You might think you know what it takes to be a top salesperson, but are you sure your ideas reflect reality?
There are many misconceptions about the best qualities in sales, based partially on portrayals of salespeople in pop culture and partially on historical approaches (which no longer work). To make matters worse, many of these misconceptions aren’t just wrong; they’re the polar opposite of the qualities that truly make for a successful salesperson.
Let’s take a look at what it takes to excel in sales, and how different that is from what most people think.
The Expected Qualities of a Top Salesperson
If you ask an average person about the qualities they think most closely align with a successful sales strategy, they’ll probably mention the following:
- Intuitive. It might make sense that good salespeople are naturally intuitive; they have some kind of hereditary or preternatural ability to sense what makes people tick. A good salesperson might be able to clearly imagine the preferences and potential objections of a given prospect, and be able to respond accordingly. They brainstorm their ideas in a vacuum, then put them to the test.
- Constantly working. You’ve likely heard that salespeople rarely work less than 40 hours a week; instead, they’re putting in 12-hour days, working long nights and weekends to meet their baseline objectives. While there are certainly some salespeople who work long hours, merely putting in more hours isn’t what makes a salesperson successful.
- Coercive. All salespeople do require some persuasive skills, but the common conception is that the most successful salespeople are borderline coercive. They’re extremely effective at goading people into taking action, to the point where prospects almost feel hypnotized by the experience.
- Talkative and eloquent. Along similar lines, it’s common to believe that the best salespeople in the game are extremely talkative and eloquent; they spend most of the conversation explaining why their product is worth buying, and have an impressive way with words. There’s definitely a grain of truth to this one, but the full picture is more nuanced.
- Consistent. Sales scripts are common, and the fact that most successful salespeople are consistently successful leads people to believe that they follow the same formula (more or less) with each new prospect. They expect salespeople to repeat the same process, beat for beat, every time.
Throw these ideas out the window.
The Real Qualities of a Top Salesperson
Instead, these are the qualities that make for a top salesperson, often adding complexity or outright contradicting the qualities in the preceding section:
- Scientific. It may seem like the best salespeople are the ones who can rely on their own intuitive thinking, but the truth is, today’s top sellers base their strategies and approaches almost entirely on science. They’re willing to do the demographic research necessary to really understand what makes their customers tick. They’re willing to challenge their assumptions and try to prove or disprove their intuition by comparing it to objective data. They also employ the scientific method in their sales approach, forming hypotheses, conducting experiments with different approaches, and evaluating their results to see which angles work best.
- Efficient. It’s tempting to believe that the best salespeople are the ones burning the midnight oil, putting in 80-hour weeks every week, but in terms of how you spend your time, quality is more important than quantity. You may spend 80 hours a week in the office, reviewing prospects, having conversations, and trying to close deals, but only land 5 major sales. By contrast, if you spend 35 hours, but you spend those hours wisely, staying highly organized, focusing exclusively on the people most likely to buy from you, you might land 6 or 7 major sales. The best salespeople work smarter, not harder, and are able to accomplish more in fewer hours due to their efficiency.
- Helpful. The “used car salesman” persona is unfortunately pervasive, but coercion isn’t the defining quality of most successful salespeople. Instead, the top sellers in the game tend to be helpful. They’re not interested in finding a lead who’s reluctant to purchase their product and going out of their way to convince them they need it; this is a waste of time. Instead, they want to find people who have a genuine need, or a problem to solve, and help them by providing them with a product that solves it.
- Patient and willing to listen. I’m sure you know at least one or two salespeople who tend to be chatty; when much of your job depends on holding a conversation, it’s natural to become skilled at small talk. But good salespeople aren’t defined by their ability to talk; instead, they’re defined by their ability to listen. In action, the best salespeople spend more time listening to their prospects’ needs, problems, and general outlook than they do making pitches or dominating the conversation. That way, they can learn the ins and outs of their target prospect, determine whether they’re an ideal customer, and close the sale fast.
- Adaptable. If anyone tells you they have a surefire formula to close a sale every time, they’re either lying or they’re working with an extremely well-qualified and consistent lead pool. The best salespeople don’t rise to the top of their team by following a set formula; if they did, then anybody with access to that script could do the same. Instead, the best salespeople are highly adaptable. They’re willing to change their approach based on the type of person they’re interacting with, and they’re always experimenting to evaluate the strength of new tactics.
Sales is a more nuanced field than most people want to admit, but if you’re trying to build a career in this area, or improve sales in your own company, it’s certainly approachable. Challenge your preconceived notions about what makes a salesperson successful, and instead look to what works in reality.