The next time an uncouth motor mouth applies for a sales job, you should think twice before throwing him out. That, at any rate, is one way to read the findings of a recent survey by Systema Corp., a sales training firm in Northbrook, Ill. Systema asked customers of 3,000 salespeople in 12 different industries to rate the pitchmen. The result: people skills count for a lot less than you might think.

"Buyers often sign contracts put across their desk by people who are arrogant, surly, nonstop talkers," says Systema president Jack R. Snader. Nor does it seem to matter a whole lot whether the salesperson knows much about what he is selling. According to the survey, "many top sales reps have mediocre product knowledge," says Snader.

So what do customers want? Someone they trust, says Snader. In that case, they are apparently willing to tolerate an ignorant bore.