Home >> Sales and Marketing >> The Traits of Great Salespeople

The Traits of Great Salespeople

By Herb Greenberg, Ph. D, Founder & CEO of Caliper

In today’s competitive economy with ultra-low employment levels, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit — as well as retain — top salespeople. But there are ways to hire smart and hire right — the first time, for those of us actively looking to bring on salespeople. Hiring smart means saving your company thousands of dollars that could otherwise be wasted on a poor hire.

With that in mind, Caliper has conducted numerous studies on the personality dynamics common to great salespeople. The intention of such studies is to provide managers with a foundation for making hiring decisions and building benchmarks: To uncover the inner workings of truly great salespeople and distill them into a list of essential traits to look for in new sales reps.

By determining which potential hires or current employees possess these traits, you can pinpoint and nurture those likely to be future stars.

As the sales profession evolves, so must the people selling, and in line with that, so must the way people are recruited. This study shows managers the real things to look for when hiring or promoting, instead of relying solely upon experience and some classic hiring myths.

Not surprisingly, being assertive and sociable both rank high among surveyed salespeople. As the study digs deeper into the psyche of salespeople, some of the results are quite surprising.

During this particular study, Caliper completed telephone surveys and conducted personality profiles on a total of 209 salespeople, who represented 189 companies in 37 different industries across the United States. Managers were asked to choose their top one or two sellers to participate in the study.

Of the star sales reps, more than half were members of sales forces made up of 10 or fewer salespeople, and 36 percent had been in their current position fewer than two-and-a-half years.

Seventy-seven percent of the top performers were hired from another company, and a full 28 percent of those surveyed were not previously in sales positions. Rather, they came from such departments as marketing, customer service, operations, purchasing and universities (students). The Caliper study revealed that fact to be a positive: It found top performers who had been on the job less than two-and-a-half years were more sociable, gregarious and idea-oriented.

When it comes to their jobs, 79 percent of sales reps describe their markets as highly competitive; they deem persuasiveness and product knowledge almost equally important (52 percent to 48 percent). Sixty-two percent say they depend on keeping their current customers satisfied in order to be successful.

Not surprisingly, then, 95 percent claim their sales style is relationship oriented rather than transaction based. Seventy-two percent of those respondents say building relationships is, in fact, their key strength. This group of sales stars shares many of the same personality traits — traits that help them excel in their job.

1. Ego-Strength
Ego-Strength, for sales reps, means having a strong, healthy self-esteem and the ability to bounce back from rejection. This trait shouldn’t be mistaken for arrogance. It’s realizing that rejection is part of the game in sales, and not becoming immobilized by it.

2. Urgency
Urgency is the fire that tells a person, “I will get this done now.” It’s pushing sales to completion — quickly. And let’s face it, there is always someone waiting to take your place if you don’t get your clients everything they need when they need it. This urgency stems from competitiveness. To test for a trait such as urgency, using a personality test — such as the Caliper Profile — can help you uncover such potential. Then asking open-ended questions such as, “Can you give me an example of when a sale was just lingering and what you did to accelerate the process?” Doing so can help you dive deeper into an individual’s inherent desire to get things done in a timely manner.

3. Ego-Drive
Ego-Drive incorporates both competitiveness and self-esteem. It’s the desire to persuade people and close the sale. An ego-driven person receives gratification from getting a yes. The best salespeople are obsessive about being successful — and success, for them, comes from closing a sale.

4. Assertiveness
Assertiveness is the ability to be firm in one-to-one negotiations, to lead the sales process and to get your point across confidently. However this doesn’t mean being overbearing and aggressive. It simply means being straightforward about one’s point and being able to confidently express them to an audience.

5. Risk-Taking
Great salespeople are willing to innovate, to try something risky. This is even more important now, as new products and services call for new modes of selling. Salespeople are no longer simply order takers. There is an element of chance in every sale — and products and services can always be copied by competitors. So it is vitally important for a salesperson to be innovative and be willing to take a risk, with the inevitability of being wrong, to be successful.

6. Sociability
In a profession where relationship building is key, this trait needs little description. Great reps are outgoing, friendly, talkative and interested in their clients for more than just a sale.

7. Abstract Reasoning
This is the ability to understand concepts and ideas. As selling becomes more complex — especially for those in global account roles — it is imperative for reps to be able to sell potential clients on ideas. Abstract reasoning skills help a salesperson sell something intangible, such as consulting services, as opposed to automobiles.

8. Skepticism
You might be surprised to see this trait on the list, but it’s true — good salespeople have a tendency to view people with a little bit of suspicion. It does not embody the negative aspects of skepticism, but rather it keeps the sales rep alert, questioning and thorough when it comes to the sales process.

9. Creativity
The more complex the sale, the more important creativity is. Selling new products or services (or intangibles) makes creativity a must-have trait. A creative sales technique sets top salespeople apart from the rest.

10. Empathy
Empathy is the ability to place oneself in someone else’s shoes. If a sales rep is selling something, they must be able to sense the customer’s need — and find ways for the product to meet that need if possible.

Key Conclusions
Not every salesperson will possess every one of these traits, nor will every potential new hire. But the purpose of this information is to help managers assess top-notch talent, which they may find in unlikely places. While about two-thirds of the study’s top performers did come from other companies, a more telling statistic is that one-third of those sales stars did not have prior sales experience.

If employees in other departments of your company possess these traits, determine if sales might be something they will enjoy — or aspire to do. And don’t entirely dismiss college graduates simply because they lack requisite experience.

Scrap the old ways of hiring and assessing sales talent. Use this as a framework to bring on, and develop, top salespeople in your organization.