Not all salespeople are successful. Given the same experience and education, why do some salespeople succeed where others fail? Is it motivation? Product knowledge? Evidence suggests that key personality traits directly influence a top performers’ selling style and ultimately their success. What follows is a list of my findings after reviewing thousands of sales personality tests and post-hire discussions with clients.
Collaborative. A fine line exists between confidence and bravado, ambition and selfishness. Ego and greed are two sales personality traits that don’t mix well with clients. While there is no question that the salesperson who believes “that second place is the first place for losers” can be successful, that’s a tough blueprint for sustainable relationships. Long-term high value clients don’t develop when every sales transaction has a winner and loser. Top performing salespeople in all but the low-margin, high volume transactional sale requires the ability to collaborate with, not compete against, customers. The focal point of every sales transaction should be team, which includes the customer and other critical players within the company. A dash of modesty and humility wouldn’t hurt either.
Conscientiousness. The stereotypical salesperson is often deemed to be synonymous with over-promising, under-delivering. It’s also a given that most top performers don’t like completing and submitting reports. But not liking details and low compliance doesn’t bode well with clients. One trait that differentiates top performers from average and below-performers is conscientiousness, having a high level of reliability and accountability.
Curiosity. A passion for asking questions (and then listening for the answer) is a trait that over three-quarters of top performers possess. Especially in today’s marketplace, a thirst for knowledge and desire to be a subject matter expert is a must. Unfortunately for many previously successful salespeople, a large part of their past success relied on others spoon feeding them information. But now, the ability to solve problems quickly is a key differentiator. This doesn’t mean that every top performer is a walking/talking encyclopedia. But it does mean that he or she has to know what to ask and where to get the information about a customer’s business, competition, and customers almost on the fly. On the other hand, low performers take too much for granted and accept too much information at face value.
Sociability. One of the most surprising differences between top performing salespeople and those ranking in the bottom half is their level of sociability and outgoingness – and that doesn’t mean hire extroverts, reject introverts. Many “best fit” models place a high value on extroversion as a predictor for sales success. But research has shown time and again that listening skills are just as important to selling as networking and persuasiveness. Managers tend to be impressed with the extrovert who can walk into a room of 100 strangers and within minutes be the life of the party. They are the analog equivalent of the Facebook user who has 5,000 “friends,” a large rolodex. But extroverts have a tendency to do a lot of talking and not enough listening (That’s what makes them extroverts!) But how many salespeople do you know (or maybe even hired) that has thousands of contacts but few sales. While presentation and interpersonal skills are critical, over-reliance on sociability and extroversion as key indicators for hiring salespeople leads to a significant number of failures. In other words, the introvert who is curious, articulate, and personable yet reserved, can be just as successful if not more so than the gregarious extrovert.
Stability. Resilience and coping skills are likely the most overlooked traits when it comes to selecting salesperson. Emotional stability which drives both resilience and stress management is also the most misunderstood trait. In one study after the other, too much stability is as bad as too little when it comes to predicting top performers. In fact, in several studies, 50 percent of low performing salespeople had so much composure that they lacked a sense of urgency, an Achilles Heel in most sales organizations. Likewise, candidates who had an “edge” about them – always restless and anxious, almost ADHD-like – often turn out to be the high-energy, always “on” individuals. Management rewards them for hard work and loyalty, only to discover that they are also high maintenance, demanding, and needy. Over time, the team of “Energizer” bunnies wears everyone down around them, including the manager. Of all the sales personality traits, the right amount of emotional stability is one of the most predictive of top performance.
These five traits can be assessed esily with a number of different employee assessment tools, including a combination sales personality tests and behavioral interviewing. The assessment model I recommend is based on the 5-Factor model, most easily remembered by the acronymOCEAN – openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. We currently offer three different assessments based on this model – Clues, Prevue, and Assess.
Learn more about each of these assessments and how they might fit in your business.