Attributes of a good sales person

Christin Baker with edits by Wes Bender

Attributes of a good sales person

Do you have the right people enrolling prospective members?  When one of your staff answers the phone or talks to a prospective member do they have the right skill set, attitude and traits to encourage that person to join?  

The Summer 2017 Harvard Business Review had a fantastic article on this exact topic: “Seven Personality Traits of Top Sales people”.  Some of these traits were very surprising and I want to share them with you.  The methodology in getting to these traits comes from personality tests given to high-tech and business services sales people. Then the responses were categorized by percentage of annual quota attainment and put into buckets: top performers, average performers and below-average performers.

The results were then compared and the traits of the top performers that most influenced their sales success are outlined below.  This is based on the the Harvard Business Review Article written by Steve W. Martin who is the author of Heavy Hitter I.T. Sales strategy: Competitive Insights from Interviews with 1,000+ Key Information Technology Decision Makers and Top Technology Salespeople.

  1. Modesty: Most people think salespeople are pushy and ego driven, yet top salespeople had medium to high modesty and humility scores.  This trait suggests that bombastic, ego driven salespeople alienate far more customers than they win over.  The successful salesperson is one who listens and lets the customer feel like the important and special person in this process. 
  2. Conscientiousness: This trait showed that salespeople took their jobs seriously and felt deeply responsible for the results.  Usually people come into the non-profit work because they want to make a difference so this trait, I believe, is present in a good number of non-profit staff. 
  3. Achievement orientation: These salespeople obsessively check their results against their goals.  This group strategizes about how  the product they are selling fits into the life or world of the people they are selling it to.  The salespeople do not focus on the functionality of the product itself.  The functionality doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make a difference in the life of the person who’s purchasing it. 
  4. Curiosity: A hunger for knowledge and information.  During the sale process these salespeople take time to find out about the customer and ask probing, sometimes personal questions in order to get through objections to a sale.  This helps salespeople get to the truth as soon as possible.  They know when a sale is not likely and they can move on to more active prospects. 
  5. Lack of gregariousness: This could also be termed as extrovert vs. introvert.  Many of the top sales people don’t have a need or preference to be around people or overly friendly.  This helps them focus on the customer and their needs as a purchaser of their product and not as the customer as the salesperson’s friend. 
  6. Lack of discouragement: Getting a “no” didn’t get the top sellers down.  They were able to handle disappointment and bounce back from a “no” and move on to the next opportunity.
  7. Lack of self- consciousness: Harvard Business Review termed this as “the measurement of how easily someone is embarrassed.”  This helped the top sellers get on the phone and cold call or take that extra step and follow up with their prospects.  They didn’t care about what someone thought of them they were fighting for their product as a tool that will help the customer. 

Let’s be clear that someone doesn’t have to possess all of these traits to be a successful salesperson.  This is what the data showed when the researchers looked at what traits MOST successful salespeople had.  

It is something to consider when hiring for a sales oriented position in your organization or when promoting or moving someone to a more sales oriented position.  Many traits some people assume make a good salesperson are actually the exact opposite. Armed with this information, we hope it helps you hire or promote your next staff.

Imagine what it would be like if sales oriented people with the characteristics listed above were equipped with our cause-driven product.  Some organizations have hired people and tried to train them to sell instead of finding people with the right characteristics and then giving them a cause driven organization to sell.  We believe that we shouldn’t think of staff as “salespeople” but rather Enrollment Specialists who’s personal mission is to find out how the prospective member’s needs, goals and values fit with the mission and vision of the Y and then invite them to join.  We have a program that can help your organization begin this process and it’s called Person Centered Enrollment. 

If you would like to know more about these 7 traits and other great articles I highly suggest the Harvard Business Review’s Summer 2017 issue on Sales.