Few things determine the success or failure of a company so consistently as the quality of sales personnel, so it's no surprise that many organizations have dedicated resources to finding what makes the best sales people tick over the years. Perhaps the most respectable study of the matter comes from the esteemed Harvard Business Review, which pinpointed several characteristics consistently found in the top performers across all forms of sales. In this article, we'll be discussing five key traits that make for successful sales people-you're certain to be surprised by a few.
The first of several surprises on this list, top sales professionals scored high in humility and modesty, a direct contradiction of the popular culture image of the arrogant salesperson. Further data went on to show that sales professionals with pushy, arrogant approaches full of bravado alienated customers, even when they did achieve sales. It makes sense-in the long term, customers don't want to deal with egotistical people, and sales professionals that don't get regular repeat customers and positive word-of-mouth don't thrive.
A large percentage of top sales professionals score very high in achievement orientation-this isn't a surprise, as success in almost every career correlates strongly with this factor. People who fixate on goals and measure their performance as they approach those goals do better than their complacent, unfocused competitors-no matter the industry. In addition to its value in self-analysis and refinement, an achievement-oriented personality makes a salesperson more likely to make the right approaches, to figure out the movers and shakers and target them directly with their sales pitches.
Another contradiction of negative salesperson stereotypes, the best sales professionals consistently score as highly conscientious. It turns out that when you care about doing your best and hold yourself responsible for your actions and their outcomes, you contribute more to your team and command more respect from customers. Sales professionals that don't hold that level of internal responsibility can't maintain control of the sales process or their own performance in the way a responsible competitor might.
Unsurprisingly, self-conscious sales professionals have a hard time excelling. The best sales professionals don't embarrass easily, they aren't bashful, and they're not afraid of making mistakes. That doesn't mean they're not self-aware, only that they take in stride what might generate stress and fear in other sales professionals. To put it another way, top performance sales professionals are smart enough to see where they might misstep or embarrass themselves, and brave enough to go for it without hesitation.
We end our list with a very surprising result-gregarious sales professionals consistently underperform. That's to say, sales professionals who enjoy being around people, being friendly, being liked, don't perform as well as they should. On the other end, top performers consistently show lower gregariousness than average performers. There are several reasons this might be the case, the most simple being the difficulty in maintaining dominance in a relationship when you're trying to be friends. You want to cultivate good relationships with your customers, but that doesn't necessarily mean making friends. The best sales professionals control the sale, and a lack of gregariousness makes that far easier.
This list shouldn't be taken as definitive or a checklist for success. Even the most strongly correlated traits weren't present in 10% or more of top professionals. There are sales professionals who fit all these traits and fail miserably, and sales professionals at the top of the industry who don't fit any. A commitment to success and a focus on improving can improve any salesperson, whatever inherent talents and personality traits they may have-and of course, natural talent for selling and excessive charisma can do a lot of the heavy lifting as well.