Eight Essential Attributes for Top Sales Performance

There's a lot riding on the effectiveness of your sales team. Every employee in your organization, and indeed the organization itself, is dependent on how well the sales team performs. You can be sure you have a top performing team if each of your salespeople has these eight attributes.

1. Achievement Drive
The best salespeople love good competition and thrive on besting themselves and others. They are never complacent or satisfied with the status quo. They celebrate every win, but only briefly; then the desire to experience another win kicks in and they are off on the next quest. When interviewing for sales positions, have applicants provide plenty of examples of setting goals, formulating action plans, overcoming obstacles, executing their plans, and getting what they want. People with great sales potential can readily do that. They are go-getters and generally have plenty of past achievements to point to. If you need someone who can hit the ground running, look for take-charge people who have an abundance of achievement drive and plenty of successful selling experience under their belt. These people don't come cheaply, but if you can afford them, they are worth every dime, provided they have the other attributes listed below as well.

If you can't afford the top guns, you can create your own by finding rookies with the right attributes and molding them into superstars. Real-world experience is a strong predictor of sales success, but that experience need not be direct selling experience. Research consistently shows that anyone with the right attributes can be successful at selling provided they receive good sales training. To ensure that you have the right people, know what attributes you need and have a sure-fire way to determine whether sales candidates possess them.

2. Empathy
Great salespeople are not just driven to achieve, they also genuinely care about people and insist on treating them well. They are good listeners and great problem-solvers who go out of their way to provide knock-your-socks-off service to every customer every time. Customers expect salespeople to be a knowledgeable expert and a caring consultant and salespeople that possess achievement drive well balanced by empathy deliver both. Empathy cannot be faked - most people can spot insincerity in an instant. Sales figures will most definitely reflect the degree to which salespeople possess enough empathy to be consistently considerate of the needs of the company on the one hand and their customers on the other. One caveat here; empathy without a balance of achievement drive can result in poor sales outcomes. A salesperson with too much empathy and not enough achievement drive will back down in the face of objections and frequently fail to close.

3. Self-Confidence
Self-confidence is essential to sales success. It is the factor that allows an individual to keep going in the face of adversity and is the best source of rejection protection. Great salespeople don't take rejection or the loss of a sale personally. They stay confident in their ability to present their product or service effectively and recognize that circumstances beyond their control sometimes influence outcomes.

4. Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is the "I'm worth the effort" factor that keeps great salespeople learning, perfecting and improving upon their skills. The best salespeople settle for nothing less than complete mastery of their profession. They spend a great deal of their free time doing things to improve themselves. They know that, in the world of sales, competence and expertise require constant updating of knowledge and skills and they do the work because they know they are worth the effort it takes to be the best.

5. Enthusiasm
In selling, enthusiasm comes from believing whole-heartedly in the company and what it offers. Not just a little, but completely. Salespeople with integrity will not sell something they don't believe in and without integrity, both you and your customers are in trouble. Your salespeople have got to believe that what you offer is exceptional in some way. If they don't, don't count on having a sales staff with much passion or enthusiasm for what they are selling. Before they will effectively sell for you, you have got to sell them on the value of your products and services, on your mission and vision for the company and on the rewards that will follow their actions. If your mission, vision and unique selling position (USP) is not readily understood, you will need to convey them. Help your salespeople see the connection between what your company provides and why providing it is important. Also convey how your offering is superior and uniquely useful to the customer. It's a mistake to have salespeople on staff who cannot generate and express passion around your offering. Without enthusiasm they are dead in the water and will likely drain the energy and enthusiasm from other people on the sales team.

6. Attentiveness
The most effective salespeople are very good at reading people and gathering important clues from the environment and they are masters at hearing what is not said. They are observant listeners as well as keen observers of non-verbal communications. They are proficient at using non-verbal feedback to know when to change the direction of a conversation, ask a question or attempt a close. They are also able to use the power of non-verbal communications to convey interest and concern, build rapport, test a customer's resistance or readiness to buy, and to connect with prospects and customers on the deepest levels.

7. Likeability
People do business with people they like. It's human nature and there is no getting around it. Of course, not all people like the typically high energy, powerful types that gravitate to selling and the most successful salespeople are aware of this fact. To compensate for it, they have learned to be chameleon-like and to adjust to their customer's style. Likeability, by this definition can be learned and, with the right training, is generally relatively easy to master for those who gravitate toward selling as a profession. Never underestimate the importance of the likeability factor. If you have salespeople on staff that are not willing or able to flex their style to make themselves likeable, either get them the training they need or move them out of the sales arena.

8. Self-Discipline
Top sales performers are very disciplined. They don't need external controls to keep them doing the right things at the right time. In fact, one of the worst things a sales manager can do to high performing salespeople is to manage them too closely. Great, or potentially great, salespeople want and need very little supervision. They are race horses, not plow horses, and managers will get a lot more out of them by giving them clear goals and then giving them their head and letting them run. Those who have the self-discipline to drive their own actions will generally bring in far more revenue when they are given plenty of freedom and flexibility to perform so long as it is well balanced by clear expectations, goals and objectives. If giving your sales staff plenty of freedom and flexibility has not resulted in increased revenue, you either don't have the right people in place or you have not clearly defined expectations, goals and objectives. Make sure you have the right people and that they know what you expect of them. The right people will make your job easy and keep your company profitable.

Selling is both a science and an art. The science comes from technical training. The art requires both natural talents and skills and, where natural talents are concerned, your people either have them or they don't, and few companies can afford to discover which it is the hard way.

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Copyright © 2006-2012 by Sherry Buffington, Ph.D.

Dr. Sherry Buffington is Chairman and CEO of Star Performance Systems, a firm dedicated to building high performance people. She is the originator and co-developer of the highly acclaimed CORE Multidimensional Awareness Profile (CORE MAP) and a leading expert on discovering and developing top talent. She has been helping organizations improve outcomes and increase profits since 1984.