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The Five Traits of Highly Successful Salespeople

Jun 01, 2015

Written by: Walter Ruckes
(View Author Bio)

The best salespeople can combine conflicting skills and talents to attain outstanding success. It turns out that opposites attract, after all. 

Five traits of successful salespeople 

When you have been working in sales support for almost 30 years, you have the privilege of working with your share of top performing salespeople.  Occasionally you are asked, by a new sales rep, what they should do to be successful. 

When I am asked this question, I tend to start talking in circles about many different variables until I get to the end of my explanation and in frustration say, “Just work hard and hope you get lucky.”

Not quite the answer they were looking for.

So I recently set out to find a better answer, but online searches, research and interviews only confused the matter more.  What one source said was the key to success, another source quickly contradicted. 

My conclusion? Top salespeople are able to combine seemingly conflicting skills, abilities and talents, often diametrically opposed to each other, and come out with a winning formula.

Here are five “opposites” that top salespeople seem to have figured out:

#1 – Team Player vs. Individual Performer

The journey to sales success starts in a very lonely place with plenty of cold calls and regular rejection, lots of talking to yourself and pacing around an office looking for the perfect solution to your customers’ needs. At the end of the journey, success in sales is celebrated on an individual basis, with the best-of-the-best standing on stage receiving awards and recognition. But along the way, the best salespeople know how to create and play a part in high-performing teams. Often, they are the leader–  but with increasingly complex and technological solutions, the best sales reps know when to lead, when to follow and when to get out of the way.

#2 – Right Brain vs. Left Brain

In the book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman describes human decision-making in a unique way, taking the right brain/left brain metaphor to the next level. We think in both words and pictures, rational and emotional, creative and analytical. The salespeople who are able to strike a balance between the two are able to make the decisions critical to a successful customer solution and long-term relationship. In other words, they know when to show the chart, when to tell the story and when to simply shut up.

#3 – Talking vs. Listening

Behavioral economists have identified a concept called “preference reversal” where a subject will express a preference for one thing – but their actions will go in a completely different direction. In simple terms, this creates a say/do gap where we talk endlessly about what we are going to do – but then never do it, or do the exact opposite.  Good salespeople know when to talk: asking questions, sharing insights, making presentations; the rest of the time they listen, then take action on what they’ve heard.

#4 – Busy vs. Bored

Research into sales engagement shows that over half of salespeople describe themselves as “bored.” How can this be? Sales is possibly the most entrepreneurial career you can choose – if you are bored you must be a low-performer, right?  Wrong.  Salespeople at all levels need to be challenged and developed by their manager or they will quickly look for other ways to stay busy – or look for other ways to be successful.

#5 – Confidence vs. Insecurity

The best salespeople are confident goal-setters.  They write down their goals, they put them on white boards in their offices and they talk frequently about their goals. But while their outward confidence drives goal-setting, experience tells me that it’s a deep-down insecurity that drives goal achievement.  After the goals are set, the best reps never stop digging for ideas, challenging their teams and questioning themselves – often right up to the last minute.  This can be frustrating for those around them but consistently produces the best results.

So the next time someone tells you they have the perfect formula or process for producing sales success, feel free to challenge them. There is no perfect formula.  And take it from me, you can be very confident that is the right answer.  (But my guess is your insecurity may keep you looking for the perfect answer.)

Walter Ruckes BI WORLDWIDE

Walter Ruckes

Vice President
Sales and Channel Engagement

As Vice President of BI WORLDWIDE’s Sales & Channel Engagement Group, Walter Ruckes' primary focus is to develop sales and channel engagement strategies and solutions that change the behaviors of sales people, distributors, dealers and channel sales representatives. An expert in sales incentive strategy, he educates sales professionals around the world on how to best engage their sales force through sales engagement strategies, solutions and best practices.

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