What Are The 3 Characteristics That Set Great Sales People Apart?


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Last Friday, I had the privilege of being interviewed by an executive on critical issues in buying and selling.  It was a great conversation, but one of his questions stuck in my mind.  He asked me, “What are the 3 characteristics that set great sales people apart from others?”

I responded, “Oh, there are so many……”  He interupted, saying, “Dave, you only get to choose the top 3, no more.”

This caused me to pause, any of us can come up with lists of characteristics of great sales people, sometimes it’s half a dozen characteristics, often a dozen, sometimes the lists go on and on…..  Brian’s question was really challenging, he only allowed me 3 characteristics.  I thought to myself, how can I combine several into one, maybe I can create a giant run-on sentence with all sorts of adjectives describing great sales people.

After a few moments of reflecting, I provided three carefully worded phrases:

  1. Goal directed curiosity and a problem solving orientation.
  2. A genuine interest in helping people achieve their goals and dreams.
  3. An ability to embrace changes and to get the people they work with to embrace and own change.

Let me explain myself.

1.Goal directed curiosity and a problem solving orientation.  Every great sales professional I’ve met is incessantly curious.  They want to learn as much about their products and solutions as they can, they want to master them, so they can present them to their customers.  They are curious about their customers–both their customers’ businesses and their customers as individuals.  they study their businesses, their customers’ customers, their customers’ markets and competition.  Their curiosity is not random, it’s very focused.  The greatest sales people know how they can help their customers.  Their curiosity is purposeful, it’s focused on trying to find problems and opportunities their customers have–that the sales person can do something about.  Great sales people don’t go on random fishing expeditions, they don’t cold call–every call is carefully researched and planned,  they don’t waste their customers’ or their own time.  They don’t fool themselves with wishful thinking, but focus pragmatically–does the customer have a problem I can solve?  Can I present and opportunity that would accelerate the ability of my customer to achieve their goals?   In the end, they are about results–those they help the customer produce and those they produce for their organizations.  The greatest sales people are also curious about their profession.  They are constantly reading, attending workshops and seminars, talking to others they respect.  They know to stay at the top of the profession–to be a top performer, that the bar is constantly being raised.

2.  A genuine interest in helping people achieve their goals and dreams.  Top performers care about their own performance, but they know they only way they achieve their goals is through helping the customer achieve their own–whether it is the overall business goals, their function’s departments goals, or their own personal goals.  Top performers revel in seeing their customer being successful in implementing the solutions they have sold them.  Top sales people never “hit and run,” if things aren’t working, they don’t ignore the customer, they go back in and do everything they can to correct things.  Sometimes they can’t correct things, but the customer knows it isn’t for the lack of trying.  Top sales people care!

3.  An ability to embrace changes and to get the people they work with to embrace and own change.  The greatest sales people in the world know that sales is fundamentally about change.  We ask customers to change suppliers/vendors, to select a different product than they have been using.  We ask people to change their processes, the way they do business–to explore new ways of growing being productive.  We ask customers to embrace a new vision for their organizations, to consider new ways to improve or grow.  The best also realize they are asking their own organizations and the people in their organizations to change–how we hold and value customers, how to create the best experiences, how to retain and grow our customers. new products and solutions we might provide to enhance our relationships and grow our business.   Top sales people realize that people may fear or not understand change.  They realize their role is to help people understand it, to own it, to take it on as their own mission and goal.  The best in sales realized they are change managers and that they must create the same vision and excitement for change, with their customers and within their own companies, that they envision.

There’s a lot more characteristics for good sales performance.  But I think these three set the best sales people in the world apart from everyone else.  Do you agree?  If you had only 3 characteristics to choose, which would you select?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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