What is it that differentiates the top producing salespeople from the ones that go through life working very hard to eek out a paycheck? Is it sales knowledge? Is it experience? Or is it personality?

With over 16 million people employed in sales and sales-related positions, there certainly is no shortage of salespeople with experience. Billions of dollars are spent each year on sales training so it seems unlikely that there is a lack of sales knowledge? And yet there is no single position that demands comparable attention and investment from executives, business owners, and managers than sales when it comes to recruiting and hiring.

Given all the data and information and past experiences about how personalities affect sales performance, doesn’t it make sense for hiring managers to understand what makes successful sales people tick?

Recent validation studies and thousands of empirical experiences prove that personality traits give individuals a leg up in achieving what they want to achieve. In fact, scientists now believe that 50 percent of the differences in our personalities is inherited. But not everyone with the “right” personality becomes successful. Why? Because personality is not a case of you have it or you don’t. Personality traits provide a recipe for success but other factors determine whether these traits will be turned on….or just lie dormant.

What are these “other” factors? In addition to some genetic component, environment certainly influences how an individual uses these natural abilities. For example, growing up in a family of extroverts with parents who encourage a bit of risk-taking will turn on different traits than a conservative upbringing that values a subdued, private lifestyle and feels that a bird in hand is worth more than two in the bush.

Personality traits also combine in unique ways. The number of possibilities is enormous which explains why two people who might look capable of selling (or doing any job for that matter) perform very differently in the workplace. That explains why understanding personality traits gives managers a new powerful tool in making hiring and training decisions and getting the most out of their employees.

Personal values also determine how personality traits shine brightly in one situation yet lie in the shadows in another. Compare two people with turned-on competitive genes but one values life by how much wealth they’ve attained while the second treasures exploration and the knowledge that comes with it. The first measures his success in dollars while the latter invests his time and resources in books and continuing education….even if what he learns is not ever applied. The thrill of victory is not owning the most toys but having the right answers.

What it comes down to is this:  Single personality traits do not predict performance but combinations of personality traits do.  More specifically, unique combinations of personality traits working together predict an individual’s natural ability to succeed at certain work-related skills.

Much of the scientific research for using personality tests (and not sales skills and sales knowledge tests) for hiring salespeople comes from the Big 5 or Five-factor model. This model has been studied since the mid-1950s and has gained enormous acceptance as a result of the need to hire highly productive employees, the increasing competition from a global marketplace, and the high cost of recruiting and training.

The Big 5 Traits are easily remembered by the acronym OCEAN. To read more about the 5 sales personality traits and how to test for them click here.