Whether you’re pitching a startup to investors or selling cars at a dealership, sales skills are vital to all business ventures. While many who have tried their hand at sales can attest, not everyone is cut out for this line of work. Identifying the core characteristics required for sales success can help you determine if you have what it takes for a career in sales. It also can help business owners identify and hire the sales candidates who will be the best for their bottom lines. [Related article: The 3 C’s of Driving Sales: Connect, Convince, Collaborate]
No matter which personality type you’re selling to, there are certain best practices to follow and good characteristics to cultivate. Business experts we interviewed say that the most successful salespeople share these traits.
“Your customers want to know you … understand their challenges, dreams and goals and have carefully considered why your solution makes sense ― and they want to be sure you have their best interests at heart. They have to be sure you care [more] about their mission and the greater good than your numbers.” ― Karin Hurt, founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders
“If you don’t believe in your product, you aren’t going to make a customer believe in your product. If you can confidently explain how your product or service is going to solve a problem for the customer, then you’ve got the customer in the palm of your hand.” ― Megan Ingenbrandt, social media assistant at General Floor
[Related Article: How to Close the Deal: 10 Sales Strategies]
“A good salesperson … is always aware of her circumstances and surroundings, can see how her product or service might positively impact her environment and will be prepared to present and make a sale at any moment.” ― Judy Crockett, retail management consultant and owner of Interactive Marketing & Communication
“Great salespeople never look like they are selling anything. They are educating, instilling faith and confidence. They are quietly and invisibly demonstrating why customers should believe in them and, in turn, buy from them.” ― Mark Stevens, CEO of Almost Science
“Top sales achievers have a unique ability to cope with difficulty, to negotiate obstacles, to optimize performance in the face of adversity. They take rejection as a personal challenge to succeed with the next customer.” ― Jim Steele, president and chief revenue officer of Yext
“An extrovert is generally sociable, gets energized by spending time with other people, likes to talk and start conversations and makes friends easily. They also tend to have many interests. This allows a salesperson to be willing to meet people, enjoy the interaction and talk about many things. The more subjects they can converse about, the better they’re able to connect with the customer.” ― Dominick Hankle, Ph.D. and associate professor of psychology at Regent University
“You have to listen to the customer’s pain point before you start selling your product or service. Great salespeople sell solutions to problems and they do that by understanding and listening to the customer.” ― Timothy Tolan, CEO and managing partner of The Tolan Group (Sanford Rose Associates)
“Multitasking is just a natural occurrence in any sales environment. You have sales you’re trying to close, leads you’re nurturing and following up on and potential leads calling or emailing for more information. A great multitasker can keep everything sorted, conducting multiple trains on a one-train track and this leads to efficiency which, in turn, leads to better performance.” ― Coco Quillen, chief operating officer and director of operations at Davinci Virtual Office Solutions
“In today’s marketplace, most customers are much better informed and educated before reaching out to a vendor. Simply providing specs and product data isn’t enough. A sales professional with a consultative mindset identifies customer needs and seeks to tailor custom solutions that fit those needs.” ― Rudy Joggerst, digital marketing manager at Janek Performance Group
“Persistence, when done respectfully and consistently, breaks through. It reminds [customers] that you are there with a solution to their problems. It gives them multiple chances to connect. And though it may take half a dozen times to get a response, land that meeting or open a discussion, they will thank you in the end.” ―Michael Mehlberg, co-founder of Modern da Vinci
“A successful salesperson will not fib to close a deal, because he or she knows that you’ve not only burned that bridge but all of the potential other bridges that lead from your contact to their contacts. Better to miss out on a deal and maintain your honesty, integrity and network.” ― Ollie Smith, founder of EnergySeek
[Related article: What Is Sales Analytics and Why it’s Important for Small Businesses]
“The reps that achieve the best numbers quarter after quarter all have one thing in common: focus. They don’t get distracted by instant messenger or email and they aren’t worried about office gossip. They understand what they need to do to be successful and set goals for themselves to achieve that success. They act with purpose in their day-to-day lives and apply deep focus to all aspects of their work.” ― John-Henry Scherck, principal consultant at Growth Plays
“Top salespeople … tend to be upbeat and radiate a sense of humor, fun and general positivity. While grounded in reality, they focus on what they can control, stay on course with optimism about what they can achieve and [don’t] let the rest drag them down.” ― Mike Kunkle, vice president of sales effectiveness services at SPARXiQ
“Timing, decision criteria, financial justifications, formality and even the expectations for support during and after a transaction may be quite different [in other markets], so international sales success takes empathy as well as patience. Additionally, in many markets around the world, business is based on relationships, which takes longer to develop when working with international customers.” ― Ed Marsh, founder and principal of Consilium Global Business Advisors
When it comes to sales, the four personality types are assertive (sometimes also known as driver), amiable, expressive and analytic. Each of these types can be broken down into a cluster of descriptions to paint a picture of the person:
- Assertive: Goal-oriented, competitive, decisive, impatient, controlling, loud; more likely to speak in sentences than in questions
- Amiable: Patient, friendly, open to challenges, calm, informal; often good listeners who ask many questions and seek strong personal relationships
- Expressive: People-pleasing, convicted, colorful, persuasive, outgoing, creative, spontaneous, intuitive, loyal, enthusiastic; also likely to speak in sentences instead of questions and seek strong personal relationships
- Analytic: Impersonal, fact-driven, formal, serious, direct, patient, prepared; likely to ask many questions and not seek personal sales relationships
According to the business leaders Business News Daily interviewed, good salespeople often boast several qualities from all four sales personality type.
Sales personality types aren’t just important for knowing whether you’d make a good salesperson ― you’ll also want to change your selling methods based on the personality type of the person to whom you’re selling. Each of the four personality types will react in its own distinct way to different sales pitching styles. Experts suggest taking the following approaches when selling to different personality types.
- Be professional.
- Come prepared.
- Only give entirely accurate answers. If you don’t have one, tell the person that you’ll investigate it and get back to them.
- Make short statements and get to the point quickly.
- Provide examples of your product’s benefits.
- Show how your product levels the person with their competitors.
- Use business metrics rather than subjective descriptions.
- Pitch a vision, not a product.
- Build rapport before beginning your sales pitch.
- Tell stories about other clients, why they sought your product and how it addressed their issues.
- Gently guide the person through the sales process instead of bombarding them with information.
- Offer personal guarantees such as refund policies.
- Show case studies and other fact- and data-based information.
- Work toward a strong, professional relationship and build rapport.
- Focus on qualitative rather than quantitative descriptions.
- Check in with the person often to see whether you’re both on the same page.
- Be patient.
- Realize the person has likely done introductory research ahead of time.
- Provide data and numbers instead of vast, unprovable claims.
- Steer toward facts and away from building a strong, professional relationship.
Although these 14 traits are helpful when working in sales, it’s important to remember that being a good salesperson is ultimately about honing your skills. Sales professionals work every day to nurture leads and close deals and the more experience you get in the best ways to do that, the better you will become at it. Look to mentors who have been successful for guidance but, sometimes, the best way to improve your skills is to jump in and give it your best. As you improve so, too, will your results.
Tejas Vemparala and Paula Fernandes also contributed to this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.