environment, and customers undoubtedly pick up on it.
2: Slow to embarrass
Top performers in sales aren’t self-conscious. They’re not stressed about making cold calls or potentially inconveniencing someone, because they’re comfortable in their own skin. They know they’re a good person doing a tough job, and upon success, they’ll undoubtedly be making the customer’s life better.
Overly self-conscious individuals, on the other hand, can’t be truly great salespeople. They feel bashful, easily discouraged, and afraid to take the initiative when it’s time to close a sale. They worry they’re annoying customers with their calls or emails, or they lack the confidence to discuss the benefits of their products with high-level accounts.
Those who value themselves as people are more likely to be accountable for their actions. If you are proud of the achievements you’ve made so far, you can own up to any mistakes you make without embarrassment. And because you’re willing to examine what went wrong when you make an error, you’re able to improve yourself through call coaching and other training, becoming a better salesperson in the process.
3: Work ethic
85% of top salespeople were shown to have high levels of conscientiousness in Steve W. Martin’s personality tests. They take their jobs seriously and feel that getting good results is an important personal responsibility.
A 2017 Study published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge, and Management confirms this. Conscientiousness was one of the five most significant personality traits required for high sales performance, alongside extraversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, and agreeableness.
Being passionate about one’s work has outstanding benefits in sales. It’s easy to sell when you genuinely believe you’re doing something meaningful and not just chasing a quota.
Focused individuals require less supervision, can multitask better, and are not easily distracted. It’s essential to be focused on the right things, too, or risk wasting energy on the things that don’t matter.
4: Lack of ego
Contrary to popular belief, aggression and confidence are not common traits of the most successful salespeople. In fact, the top salespeople almost always show a healthy amount of modesty and humility, even when their sales results are impressive.
We can put this down to customers being put off by aggressive salespeople who exude bravado. Pushy, antagonistic people may get the occasional sale, but they’re unlikely to be recommended to others, a crucial element of building a solid portfolio and becoming a successful salesperson.
5: Friendly, but not too friendly
A fascinating finding of Steve W. Martin’s study was to show that the absolute best salespeople averaged lower overall levels of friendliness and preference for being with people than average salespeople did.
Harvard Business Review’s 2006 research into the need for a balanced ego in sales bears this out. A salesperson must have both empathy and a solid inner sales drive to succeed.
There’s always a balance that needs to be kept in check. We all know exceedingly charismatic people that are easy to warm to and seem they would make great salespeople. But friendliness alone doesn’t make a good salesperson because it can lead to getting too close to customers. When you’re always someone’s friend, it’s hard to exert dominance when it’s time to influence the buyer.
Curiosity is a natural personality trait that’s brilliant to have in sales. Curious people are instinctively interested in their customers. They listen. And this is a thousand times better than barreling off a list of supposed benefits of a product before there’s even been a chance to understand what a customer needs.
Curious people ask the hard questions that lesser salespeople might shy away from. They’re genuinely interested in knowing why the customer doesn’t seem interested in the product and want to get to the bottom of the real issues being faced by the client.
Great salespeople are laser-focused on achieving their goals. They map out what they want to accomplish every step of the way, whether that’s getting an action from a prospect on a sales call or hitting a particular sales target for the month and year.
Continually measuring your sales progress towards your goals makes it easier to see how far you’ve come. It helps you see what’s been working and what hasn’t.
And with this kind of short-term and long-term goal focus, your entire process becomes more organized. You’re better prepared, which builds your confidence and gives you better results. You know what needs to be done every hour of every day, so no time is ever wasted.