7 Key Habits of Customer-centric Sales Reps Revealed


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Sales reps often wonder if there are specific traits and habits that top-performing salespeople possess? How do they focus on the customer to win more consistently and more often?

These are some of the questions we set out to uncover with our latest research. This research study was conducted by ValueSelling Associates and Selling Power and surveyed more than 150 U.S. business-to-business senior sales leaders to identify the mindsets, attributes, and behaviors of top-performing, customer-centric salespeople.

The findings revealed there are 7 Actionable Habits of Top Sales Performers; these habits are a combination of learned skills and inherent traits, and set the best salespeople apart from the middle-of-the-pack reps.

Here are the 7 key habits of top-performing sales reps, how they help with a customer-first mindset, and why they are important:

1. Excel at Communicating Value

Communicating value is the art of quantifying the high-level value proposition for each prospective customer, drilling down from the generic promise, and tying it to the customer’s unique challenges and priorities. The average salesperson may feel like they’ve done enough by merely communicating a value proposition, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Top performers recognize that they must have a conversation rooted in metrics, objectives, and goals that will help them identify where their value proposition creates real business impact for the customer. Top sales performers scored an average of 7.6 for communicating value, putting them ahead of the rest of the reps’ 5.6 average rating.

How good are your reps at communicating value to the customer? (Source: ValueSelling Associates)

2. Ask Relevant Questions and Listen Actively

Sales leaders report that their best salespeople ask relevant, targeted questions throughout every sales conversation to gain a deeper understanding of the customer’s point of view. They go beyond superficial questions to identify and validate customer needs and challenges.

Active listening is another critical skill that top performers possess. After asking questions, they engage with verbal and nonverbal cues (i.e., facial expressions and seating position), as well as confirm and clarify what they’ve heard. This becomes increasingly difficult to gauge in a virtual environment yet remains an essential skill.

Sales leaders must help develop active listening skills by encouraging reps to practice behaviors such as taking notes and paraphrasing customer sentiments to show they are truly paying attention. In addition, it’s important to discourage distractions, such as multitasking, that undermine active listening during a sales meeting. Top performers scored an average of 8 in this survey on the topic of asking questions and listening as compared with 5.3 for the rest of the reps.

3. Demonstrate Empathy

Top performers know how to strike a balance between empathy and ego. They establish a clear need for their product or service by understanding the customer’s needs, and they do it without arrogance. The opposite of an empathetic top performer is someone who focuses only on pitching and demonstrating their product or solution, regardless of the prospect’s situation. It’s important to note that managers must model the same empathetic behaviors that they encourage their teams to practice. Top sales performers earn an average score of 7.5 for practicing empathy versus 5.8 for the rest of the reps.

How good are your reps at demonstrating empathy? (Source: ValueSelling Associates)

4. Adopt a Consistent Sales Methodology

Sales leaders agree that having a consistent methodology across the organization is critical to build a team of top performers. A methodology creates a common skillset, toolset, and mindset around the sales process. Top performers align their activities with the sales methodology, and know what it takes to uncover whether or not an opportunity is qualified. They don’t waste time pursuing unwinnable opportunities.

Today, sales professionals continue to do much of their work remotely. Since management and onboarding are more difficult in a virtual environment, a structured sales methodology is even more important. Build in frequent and consistent check-ins, and combine that with technology, data, and analytics to ensure sales reps can continue to be successful. Top sales performers are more likely to use a consistent sales methodology with an average score of 7.5, versus the rest of the reps with a 5.4 average rating.

5. Develop a High-Caliber Pipeline

Top performers are rigorous about prospecting and know what it takes to reach the right customers, with the right message, at the right time to build a solid sales pipeline. These high-performing sales reps possess a mindset, supported by key prospecting skills – time management, identifying goals and objectives, overcoming obstacles, and making phone calls. They also maintain a disciplined cadence to make prospecting a priority. Top performers scored an average of 7.3 as compared with a 4.5 for the rest of the reps in this category.

How good are your reps at building a high-caliber pipeline? (Source: ValueSelling Associates)

6. Continue to Learn

Top sales performers want to continue to learn and are open to feedback. In terms of hiring, sales leaders should look for signs of a learning mindset: Do they invest in their personal development outside of work? Do they believe there is always more to learn? Are they interested in learning more about their customers’ and prospects’ business?

As far as coaching your current team, we believe that everyone needs a coach and managers must also be a role model for the right behaviors. When reps struggle, coaches should course correct and help them see what to do differently. Leaders should also celebrate achievements – even the little ones – to reinforce leading indicators of success throughout the sales cycle. Top sales performers earned an average score of 7.5 versus 5.9 for the rest of the reps for this key attribute.

7. Persevere in the Face of Adversity

Objections are a core part of being in sales, and those who can persevere through it are the most successful. When top performers face adversity, they are resilient and look for the lesson. They don’t take rejection or adversity personally and they have a short-term memory around failure. On the other hand, average performing reps often take rejection or adversity to heart, and struggle as a result.

From a development perspective, when a rep has a disappointment, a coach must help them elevate out of the situation and see the lesson for the future. A good coach will help them pinpoint their blind spots and figure out a fix. However, resilience is a quality to hire for, and can be uncovered by asking scenario-based questions. Top performers achieved an average score of 7.8 compared with a 5.2 for the rest of the reps for dealing with adversity.


Although these mindsets, attributes, and behaviors set top-performing, customer-centric sales reps apart from the rest of the pack, many average sales reps have the potential to become top performers with the right coaching and development. Sales reps must be open to assessing their own performance, building a concrete plan, and doing the work needed to rise to the ranks of top performer.

For more detail on the survey results and charts for each attribute, download the ValueSelling Associates e-book, “7 Actionable Habits of Top Performers.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas, President and CEO of ValueSelling Associates, is a noted speaker, author, and consultant. ValueSelling Associates delivers sales training and coaching that helps sales organizations compete confidently on value, not price. The company has been selected as a Top Sales Training provider by Training Industry and Selling Power, and the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Sales Training Service Providers. Get in touch at [email protected].


  1. Hi Julie: thank you for sharing these insights. In my experience, salespeople with the best customer relationships are values-driven. They consistently embody their personal values of 1) respect for the customer – that is, they see customers as capable decision makers, 2) fairness – they seek outcomes that are not only right for them, but for their prospects and customers, and 3) personal integrity – maintaining ethical conduct in all customer interactions.

    From what you described, your survey examined what sales leaders think are the behaviors of reps who are both ‘top performing’ (I assume this is measured primarily or exclusively by revenue attainment) and deemed ‘customer-centric’. An interesting opportunity for a follow-on survey would be to examine the opinions of the customers of top-producing reps to learn if, on balance, they are demonstrably happier, more satisfied, more successful, more loyal than customers of reps outside of the top 20% tier of revenue producers.

    Too often, we assume that customers of “top producers” are being served properly. By bringing the opinions of customers into studies – and not just what sales managers think – we’d glean a better understanding about whether high revenue achievement among sales reps is actually correlated with better buying experiences and greater customer satisfaction.

  2. Andrew, thanks for taking the time to learn about the ValueSelling Associates’ study and for your comment. We wholeheartedly agree that salespeople with the best customer relationships are values-driven. Your idea for a follow-up survey is interesting. We usually conduct at least two of these types of studies each year, and they take some time to develop, but I like the idea of surveying the customers of top-producing reps … I will bring it up with my research team.


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