Key Characteristic of Great Sales Professionals


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People often asked me what I look for when recruiting sales professionals. The answer is very simple – I recruit professionals who are better at asking questions than answering questions! Professionals who probe and diagnose before they prescribe.

I like to refer to sales professionals who exhibit the “ask – don’t tell” characteristic as having the “Columbo syndrome”. Remember Columbo, the TV detective of the late 60’s?

From Wikipedia: – “Columbo used his deferential and absent-minded persona to lull criminal suspects into a false sense of security; meanwhile, he solved his cases by paying close attention to tiny inconsistencies in a suspect’s story and by hounding the suspect until he or she confessed. Columbo’s signature technique was to exit the scene of an interview, invariably stopping in the doorway or returning a moment later to ask “just one more thing” of a suspect. The “one more thing” always brought to light the key inconsistency.”

Columbo was a master at asking the right question at the right time.

Not too long ago I was shopping for a new car. I walked into a dealership and was immediately met by a sales person. When the sales person engaged me, I was next to a sporty two seater. He assumed that my interest was in this roadster. He immediately proceeded to tell me everything that I didn’t want to know about the car. He failed to ask me any qualifying questions. After a few minutes I excused myself and departed. Maybe a great car but not my car!

How often do we see sales people who have a sensational product, and who are just bursting at the seams to tell the world about the product, FAIL because they tell the world about the product before they understand the prospects need-to-buy? “Hi, I am here to tell you about our new, state of the art…….

Stephen Covey said it best “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care”. Caring is about asking questions and listening.

The best way to prepare for a sales call is to formulate a minimum of ten questions that will be asked during the call. Ask questions, don’t interrupt, listen intently, take notes, probe, and then verify what you heard.

Remember the prospect’s need-to-buy trumps your need-to-sell and questioning is the only way to discover the prospect’s need-to-buy.


My next blog will provide examples of questions that help sales professions discovery the prospect’s need-to-buy.

Mike Ehrensberger
Sales Force Systems, LLC
Since 1995 Mike Ehrensberger has concentrated on sales performance and effectiveness training and tools with Sales Force Systems. Earlier, he spent 1 years with Teradata Corporation in sales management and customer support management positions.


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