21,000 People Agree That These are the Top 5 Traits of the Best Salespeople

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Feb 23, 2017 @ 20:02 PM

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Readers are always referring me to articles that list top sales traits, that discuss what makes salespeople great, that name the most important selling skills, or that otherwise contradict the science-based findings and statistics that I share in my articles.

In that regard, today was very much the same when a reader referred me to this LinkedIn article that revealed the Top 5 Traits of the Best Salespeople.  As a matter of fact, I actually found the article refreshing.  First, the 5 traits were admittedly based on observation.  Second, the author asked readers to submit their own top 5.  And third, his five weren't that far off the track from what the science says.  Nice job Bill Golder!

I will list Bill's top 5 below, along with the actual scientific findings they are best aligned with, and provide some context for those findings.  The test as to whether Bill's five are legitimate Top Traits of the Best Salespeople is not whether or not they line up with any of our scientific findings on top Salespeople (we have evaluated over one million salespeople); it's whether or not they actually differentiate top salespeople from bottom salespeople.  Let's take a look:

Bill's #1 is Naturally Curious. While there isn't a scientific corollary to that, there are some findings and competencies that we can hook it up with.  Natural Curiosity is a nice way of connecting some of the attributes that reside in OMG's Sales Core Competency Consultative Seller.  Asks lots of questions, Asks Great Questions, And Makes No Assumptions are three of the ten attributes of the Consultative Seller competency. On average, salespeople have 54% of the attributes of the Consultative Seller competency but the top 10% of all salespeople average 70%.  It's an extremely important competency and when you consider just how crucial it is, and then consider that the bottom half of all salespeople average only 44% of that competency, you'll immediately understand why so many salespeople suck!  

Top 10% of all salespeople - 70%  
Bottom half of all salespeople 44%
Meets the Criteria to differentiate.

Bill's #2 is Student and Teacher.  Again, there isn't a specific corollary to that but if you read the paragraph that accompanies #2, you'll see it's the ability to connect the dots and present an appropriate solution to pain points or, what I call compelling reasons to buy.  OMG calls this competency Presentation Approach.  Taking the same route as we did on #1, on average, salespeople have 65% of the attributes of the Presentation Approach competency but the top 10% of all salespeople average 78%.  It's an important competency because it determines whether salespeople are presenting the correct information to the correct people at the correct time in the process. The bottom half of all salespeople average only 58% of that competency.

Top 10% of all salespeople - 78%  
Bottom half of all salespeople 58%
Meets the Criteria to differentiate.

Bill's #3 is Loses Fast.  This time there is a direct correlation to the Rejection Proof Competency.  Unlike Fear of Rejection, Rejection Proof measures a salesperson's ability to recover quickly.  Unlike the first two examples which are tactical, the Rejection Proof Competency is part of Sales DNA.  On average, salespeople have 82% of the attributes of the Rejection Proof competency but the top 10% of all salespeople average 94% and the bottom half of all salespeople average 73% of that competency.

Top 10% of all salespeople - 94%  
Bottom half of all salespeople 73%
Fails to Meet the Criteria to differentiate.

Bill's #4 is Passionate which directly correlates to OMG's Desire for Sales Success.  This Sales Core Competency is in the Will to Sell (or Grit) category.  On average, salespeople score 82% on Desire, the top 10% of all salespeople score 88% and the bottom half of all salespeople average 77% of that competency.

Top 10% of all salespeople - 88%  
Bottom half of all salespeople 77%
Fails to Meet the Criteria to differentiate.

Bill's #5 is Likeable.  OMG has a likeable finding - it's an attribute within the Relationship Builder Competency.  On average, salespeople score 52% on Relationship Building, the top 10% of all salespeople score 53% and the bottom half of all salespeople average 51% of that competency.

Top 10% of all salespeople - 53%  
Bottom half of all salespeople 51%
Fails to Meet the Criteria to differentiate.

As you can see, the bottom half of the sales population scores well and or within close proximity to the top 10% in three of the traits so those three fail to differentiate tops from bottoms.  But let's not discount how well Bill did at identifying 5 traits that still matter in professional sales!

So which findings best differentiate top salespeople from everyone else?  I wrote about them in an epic article - a Rebuttal (to a junk science article) on What Elite Salespeople Do Differently. 

Finally, many readers missed this article with two great sales lessons.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Great salespeople, sales expertise, personality traits of successful salespeople, top performers, OMG Assessment

Are These the Best Roles for Shy People in Sales?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, May 12, 2016 @ 06:05 AM

I received an email inviting me to review and share an infographic on shy people in sales.  Being an introvert myself, I thought it would be interesting to check it out and see if it resonated.  When I finally got around to reading it, I was surprised by several things I read...and I'm sure you'll be surprised too...

The infographic shows that introverts make up 57% of the population, but it doesn't say what percentage of the sales population is introverted...a striking omission.  I've written about introverts and extroverts before and this is one of the better articles.

They list 5 traits which, according to industry experts, typically make a good salesperson.  They include:

  1. self awareness
  2. assertiveness
  3. optimism
  4. empathy
  5. problem solving skills

They must have talked to the wrong experts because these personality traits are not predictive of sales success! Since the top tier of the infographic listed dimensions from the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, it shouldn't be a surprise that personality traits were used.  But why?  What's most important to know about personality traits is that both good and bad salespeople have them!

If you want to read about sales specific qualities of top salespeople, refer to these two articles:  Article 1 and Article 2.

Getting back to the infographic, it provides examples of sales careers that would be good for introverts.  Really?  If an introvert is suitable for sales, then why only certain types of sales positions?  The most absurd part of this infographic is the income they attached to each sales position.  They used a government website for the income research. It must have been as old as the research on the traits of successful salespeople - only worse!  The salary research must have been from 40 years ago!  Their top category, sales engineer, had a median salary of $96,000.  Today, that's close to the average compensation for salesperson across all industries.  Entry-level salespeople earn, on average, close to $70,000, but most of the salaries listed on the infographic were under $50,000!

I love a good infographic, even though most of the time the info part is made up!  They actually performed research for this one, but in my opinion, used bad sources.  Too bad.  It could have been really useful!

How about a shy millennial?  I don't have any data on that combination, but there is a very short video on managing salespeople who are millennials on the Selling Power YouTube channel.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales compensation, personality traits of successful salespeople, introverts in sales

Are Salespeople Born or Made? The Real Story

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 @ 10:10 AM

Several readers sent me the link to this article that discusses whether salespeople are born or made.  Prior to that article, many others have attempted to answer the same question in the past few years.  The common theme to each attempt is reliance on personality traits and, in Martin's case, Language Specialization, Modeling of Experiences, Political Accumen and Greed. Good grief Charlie Brown!

Before we look at the science - not surveys and personalities - let me explain - me.  I was both born and made to sell.

As someone who has studied the concept of life purpose, it is quite clear to me, and probably those who know me well, that I was born to do what I do.  Yet, I am certain that anyone who knew me as a child or young man would be astonished to learn that:

  • I am able to talk with people at all, never mind speak to audiences and consistently be rated as #1.  As a kid, I wasn't even able to give a book report in front of the class.
  • I have relationships with so many people.  As a kid, I never had more than 2 or 3 acquaintances.
  • I am a salesperson.  How can you sell if you don't talk with anyone?
  • I am a trusted advisor to so many companies.  Who would have known that the kid who didn't speak could get others to listen?
  • I have so much self-confidence.  I was afraid of my own shadow and any kid bigger than me. Since I was always the smallest in my class, that didn't exclude anyone!
  • That I ask such good questions.  I used to simply accept what was being said.  Now my questions are my trademark.
So while I may have been born or destined to do what I do, nothing came naturally. I had to learn everything about people, human behavior and sales in order to be successful at selling, and I practiced more than you could ever imagine.  When I finally became successful (in my mind that was around 1990 - 4 years AFTER I entered what was then the sales training space), it was only then that the never-ending stream of fresh, new, innovative concepts began to come so naturally.  I must have been born to do this!
Now let's look at the science.  The reality is that science can't tell us who was born to sell and who was made to sell!  
The data can tell us whether they chose to sell or whether sales was their only option.  The key word is option.  There were always options other than selling - it's just that ditch-digging, making burgers, or sweating in a manufacturing plant were options they didn't choose.  So in a way, whether they are aware of it or not, everyone in sales chose to be in sales.
The science does tell us whether or not they should be in sales. After salespeople have been assessed, we know whether they have the will and the DNA to sell.  Any gap in skills can always be taught as long as the will is there and the DNA supports selling.  Sometimes, the DNA isn't there but the will is so strong and the salesperson is so motivated to overcome the limits of their DNA.  Clearly, these individuals are made but since they also chose sales, were they also born or destined for it?  When the skills are there too that just makes the "making" part a bit easier!
The mistake that most observers make occurs when someone has an outgoing personality and they can speak intelligently about their product.  "Experts" conclude that the individual was born to sell.  For an indivdual so gifted, my conclusion is only that they were born with the gift of gab - not a trait of top performers - and that they can explain things well - not a trait limited to top performers.  Therein lies the problem with personality traits.  They are traits possessed by top performers but not limited to top performers.
So are salespeople born or made?  Yes.  If I can develop your salespeople and they become really good, they were made.  But if they were already in sales - had already chosen sales and had the will and the DNA for sales - then they were also born for it.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management functions, sales assessments, personality traits of successful salespeople

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About Dave

Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned a medal for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for six consecutive years.  Dave's Blog earned a Bronze Medal in 2016 and this article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016. Read more about Dave.

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