Best Salesperson Traits

Ok, not my list but Bill Golder’s article on LinkedIn:  Top 5 traits of the best sales people I’ve ever seen

The list hits on two traits that I believe are crucial to sales success.  The first is curiosity.  This trait sounds insignificant, but it is far from it.

From the article:

Every salesperson knows that you have to ask good questions and be a good listener. Unfortunately, far too many simply go through the motions based on some type of training or methodology they’ve adopted vs. truly demonstrating an interest in solving a customer’s problem.

The best sales people are not bashful about asking any question that can help them better understand how to help the prospect – even the dumb questions. Great sales people (like my 6-year old son) ask “why” a lot. Great sales people get excited to do the research in advance of an important call because they are naturally curious and want to learn as much about their prospects’ realities as possible.

Exactly.  Have you ever encountered a salesperson with whom you felt like they were using “tools” on you.  The salesperson clearly learned some techniques that they thought would help them trick you into revealing something.  There are few things in life more annoying than having a tool clumsily used on you.

A curious salesperson, on the other hand, asks questions to get to an understanding of your situation.  There is a sincerity to their questions and a earnestness in hearing your answer.  They do not have this obvious anticipation as they prepare to unleash the next tool on you.

The second trait is that the salesperson loses fast.  That’s right…loses.

Back to the article:

I once worked with a sales person who worked hard at getting prospects to say no quickly. That’s right. He pushed them to say no. He was focused on spending his selling time with only those that were qualified and wanted to make sure he didn’t waste his or his prospects precious time any more than was necessary – especially if it wasn’t going to happen.

When he received an RFP that did not provide any opportunity for interaction with key stakeholders within the buying team, he quickly wrote up a polite email declining to participate. About half of the time he would get a response that they would change the rule if he would participate. The other half he would have lost anyway.

The half that agreed to provide access often saw us immediately as a front runner compared to everyone else who were willing to submit without engaging in a dialogue. This approach was an outcome of sticking to a key criteria in qualifying prospect opportunities – those that were willing to provide access.

This trait cannot be overstated.  The most important sales skill is qualifying and the key to this skill is the ability to determine if it is time to move on to another prospect.  It is surprising how many salespeople struggle with this ability.  What happens is that it becomes easier for some salespeople to continue to contact “prospects” that have no chance of closing than to find a new prospect to start qualifying.  The familiarity of the dead-end prospect leads to expense spending on fine wines and rounds of golf…with no chance of getting an order from them.

The willingness to qualify a “no” is critical to sales success.  A strong salesperson has an ROI clock always running in their mind.  What is my return on investment for pursuing this prospect?  Can I close them in an appropriate amount of time?  Will we have a profitable solution?  Will they be a drag on our customer support?  These questions are always running in the strong salesperson’s mind.  Their desire to lose fast fits perfectly into this successful mindset.

We help companies identify these traits and skills through our unique sales assessments.  Please visit our assessment page to learn more.

Oddities That Make Strong Salespeople-Noncompliance

I’ve been assessing salespeople since 2001 which, as you can imagine, has provided some unique experiences.  These experiences have revealed some odd factors that seem to be supportive of sales success.  The oddity is that there seems to be a yin and a yang to abilities…a give and a take.  Here are just a few:

Fearlessness vs. Compliance
This oddity might be the most common.  There is a component to successful selling that involves a fearlessness to adroitly ask difficult questions to qualify prospects.  Many (most) people are uncomfortable asking these questions.

For instance, it is “impolite to discuss money” is one of our social mores.  However, you will not get far in your sales career if you are incapable of accurately qualifying the prospect’s budget.  This ability requires a fearless attitude.

The other side of this coin is compliance which is oddly infrequent among most salespeople.  Sales leaders need a certain level of compliance to maintain some semblance of order within a freewheeling sales department.  Good luck.

My experience has found that most salespeople are noncompliant and I think there is a specific reason.  Compliant styles like to plan a predictive sales call.  They like to almost script the call with expected questions and well-constructed answers…then the call happens.  The compliant salesperson begins the call/meeting based on their anticipated script and the prospect makes a 90 degree turn and the script blows up.  Low compliance, high fearlessness is an advantage to sales success as they are freer to move with the prospect no matter which direction they go.

I’ve encountered other oddities along my assessment travels – I will share those in the near future.

2 Habits That Undermine Salespeople

Supposition – something that is supposed; assumption; hypothesis

Think of supposition, in sales parlance, as being synonymous with stereotyping.  This is a dangerous approach to sale in that once you start making assumptions, you start derailing your qualifying skills.  In most prospect situations, once you stop truly qualifying you are headed towards prospects that are welded on your forecast 90 days out.  Eternally.

Proposition – the act of offering or suggesting something to be considered, accepted, adopted, or done

I suspect you are thinking of value proposition which makes sense.  I read an interesting post that turned that term upside down.  The author suggested selling to the customer’s value expectations rather than your value proposition.  I agree.  They went on to postulate that this approach leads to listening rather than proposing.

Supposition, in partner with proposition, leads to sloppy qualifying.  Salespeople with these two habits tend to assume what is needed by the prospect without asking the right questions.  This mental supposition then leads to them proposing what they feel is the best solution for the supposed problem.  Circular and twisted logic all in one fell swoop!

The two better habits for salespeople in any sale is investigation and observation.  Investigation – ask the right questions to get to the truth.  Observation – simply put, listen…and watch body language, tonality, eye movement, etc.  Salespeople with these habits are far more efficient qualifiers and typically are far more productive.

If you need help finding these types of salespeople, we can help.

Do Not Trust Myers-Briggs

Well, that is my paraphrasing of this author’s post.  The Myers-Briggs test is common throughout many business-world assessments and it serves a purpose.  The difficulty I have always had with it is the binary aspect of the assessment.  You are either Extroverted or Introverted…there is no grey area.  I think the author explains it well:

More problematic, though, is that it classifies personalities by a binary preference for a particular trait. In reality, however, most people exist on a spectrum between the two and can vary between them from week to week…

Agreed.  People are the ultimate variable and far from binary.  I think the best use of the Myers-Briggs assessment is to define preferences, but not to make hiring decisions based off of it.

If you are looking for a reliable assessment tool that does provide grayscale depth, I recommend our DISC-based, Selling Style Assessment (more details here).

Rapport Sells More

This is one of those topics I always believe people inherently know…and then I come across a robotic salesperson.  Apparently not everyone is aware of this truth.  This quick post from Selling Power speaks to the importance of rapport-building and successful selling (and I lifted the title from them).

A quick refresher:

1. Match your customer’s style. Pay attention to how your customer prefers to communicate and get in step. Does your customer prefer to get right down to business or warm up by engaging in some small talk? What kind of a sense of humor does your customer have? If your customer talks fast and loud, you certainly won’t build rapport by talking slow and soft.

So true and yet many salespeople miss it.  Matching, not mimicking, your prospect is an important tool on a first call.  It is simple to do if you pay attention to their communication style.  The implication here is that you have to listen to them which means you are not talking.  Most of the communication trouble I see when riding along with salespeople is their desire to simply show up and throw up.  We live by this rule – if you are talking, you are not selling.

A Not So Amazing Stat

Just read a resume that boldly stated, “Made over 500 cold calls in 1 year.”

One year.

In my younger days, I was in sales jobs that required at least 50 cold calls a day so cranking out 500 in a year is…underwhelming.

Failure

Here is a great Nike commercial via the JustSell.com website:  http://www.justsell.com/michael-jordan-on-failure/

The point of the commercial walks right over to the sales world.  Michael Jordan’s closing statement from the commercial:

I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Here is what sales managers need to understand, some times you need to let a salesperson fail.  Now, I’m not talking about a large, important prospect, but rather a prospect that you may know is not going to close or is misaligned in some other way.  I’ve come across many sales managers who want to consistently step in and help a struggling salesperson.  This ends up becoming a crutch for the underperforming salesperson and he/she will not have the opportunity to develop their skill to the fullest.

At times, it is best to provide the coaching lesson to the salesperson and then to step back and let them apply the lesson.  Guess what?  Often times they are going to fail in their initial attempts.  This is ok as sometimes they need to have those failures to learn the lesson.

Conventional Wisdom About Sales Managers

Here is an article from Eye on Sales that addresses a common sales management topic – should you promote your top salesperson into the sales manager role?  I would argue that the conventional wisdom is to avoid making this mistake.

From the article:

Sales management mistake #1: Promoting top performers to sales managers

Top-performing salespeople are not necessarily top managers. Leaders often fail to evaluate their best sales professionals for their ability and aptitude to manage before placing them in a leadership position. It seems like an easy decision to promote the best, but in reality you might be taking one of your most potent weapons out of the game and placing them in a position that is not well-suited for them. As a result, the company as a whole loses – the individual is unhappy, the salespeople he’s managing are underperforming, and the company is missing out on potential sales.

Solution: There are many assessment tools that can accurately predict management aptitude – use them. I find it baffling when so many firms roll the dice on salespeople and sales managers when there are quantitative, validated, and reliable evaluations available that are accurate predictors of success. Don’t assume that because an individual is a top performer in sales that they’ll be able to manage sales people. It just doesn’t work like that.

I get the point…in fact I have written similarly myself.  Assessments are the key as they can provide you with an edge when it comes to interviewing candidates and determining their fit to the position’s requirements.  Not surprisingly, I strongly agree with the author on this topic.

I have a slightly different take on promoting top performing salespeople – they know how to “get ‘er done.”  I have seen many underperforming salespeople who seem to be in vapor lock.  They aren’t sure what to do either strategically or tactically.  Top selling salespeople have a tactical efficiency to them that can truly undergird an entire sales team.  They can teach the team how to get ‘er done.

In this light, strong salespeople can be a force multiplier for a sales team.  Granted, it doesn’t work in all situations, but I do think the conventional wisdom has shifted too far away from this approach.

The Problem With Hunters

They hunt – plain and simple.  You could say it is in their blood.  This becomes an issue when you are attempting to hire a sales hunter as I have witnessed this past week.  One of our customers zeroed in on a particular candidate who is a strong hunter, but my customer took their time in pursuing him.  In that time, he uncovered another opportunity and received an offer.  That offer was later placed on hold so he returned to my customer for an interview.  They thought he would be a great fit, but the first company came back and made him another offer along with my customer.  He went with the other offer.

Confusing I know, but the point here is that hunters keep hunting even when they are securing a deal.  This behavior is their strength and their weakness.  They keep their nose to the ground and keep looking for the next opportunity.

Hunters are also difficult to manage in that they take a strong, but understanding manager to work with them.  Hunters can be driven, but they can also be demanding.  They can be empathetic, but they are often competitive.

Oh, and most importantly, they can make you a lot of money.

Emotional Decision Making

This excerpt is from the Herman Trend Alert and it highlights a very important fact for all salespeople (emphasis mine):

"Loyalty will focus more on emotions than on rational, incentive-based initiatives." According to behavioral economists, economic decision-making is 70 percent emotional and 30 percent rational. Thus, the loyalty programs that touch us emotionally will work the best; those that focus on the emotional side of the decision making process will create connected, passionate, and engaged customers. Expect to see more emotional appeals that involve our families, relationships, those in need, etc.

I’m going to breeze right past the “behavioral economists” title (sounds like a great description for a salesperson) and hit that decision-making statement.  It is true.  We shorten it up to stating that people make decisions emotionally and they justify them later intellectually.

This is an important truth in selling.  This being the case, intellectual data dumps like feature/benefits will be less effective than probing for pain in the prospect’s world.  Too often I see salespeople in the field go intellectual, especially in tech-related sales, which neutralizes, or even inhibits, their sales effectiveness.