3 most important characteristics of a successful salesperson

Written by Alissa Parr, Director, Talent Solutions

One of the TV shows that I find myself watching episode after episode is Shark Tank, the international equivalent of Dragons’ Den. In this show, entrepreneurs try to ‘sell’ their business or business concept to a group of venture capitalists with the hopes of getting an investment from them. Not only does this investment give the entrepreneurs money, but it also provides them with the advice and connections that will facilitate the growth of their business. So, their five-minute pitch is critical to the future success of their company. I have seen entrepreneurs in the show excel…and also flounder.

Watching this show brings me back to I/O psychology concepts — what are the characteristics of a successful salesperson? It’s clear from watching this show as well as observing customer service interactions that there is a core set of skills and abilities needed to be a successful salesperson. The best way to determine those core competencies for a specific role is to conduct a job analysis. However, there are some competencies and behaviours that consistently show up in research and applied settings regarding how to become a successful salesperson that your organisation can utilise in the talent assessment process.

How to hire a successful salesperson

While some of the more typical characteristics that rise to the top in a job analysis may include attention to detail, project management skills, or teamwork, sales roles tend to demand a slightly different profile. Here are three important characteristics of a successful salesperson that you will want to assess for in advance of your next hire.

  1. Passion and persuasion
    When someone enters the Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den, you can tell immediately whether they are fully invested in their company and this is their primary focus or whether they see it as merely supplemental income or a side hustle. The differentiator here is passion. Salespeople must be passionate about what they do and show a drive to continually advance their product or service.

    When this passion and excitement gets transmitted to the potential buyer, the salesperson can then use their persuasion skills to ensure that the buyer sees their product or service as a worthwhile investment. You can have the highest degree from the best business school in the country, but those that don’t have passion and proper persuasion techniques will have trouble closing crucial business deals.

  2. Emotional intelligence and composure 
    Going into a sales situation requires prep work. A successful salesperson needs to understand their audience so they can tailor their message directly to them. However, this prep work is only the first step. The entire sales process requires active engagement. During the pitch, salespeople need to effectively respond to the verbal and non-verbal cues from the customer.

    This often requires adaptation in the sales approach, especially if the product or service is innovation. For example, one entrepreneur on the show re-conceptualised the typical energy protein bar. How, you ask? By using crickets as a form of protein. Picking up on the shock and disgust from the sharks, the entrepreneur changed his selling tactic by emphasising how crickets are a new, sustainable, and eco-friendly form of protein commonly used around the world today. The entrepreneur maintained their composure, continued to respond appropriately to the reactions and cues from the sharks, and ultimately, landed a deal before leaving the tank.

    While most salespeople are not trying to sell crickets for consumption, the basic skills of emotional intelligence and composure are critical characteristics of a successful salesperson. A successful salesperson not only understands their audience, but is able to pick up on cues from others and respond or adapt appropriately. By maintaining their composure regardless of the questions and concerns being directed at them, a salesperson can effectively handle the pressure of the situation, remaining focused on the goal at hand of landing the sale.

  3. Critical thinking and information seeking 
    When the entrepreneurs approach the potential investors, they propose a deal for the amount of money they want in return for the percentage investment. Based on this proposal, a valuation of the company is easily determined. Many of the entrepreneurs who enter the shark tank do so with a wrong or inappropriate valuation – a mistake that could cost them dearly in the eyes of their potential investors.

    For example, some will request 10% investment for 100K (a one million dollar valuation) when they don’t have proof of sales. Even those not in sales can quickly see this is a bad call. The inability to procure the necessary details to effectively evaluate the product or service is an immediate turnoff because it shows that the salesperson is not able – or perhaps not willing – to work well with numbers or accurately project numbers based on opportunity and risk.A successful salesperson needs to have some degree of critical thinking and drive to collect necessary information in order to determine what the bottom-line price could be for a product that will still allow the organisation to turn a profit. They need to dig a little deeper to find details that will strengthen their sales pitch and demonstrate their understanding of that organisation’s current pain points. Additionally, they need critical thinking skills to determine how they can best frame their product in the broader market to achieve maximum sales.

The importance of identifying traits of a successful salesperson

While this blog only highlights what our experts deem as a few of the most important characteristics of a successful salesperson, being in a sales role is different than other ‘traditional’ business roles and therefore requires a unique set of skills. As I/O Psychologist Dr. Herb Greenberg aptly described, “It takes a very special person who can ask for an order assertively and take the inevitable amount of rejection involved. What kinds of people are motivated to expose themselves daily to the abuse, rejection, risk, and even hostility that salespeople must endure to make a living?”

Being in a sales position can be incredibly rewarding and lucrative, or it can be a frustrating pattern of dismissals and “let me get back to you.” Not all of us have the gumption to survive in the Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den, or even in a typical sales position. It is critical to have the right tools in place to help your organisation correctly identify and hire individuals who not only exhibit these characteristics, but have a deep understanding of how to be successful in sales.

Finding the right fit: nine assessment types

Assessments are among the most powerful tools available to HR professionals to make better hires, identify development needs, and quantify leadership potential.

The attributes of each assessment are intended to measure and align that information with your hiring and development goals.

This eBook will detail:

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