9 Unarguable Traits of Superstar Sales People.
And 1 extra arguable trait for good measure
Many people are attracted to working in sales because it can pay great money without needing professional qualifications. It can also pay awfully, as sales pay is more often than not, performance related. So what gives some sellers the ability to make fortunes, whilst others remain paupers?
In the 25 years I’ve spent in sales; as a sales person, sales manager, regional manager, head of sales, and in my current role as a sales director, I’ve worked with hundreds if not thousands of sales people. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
There are some people working in sales who simply shouldn’t be there, they can’t sell and never will. There are others who are good at selling and earn a decent living from it. However, in every company I’ve worked in, whatever industry, I’ve always been most fascinated by the top 5%-10% of sales people in the organisation; the superstars.
I’ve noticed over the years that these top 10% of people produce about 50% of the result. That’s right, the top 10% of the entire sales force usually sell as much as the other 90% put together. A kind of sales Pareto principle if you like. It wasn’t something I was overly interested in when I was selling, but as a sales manager, I used to think that if I could find more people who had the traits of these 10% of people, then I would create better and better sales channels. That might be true, but I now also believe that the Pareto principle would likely hold true as well.
I used to be a superstar sales person myself, easily in the top 10% of sellers, and often the number one, so in order to answer the question about what makes a great sales person I could look at my own traits to answer the question. But here’s the interesting thing; when I think of the best sellers I’ve seen over the years, they were all very different people. Some of them are decent people, who I would be honoured to call a friend. Others have been downright nasty, putting in false grievances against management or the company when things don’t go their way. They all look different, sound different and act differently.
However despite their differences, I believe that the majority of great sellers share some common traits which allow them to excel to the lofty heights of success. Great sales people usually make phenomenal money. By the way, if you’re a sales person in the top 5% of your company and not making great money, you need to find a new company to work for, they’re cutting you short.
So in no particular order, here are ten qualities which separate out superstar sellers from the rest.
Call this what you want; drive, hunger, maybe work ethic. But within every great sales person is a hunger which sometimes eclipses the need to make money. You show me a person with hunger and drive, and I’ll show you someone who can beat most other sales people regardless of their education or intelligence.
I’ve employed people who look sharp, speak well, who are confident; having all the traits you might associate with a successful seller, and they’ve delivered next to nothing. I’ve also employed people who can barely speak English, look scruffy and might seem to have trouble communicating, who have then gone on to shatter sales records. The difference between the two groups of people? Drive. There is a often a debate within sales about skill vs will. It’s not even a conversation; the answer is will. It’s what often makes recruiting good sales people tricky, as everyone will tell you that they work hard, but it’s difficult to see the drive inside a person’s heart.
Working in sales will give you a lot of knocks and set-backs. It’s easy to have a day where you can’t make a sale, with doors literally being slammed in your face. You’ll face cancellations, aggressive customer complaints, admin duties heaped on you by your manager when you could be making sales, and untold pressure to hit demanding targets whether you’re feeling good or not.
The best sales people take all this in their stride and all the issues of the day get brushed aside and they make the next sale. If you’re not resilient, you will struggle in sales.
Drive and resilience could be lumped in as being part of someone’s attitude. Indeed, attitude encompasses so much that you can almost put any other personality trait under it’s heading. Attitude is a complex subject, but in the simplest of terms, great sales people usually have a good attitude in that they will react positively in circumstances where other people might not.
A good attitude will mean that a sales person will plan ahead, appear positive, upbeat, energetic, and will attempt to have a productive day no matter what.
4. Emotional Intelligence
Being in tune with the person or people you are selling to is something that most great sales people will have. Understanding your clients needs and feelings is tantamount to success. Great sales people will be able to understand the different personality types they are dealing with, and adapt their behaviour accordingly to sell to them.
They will pick up on various non-verbal and verbal clues and adapt accordingly. They have the ability to remain emotionally stable when customers might show signs of frustration, anger, or even anxiety and fear.
In the many recruitment and induction days that I’ve held over the years, I’ve noticed that there is always an abundance of ex-pro or semi-pro sports people in the room. Sales is filled with sports people, and indeed sports people and sales people seem to share a lot of psychological traits, not least competitiveness to be the best, or to beat their peers.
Working in sales can provide people who are competitive with an environment in which they can thrive, and obviously a competitive nature can yield fantastic results as people who want to beat others will often work harder in order to do so.
6. Listening Skills
My mum makes me smile. She often says that I’m successful in sales because I have the gift of the gab. Or she’ll say that a person should come and work for me because they have the gift of the gab. Like many people, she thinks that a chatterbox makes a good sales person.
In actual fact a chatterbox often deters a customer from placing a sale. People do not like being talked at and not listened to. The great sales people will ask all the right questions in order to determine what a customer wants before they even attempt to start talking about their company or product.
Listening skills means active listening, demonstrating that you’re understanding, and showing empathy towards your customer. It blends with emotional intelligence and without great listening skills, you’re ineffective as a seller.
7. Objection Handling
Maybe my mum is referring to the ability to handle objections when she talks about the gift of the gab, who knows?
However, objection handling certainly isn’t arguing or debating with your customer. Objection handling is a key skill which sees you empathising and agreeing with your customer, and then asking further detailed questions to route out a real objection or pain point, before going on to pitch again and overcome the objection, armed with further intelligence.
8. Asking for the Business
I’ve seen many good sellers who have so many attributes of a great seller, can do most of the above with aplomb, but when it comes to asking for the business, they hit a brick wall. It’s a real shame, because asking for the business shouldn’t be hard if you’ve done everything else correctly.
There are so many ways to close, but certain people have a hard time doing so, and it stops them being great rather than good.
Many sales people after landing a sale will thank the customer, say a few pleasantries and dash for the door. Welcome to cancellation hell.
After the customer has signed on the dotted line, what separates great sellers from good are those who spend another 10–15 minutes with the customer at the very least, talking them through all the next steps and what will happen, explaining why the choice they’ve made is great, letting them know what to do in any eventuality, and in all likelihood making themselves responsible and the point of contact for any unforeseen issues.
Too many sales people get the deal and vanish within seconds, and it ultimately costs them down the line with problems and cancellations.
10. They are usually men, not women
This one is obviously controversial and could get me into trouble, but please read this whole section before you send me hate mail. And please remember the word usually here is key, every rule has exceptions.
Sales tends to attract more men than women for whatever reason. In most of the direct sales organisations I’ve ran, the population of women usually ranges from 10–20% of the whole. As a sales leader who likes to examine data and look for trends, I’ve separated the performance of the sexes for my own curiosity, and I will share what the data has always told me.
Firstly, even in male dominated industries, the average performance of the men in sales organisations has always been poorer than the women. Yes you read that correctly, the average performance of the women is always better than men. I’m talking about taking the total sales of the men, be it in units or money, and then dividing by the number of men, and then doing the same for the women. Without exception, in every organisation I’ve worked in the performance of the women has bettered the men.
I’ve thought about this long and hard, and I think it boils down to a few things. I think women have more natural empathy and better listening skills than men, and I also believe that on average, from my own experiences, they seem to have a better work ethic. I know in this woke era saying that one sex has a better work ethic than the other is asking for trouble, but I have to be truthful about what I’ve experienced. This I believe, is what makes women better sales people than men on average.
However, here’s the funny thing. When I’ve had large sales populations of around a hundred working for me, the fifteen to twenty women working within that hundred will usually sit between position ten and sixty in any given month. There is the odd anomaly, but generally this rule holds true. The women are rarely in the bottom 40%, it’s usually all men, but they are also rarely in the top 10%, they are usually all men too. So the average scores of the women is usually better as a whole, but the overachievers at the very top tend to be men.
Why is this? I remember listening to a radio show once and someone holding a position of authority in the education sector discussed the university results of men and women. They said that men will often acquire 1st class honours, or 3rd’s. However, women were more likely to get 2nd class honours, and rarely 1sts or 3rds. It made me think, because it really resonated with what I’d noticed in the sales world.
Whilst the natural skills of women potentially make them better sellers on average, the work needed to take someone to the very top of a competitive sales leaderboard requires an almost insane drive, which sees the very best sales people giving up much of their personal life, dedicating their whole being to be the best. They are the 5–10% and they tend to be men. I suspect that the majority of these guys giving it everything and working 16 hours a day, are probably supported by women at home.
So should sales leaders employ only women, as their average scores are usually higher than men? Well that would mean sales organisations filled with only women, and whilst that might be fine, many women who work in my sales organisations have often told me that they don’t like working with other women, and prefer working with men. Go figure.
Having one or more of the attributes above may make you a good seller, but to be in the top 5% you’re probably going to have to have them all. Sales is one of the few professional vocations in life whereby you don’t need a professional qualification. Pilots, accountants, lawyers, doctors etc all need higher education with difficult examinations, and yet sales can pay as much money or more. So if you’re without qualifications in a niche sector, and you want to earn big bucks, then maybe it’s the profession for you. But don’t kid yourself, it’s not easy. No corporation in the land hands out big money for nothing, and you’ll need a skill set just as rare as somebody who practices any other professional vocation.