I recently performed an audit for a midsize company in which I examined the sales staff against a standardized assessment test as well as their performance data. The results may confirm some of the things you already know, but there were some surprises. Here is a brief recap of the analysis.

When you look at the great sales representatives for nontransactional sales--those sales that are larger and more complex in nature--they tend to share the following traits:

  1. They assume parity with their customers--There is an imaginary hierarchy that average and poor-performing salespeople place between themselves and their prospects. It includes head-trash like "The customer is always right" and "You're the customer so you're the boss." The data says that the top sales representatives see themselves as problem-solvers worthy of equal respect with their customers. Respect always, deference rarely.
  2. They are comfortable talking about money--This quality often starts back in the home in which they were raised, with the beliefs held there about money. If money was thought to be a rare and precious thing to be horded or feared, then that shows up as fundamental discomfort when discussing large numbers. Individuals who look at money as a measure of value, not as a number outside of personal grasp, typically do better in sales.
  3. They challenge the decision maker--The best sales representatives have a strong confidence in their understanding of the customer's market and their own solution--enough so that they are comfortable challenging inaccurate statements made by the customer. See my blog, Best Type of Sales Pro to Hire, for the data analysis; it is irrefutable.
  4. They are comfortable with silence--Confidence is demonstrated as much in silence as in what you say. Top salespeople can allow for measurable periods of silence in conversations with prospects. This creates an opportunity for the prospect to consider what has been said rather than having to process the next piece of data given by the sales rep.
  5. They show up prepared--This seems so common sense, and yet when I administer these types of assessments, the statistical fact is that most salespeople--greater than 70 percent--are not well prepared for sales calls and meetings. They lack research, pre-call planning, a complete agenda agreed upon by the contact, and a presentation tailored to the prospect. The best have all of these things.
  6. They don't rush--A study was done about physical demonstrations of confidence and power some time ago. The external view of two people moving was observed by a cross-section of people, who were then asked which of the two had greater confidence, who was paid more, and who had a position of greater authority. The two people wore similar attire, and were of the same body shape and age. The distinguishing characteristic was the speed in which they performed their actions. The one who looked rushed always scored lower. An appearance of confidence in part comes from an appearance of control.
  7. They ask great questions--This has been written about by me and many others. The data confirms that the higher-performing sales representatives ask more questions--often more than twice as many--and their questions are more focused on implications than on data. Put another way, they ask questions about what something means rather than just what it is.
  8. They are impeccable in following up--Just like preparedness, this quality seems so simple but is often overlooked by poor performers. The best cover the details.

One more note: Great salespeople score over 50 percent on every one of these traits. That means they are not high-achieving in one area and failing in the others. They rate above halfway on everything. That's their foundation. Then they knock the ball out of the park in their areas of personal strength.