The 8 Attributes of a Highly Effective Salesperson

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How to be a Successful Salesperson (or Recognize One on Your Team)

You may recall that oh-so-70’s TV series called The Six Million Dollar Man, in which a secret government agency rebuilds former astronaut Steve Austin after an accident into a spy with bionic speed, strength, and vision that make him unstoppable.

Leaders and sales managers, when faced with a steep goal or taking on a new business, will naturally look at their sales team and think, “How am I going to hit this new goal with the same team?”  First, you come to terms with the goal and that, reluctantly, surgery and bionic implants are out — budget, OSHA, HR issues, etc.  So, you turn your attention to less extreme methods, such as strategy, recruiting, sales training, and coaching.  And then, you begin to focus on the question what are the “8 attributes of a highly successful salesperson?”

Consider the following sets of personality qualities:

A B
Social Insightful
Vocal Soft-spoken
Aggressive Patient
Gregarious Empathetic
Quick on their feet Thoughtful
Funny Serious

Question #1:  From which column of qualities would you choose if you were: Throwing a party? Hiring people most like you? Seeking people to do a lot of outbound calling, meetings, and presentations?

Question #2:  What if we turn around the question to instead ask:  If you were a buyer, responsible for making a significant and complex purchase for your organization, under great pressure and visibility, which column of qualities would you choose for your sales contact or account manager?

Successful Salespeople can be Extroverts OR Introverts

In 2012, Susan Cain authored a best-selling non-fiction book titled, Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  She described qualities like those listed in Column A as the “the extrovert ideal” — those we tend to see as representing success.  And yet, while these qualities are common among many salespeople, are they the ones embodied by your most effective, client-facing professionals?

Many sales leaders graduate into their position after gaining success as a salesperson.  So, it is tempting for them to assume that people similar to them will perform as they did.  This was illustrated well by Vivek Gupta, CEO of Zensar Technologies, in a New York Times interview on March 8, 2015.  He shared:  “There was a young girl, straight out of college, who walked into my office and said, ‘…I want to be in sales.’  I was quite nervous that she couldn’t handle the job.  I had spent a rough five years doing sales, traveling all over the country.  How would she be able to do that? … I gave the job to her, and she turned out to be the best salesperson in the company.”  Consider those gems on your team who, though quite different from you, share your ability to consistently retain important clients or generate new business.

While society values Susan Cain’s “extrovert ideal,” consider how Column B qualities — those traditionally attached to an introvert — might be differentiators and highly valued by buyers.  The truth is that the continuum between extrovert and introvert is a wide one, and effective salespeople are found between the extremes.

8 Qualities of a Successful Salesperson

In my 30 years working among and coaching salespeople, here are the 8 traits of successful salespeople that I see consistently.  They are:

  1. Client-loyal: They are driven to understand what success means for their clients and to actively contribute to that success.
  2. Win-driven: They have a self-derived motivation to win (or not lose) that transcends compensation plans, campaigns, and coaching efforts.
  3. Team builders: They cultivate and leverage people and resources — inside and outside of their organizations — that allow them to help clients reach their goals and to win.
  4. Efficient: They are master qualifiers, willing to walk from opportunities that they feel they can’t or don’t want to win. And, they are willing to invest outsized amounts of time and energy in developing what they consider to be the really great opportunities — and, in building teams that prepare and practice to win.
  5. Impatiently patient: Though professionally driven, they exude patience when they are with a client, prospect, partner, or referral source.
  6. Passionately sincere: This goes beyond basic honesty. They are sincere in finding the solution that will best accomplish the client’s goal, even if that runs counter to their organizations’ latest campaign. They display high conviction in making their case to a client about why their solution is the right one.
  7. Attentive listeners: They talk far less than they listen, bringing a high degree of humility and curiosity to their client interactions.
  8. Dedicated: They see sales as their craft and, as such, seek knowledge, coaching, and resources that will allow them to do it more efficiently and effectively, seeking and incorporating feedback to continuously sharpen their approach.

Recruiting and Training the Best Salespeople

To stay focused on these attributes, managers — as you recruit, restructure, and coach — you will be well served by the following reminders:

  • Avoid looking for you in them. He will always be him, not you. Seek the attributes that made you effective, even if the personality couldn’t be more different from yours.
  • Don’t try to turn them into you. Be willing to coach them to become the best version of themselves.
  • Seek the attributes above as must-haves, while the packages in which they come may vary.

Highly successful salespeople come in all shapes and sizes and may not always be the life of the party.  If, however, they are long on the 8 attributes above — Six Million Dollar Salespeople — they will outrun the competition in retaining and growing clients and finding new ones.  Still, budgeting next year for bionic implants is an interesting thought…