Sales Tips: Death of the Salesman

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Seven Personality Traits of Top Salespeople

When asked what makes them different from the average sales person, most top sales representatives can not give you a specific and accurate answer. This is mostly because they are doing what comes naturally to them — it is ingrained in their personality. The rep is not really aware of the differences, because they happen at the subconscious level.

I have interviewed and administered personality tests to over one thousand top ranking salespeople over the past ten years to try and narrow down just what it is that helps them succeed. The business-to-business representatives were employed by some of the biggest companies in the world. To gain a better understanding of the attributes that make up a successful sales rep, I measured five categories of personality: extraversion, agreeableness, negative emotionality, openness and conscientiousness.

The corporations involved were mostly high tech and business service companies. They took place at strategy workshops I conducted and some were taken at incentive trips or Presidents Club meetings, which top representatives are rewarded with for superior accomplishments. I then broke down the results and separated them by an annual quota percentage. These results were then further broken down into high, average and low performance.

These separate categories were then correlated and compared to one another to determine the key personality traits that differ between top, average and below average sales results. In the end, I came up with seven main traits that have a significant influence on high performance as well as the impact the trait has on selling style and successful results.

1. Achievement Oriented

Successful salespeople are generally over achievers. They constantly measure their past performance with their current goals and find ways to improve their performance. Eighty-four percent of top sales representatives had high scores in achievement and goal orientation.

This goal orientation is highly political in nature during sales cycles. Successful sales reps intuitively seek out key decision-makers in their targeted company. They focus more on the people they are selling to in the organization and how the product will benefit the organization than the product itself.

2. Curious

The craving for knowledge and longing to discover how things work is the best definition for curiosity and a strong trait in successful sales people. There is nothing more impressive to a customer than an individual who has an in depth knowledge of their company and products or a deep seated interest in them. Eighty-two percent of the top salespeople scored high on the test for this trait.

This curiosity also allows the sales rep to discover very early in the game whether he/she is going to close the deal. Strategic and well thought out questioning of the customer helps to close the gaps in information and gives the rep the intuition to proceed on the sale or move on.

3. Lack of Sociability

This trait was very surprising. Top sales representatives scored thirty percent lower on tests for gregariousness than average or below average individuals. These tests distinguish a preference to friendliness or being around other people.

The logical conclusion is that top sales reps strive for dominance and an overly friendly representative is too intimate with a customer to achieve a dominant stance. In a dominant position the sales rep is more respected and a customer tends to follow his/her advice and recommendations.

4. Modesty

Another surprising result that flies in the face of typical stereotype is that successful salespeople tend to be modest. Ninety-one percent of the top sales reps scored high in humility and modesty tests while the underachievers lived up to the egotistical and pushy typecast. The obvious conclusion is that the flamboyant salespeople tend to drive away far more customers than they win over.

Rather than focusing on themselves, the successful salesperson promotes other individuals in the organization as the main focus of attention; winning the customer over with a team spirit and “we are all in this together” attitude.

5. Conscientious

The top salespeople in the study had very high levels of responsibility, duty and reliability. They took their jobs extremely seriously and felt a deep responsibility for their company and their customers.

Rather than reacting to customer or competitor actions the successful sales rep takes full control of his/her account in the sales cycle and in this way controls their providence. They do not put the blame on other individuals and strive to take control of any given situation.

6. Lack of Self-Consciousness

Under five percent of the top sales people were self-conscious, embarrassed easily or were bashful. Inhibition was not a part of their chemical makeup. They are not meek in any way and are not afraid to defend themselves.

The tests showed that the successful salespeople were aggressive and willing to put up a fight to defend their arguments. They were not afraid to upset any customers in the process. Action oriented, they will defend what they know is right and refute what they do not agree with. In this way they earn respect, especially when they can prove their point in a debate.

7. Lack of Discouragement

When tested, fewer than ten percent of the top sales people had high levels of discouragement. The majority of these individuals never got overwhelmed with a workload or felt saddened by life events. They had the ability to bounce back quickly from tragic events.

In several interviews I have conducted over the ten year span I discovered that many of these individuals played sports in school. I found a strong correlation between the ability to accept defeat in life and the individuals who played sports. In my opinion this prepared them mentally for the losses and gave them the ability to prepare themselves for the next competition in sales.

Not all people who go into sales become successful. Many individuals with the same education level and given the same tools of the trade have varying levels of success. Some succeed, some fail and some fall somewhere in between. Although luck and personal contacts play a part in the process this evidence suggests natural personality makeup plays a large part in determining a truly successful sales person.

A 30-something living in Miami Beach. Founder of MarketKarma and CouponMate. I can be contacted via LinkedIn or my blog.

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