What are the traits of a great salesperson today?

The top salespeople who close the most deals are nothing like the old stereotype of the sleazy car salesman who aggressively pushes and cons his prospective customers into closing a deal.

Technology has reshaped the world of sales in the last few decades, with remote sales jobs growing more than 16 times faster than "field sales" (sales done in person). Salespeople can no longer get away with just charm and cheap tricks, since today's buyers are much more educated. Because of the wealth of information on the internet, customers already know everything about you and your competitors before they're even talking to you.

As sales continues to evolve in the next few years, with even more ways to automate and accelerate the sales cycle with big data, here are five traits that every great salesperson needs to have:

1. They Have Deep Empathy

Salespeople don't need to be pushy and aggressive to close deals, but they do need to have the ability to understand how the customer thinks and learn what his or her pain points are.

The more salespeople can empathize with prospective customers, the more they will be able to anticipate what their customers will do next, so they can plan ahead to make sure the deal moves along smoothly. For example, if they sense a desire to buy but some hesitation because of temporary budget problems, the empathetic salesperson might proactively suggest alternate payment plans to close the deal.

2. The Best Salespeople Are Good at Listening to Customers

On top of empathy, salespeople must have good listening skills.

The differences between any two prospective customers can be huge, which is why you need your salespeople to be able to listen more than they talk. The best salespeople think like journalists or consultants, and are great at asking probing questions that allow them to explore the buyers' minds.

3. Successful Salespeople Are Agile

Some organizations might have scripts for their salespeople to read on phone calls, but a great salesperson would never blindly follow a script or other templates.

The best salespeople are able to think on their feet, and quickly adapt to any curve balls their prospective clients throw at them. They use their empathy to read their customers' signals, and improvise when things don't perfectly fit into what they learned in their sales training.

Rather than blindly copying tactics, they leverage various sales strategies that are adaptable to any scenario or situation, like appeasing especially difficult customers.

4. They Think Critically, Like a Scientist

Sales is becoming more and more of a data science. Most business-to-business sales organizations have a variety of sales tools and software that they use to help them reach out to customers and move deals to close.

Excellent salespeople are able to interpret data and understand what they and their colleagues are doing to actually close deals, as well as what's not working. Many of today's top performers don't wait for management to analyze their sales data. Instead, they proactively try to understand what's really going on in their sales process, whether it's looking for better ways to handle objections, strategies for following up, or finding other ways to optimize their sales process.

These salespeople are constantly looking for new ways to improve, and regularly test out new sales techniques to see if they can be even more effective at their jobs.

5. Persistence Is Still Critical to Salespeople

Persistence is still one of the most critical traits for salespeople. Those who quit and give up too easily when prospective customers don't respond or "go dark" will miss out on many deals.

On average, salespeople need to email a "cold prospect" (someone they've never talked to before) about eight times in order to maximize their chances of getting a response.

However, persistence doesn't mean hitting buyers over the head with a storm of obnoxious and repetitive emails, either. Now more than ever, it's crucial that every new interaction with a buyer--whether it's an email, a phone call, or a tweet--adds interesting and valuable information. If you don't do this, you have no chance of standing out from everything else that is also vying for their attention.

Published on: Feb 25, 2016
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