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No Surprise: Great Salespeople are Made, Not Born

Inside Sales Lead Management Featured Article

No Surprise: Great Salespeople are Made, Not Born
March 27, 2015

  By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

In the world of sales management, it would be great if you could build a sales force of all ringers: those super-focused individuals who seem to instinctively know how to close a sale. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible. Sales managers must often settle for trying to help middling sales people become better sellers. It helps to evaluate the characteristics of the strongest sales personnel and help the middle-of-the-road sellers emulate these traits. But what are those traits?

Steve W. Martin -- of the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business -- recently conducted a research project involving nearly 800 salespeople and sales leaders to better answer the question, “What makes a strong sales person?” He presented the informal results of his study in the Harvard Business Review. He concluded that the strongest sales people have certain traits in common with one another.

Great communicators: Verbal acuity was one of the traits the best performing sales people had in common. Good speakers who are fluent and understand how to target their speech to what customers will respond best to can close sales easier and faster than those who are a mismatch to the way the customer communicates.

“For a salesperson to establish credibility requires that messages be conveyed at the recipient’s communication level, not too far below the level of the words that the customer uses,” he wrote. “On average, high-performing salespeople communicate between the 11th and 13th grade level when scored by the Flesch-Kincaid test as opposed to the 8th and 9th grade level for underperforming salespeople.”

Many people aren’t aware of how they speak, and their speech can become repetitive, trite and chock full of “ums” and “ahs,” which is a fast way to lose customer interest. Lessons on dynamic speaking can go a long way toward helping mediocre sales people understand how to communicate in a more engaging way.

Dominance: According to Martin, great sales people are those who are in control of the sales-customer relationship, but not in an overbearing way. Customers who perceive (perhaps unconsciously) that the sales person is in easy but non-threatening control of the relationship, will respond better to the sales pitch.

“A relaxed-dominant salesperson speaks freely and guides the conversation as he confidently shares his knowledge and opinions with the customer,” wrote Martin. “An anxious-submissive salesperson is forced into reactive behavior and his tendency is to operate under the direction of the customer, never being in control of the account.”

While it may be too much to expect sales people to change their personalities, some exercises in confidence during the sales process, perhaps by role-playing, could go a long way toward improving their methods.

Pessimism: While it might seem like optimism is the best trait for a sales person to have, Martin’s research found otherwise. Top performers are outwardly optimistic to customers, but engage in regular bouts of doubt about their processes. Martin believes that the reason for this dichotomy is that salespeople always have to maintain a positive attitude and pleasant demeanor while in front of customers.

“However, inward pessimism drives a salesperson to question the viability of the deal and credibility of the buyer,” he wrote. “Therefore, top salespeople are more naturally driven to ask the customer tougher qualifying questions and are more likely to seek out meetings with senior level decision makers who ultimately decide which vendor will be selected.”

This information can be helpful to sales managers in the hiring process. While sales people are often hired for their pleasant and friendly demeanor, these criteria alone won’t help move product. Certain personality types are more suited to sales than others, but the desirable traits aren’t always obvious.


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