Choosing Top Sales People
I am catching up on my summer reading and just re-read Seven Personality Traits of Top Salespeople. This is an article worth reading if you are hiring sales reps.
Based on thousands of interviews with top salespeople, Steve W. Martin identified seven personality traits that directly influence top performers' selling style and set them above the average.
1. Modesty – Bravado alienates far more customers
2. Conscientiousness – They consistently display high levels of duty, responsibility and reliability
3. Achievement Orientation – They are fixated on achieving goals
4. Curiosity – Their hunger for knowledge and information causes them to ask the difficult questions to fill the information gap
5. Lack of Gregariousness – By not getting too close to the customer they are able to establish dominance
6. Lack of Discouragement – Tenacious, never give up and able to handle disappointment and bounce back from losses
7. Lack of Self-Consciousness – They display lower levels of bashfulness and inhibition and are comfortable fighting for their cause
As Martin points out, these traits are counter-intuitive to stereotypes of aggressive sales reps.
Over the past 30 years, I have worked with or managed hundreds of sales people of all abilities. As I compare Martin's conclusions to my experience, I see high correlations. More interestingly, I also see strong alignment to Jim Collins' definition of a Level 5 Leader in his book Good to Great. Collin's describes a Level 5 Leader as someone who "builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will". He portrays them as a study in duality; both modest but willful and shy but fearless. These characteristics echo throughout Martin's description of a top salesperson.
I have always believed that "People buy from People" and establishing these personal buying relationships involves building trust and confidence in the other person. Martin's traits 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7 all speak to this ability to bond with a customer to build trust and confidence, while traits 3 and 6 describe the unwavering commitment to be successful which often attracts others to follow this leader.
I occasionally joke that I was a better Sales Manager than I was a Sales Rep. I was even better a Sales VP than I was a Sales Manager. I am sure that the some of the explanation for this improvement was that over time as I gained experience and perspective in the craft of selling. That said, I know I lacked the drive (sometimes described as the sales killer instinct) to be great sales rep. I was better at sales strategy then execution, and while I was good at building trust and relationships, I was not a complete package.
So next time you are assessing sales candidates, test them for all the attributes you would expect from a good sales rep (product knowledge, technical skills, industry knowledge, domain expertise, sales experience, and so on). Then ask yourself the following questions:
- If you were the customer, could this person earn your trust?
- Would their core commitment to be successful attract others to follow them?
- Do you like this person?
- Is their drive to succeed equal or greater to yours?
- Is their customers' and their team's success more important to them than theirs?
- Do you sense that giving up has never been an option in their mind?
If the answers are "Yes", you may have a winner. If you answer "No" or you are left wondering, then move on to the next resume.