5 KEY TRAITS OF A SUCCESSFUL SALESPERSON

I have hired, trained and worked with hundreds of salespeople over the course of my career – some good, some bad and several outstanding.  A client in the midst of ramping up their sales team asked me a question I have heard many times before – whether great salespeople are born or built – and it lead me to analyze what exactly it is that makes the A-players I’ve seen over the years so much better than the rest of the pack.
Without getting too deep into a sociological debate on nature vs. nurture, I truly believe that some of the traits and characteristics of an amazing salesperson are rooted in natural talent.  However, in just the same way that the most talented golfer doesn't win the Masters every year, it takes hard work and ongoing development to hone winning capabilities day-in-day-out.  The same goes for sales.
Thinking back on my more than 25 years in the sales profession, these are the 5 key traits of a successful salesperson:

1. RESILIENCY

This first trait goes without saying for anyone trying to move the needle in any profession, entrepreneurial venture, sport, or frankly anything where the majority of the time you are playing outside of your comfort zone – resiliency matters.  In sales, there are many highs and many lows (usually far more of the latter) so, being able to moderate your mindset in the throes of battle is absolutely key to long-term success.

Even the best salespeople have rough patches in their careers – whether it is related to the market, a change affecting the customer base or even the broader economy, it is inevitable that it will hit us all at some point.  A resilient salesperson is someone who has the ability to pick up that phone and confidently make the next call after getting a shot in the gut.

2. NATURAL CURIOSITY

Nothing irks me more than getting a call from a salesperson who is pretending to be interested in my business, but whose heart just isn’t into it.  They are most likely just checking off a list of questions given to them by their sales manager, and it’s pretty obvious.

At the same time, we all know that the most successful B2B salespeople are experts at probing to the core of a problem and bringing a solution to the table to meet that burning need.  In order to get deep into that core, however, it takes a lot more than just a checklist of questions, it takes innate curiosity and inquisitiveness.  To the prospect, this reveals itself as sincere interest in their business and goes a long way in building trust.

In my experience, this is perhaps more nature than nurture, and although this trait can be difficult to identify in an interview with a candidate, I have found a few strong indicators in their propensity to try new things, seek out new experiences and very simply the number of books they read.

When you find a salesperson who has this natural curiosity baked into their personality, you will know.  They will maneuver a discovery session like an ace pilot – not only will they methodically probe and dig deeper with follow-on questions to test their theories, they will bring a level of enthusiasm to the conversation that simply cannot be faked.  The people who have this gift also tend to embrace the old sales adage that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason – and use them in that proportion.

3. DISCIPLINE

It is human nature to default to easy things when confronted with a to-do list of items with a varying degree of difficulty.  A great salesperson needs the discipline to fight this natural urge to avoid being sucked into the black hole of sales complacency.

Prospecting is hard.

Adding value to your potential customer base is hard.

Taking strategic action to penetrate a new account is hard.

When faced with these types of necessary yet difficult tasks, a salesperson who lacks self-discipline will simply do the easy things first in order to prolong the inevitable.  That inevitability is having to go outside of their comfort zone to drive real results for the business.

Certainly a level of discipline can (and should) be coached into salespeople early in their careers.  However, the most successful sales professionals are those who understand the relationship between their results and their ability to execute on the most important (and usually most difficult) items in their pile on a daily basis.

4. STRATEGIC THINKING

When you see a strategically-savvy salesperson in the midst of a deal, it resembles a chess master at work – no move is made without thinking five or ten steps ahead.  Even if some action is carried out in a manner some may perceive to be hasty or without much forethought, you can bet this move was in fact quite carefully calculated.

Examining B2B complex sales, this game can be far more intricate than your typical game of chess.  After all, in chess at least you know who all the players are, what they can (and can’t) do and most importantly you know their overall objective and end-game.  Being strategic in your sales process requires careful consideration of all of the facts presented, testing of theories and triangulation of the messages received from your buyers.  To add even more complexity, these processes also involve actual people, each with their own agenda which may not exactly align perfectly with yours (let alone the agenda of the organization or their other team-members!).

A strong strategic salesperson knows how to effectively engage with each buyer persona within the prospect’s organization and somehow come across looking like a hero.  On the other hand, those who lack this level of strategic skill and intuition can be seen as unsavoury, going behind someone’s back when they don’t get the answer they are looking for.

This topic could not only be a full article in itself, there are many (very thick) books out there offering up strategic sales frameworks.  Miller Heiman’s The New Strategic Selling is one I absolutely recommend for any organization with a complex sales process.  The good news for sales leaders - this is an area that can absolutely be developed over time with COACHING.  This is also a skill set that tends to come hand-in-hand with sales battle scars and experience – as long as a framework is put in place to formalize an approach.

5. RESOURCEFULNESS

Some of the most effective salespeople I have seen in my career came from smaller companies. You may wonder why this is the case.  In a smaller organization, sales teams simply don’t have the level of support you would typically find in a larger environment, so they have to be scrappy and resourceful in order to make things happen and close deals.

A resourceful salesperson will not wait for marketing to put together a spec sheet or a product FAQ to provide to a prospect – they will build it.  They won’t blow a potential opportunity to tweak the pricing in their favor if they sense it might be doable.  They know the questions and objections the prospect will raise and are prepared with sales tools to deal with these issues and continue to move the deal towards closing.

I think of sales resourcefulness as a chef who is constantly trying new recipes – some his own, but many driven by requests from people in his dining room.  If one of these recipes is a hit, he will stick that recipe in his file and save it for the next time he gets a similar request.  He may also pull out this recipe from time to time when the moment strikes him right; perhaps a VIP diner or an influential critic is in the house.  Although he is not creating these meals from scratch every time, to his audience they feel very custom-built to their needs and desires.

Obviously it is quite rare to find a candidate who embodies all of these traits (and if you do, please pass them my way!).  The key takeaway for your team development is to be able to recognize these strengths in your people and nurture and develop them as a sales leader.