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5 Traits of Great Sales Reps

Looking for sales reps who’ll smash their sales KPIs? Get insights from sales leaders into five qualities that make a sales rep superstar.

Building and managing a great sales team and culture is no easy task. For starters, everyone is selling themselves when they go into a job interview — and salespeople are no exception. And with terms like “tenacious”, “a way with people”, and “a drive to exceed goals” appearing in nearly every sales recruitment ad, you’re likely to be interviewing similar candidates. So how do you decide which candidate should join your team? We’ve got five traits that you should be looking out for — but first, a piece of advice on where you can search for great sales talent.

What makes a great sales rep?

Check out 21 Pro Tips for Sales Reps, chock-full of valuable advice on how sales reps can develop sales skills, scale up customer relationships and speed up revenue streams.

Recruit high performers but look to existing talent too

Sales managers and leaders cannot afford to skimp on hiring high-performing talent when it comes to sales, especially as businesses strive to meet the challenges of a fluctuating market. But neither should they fail to look within the ranks of their existing teams for sales reps looking for an opportunity to shine brighter. 

The State of Sales reports that 85% of sales leaders say they are struggling to get the necessary budget for headcount — a number that could climb if economic shifts force leaders to cut down on operating expenses. Add to this challenge the fact that 17% of sales reps are planning to seek new employment within 12 months and 23% would at least consider leaving in 12 months, and the imperative for sales leaders to focus on retaining talent is critical. 

These five traits of great sales reps can help you develop your job descriptions and hire and coach new reps for your sales team, but you can, and  should, also use them to identify and retain sales rep stars-in-the-making from your own teams. 

For sales leaders focused on retention, the latest State of Sales report highlights that improving sales training and enablement is one of their top five retention strategies, and that 26% of high performing sales reps receive one-on-one coaching at least weekly. 

When you’re looking to activate a coaching strategy, be aware of differing preferences across generations. Baby boomers value training material and resources most, Gen Xers and Millennials prefer strategy reviews and Gen Zers thrive on performance reviews. 

Whether you’re taking on a new sales rep or helping to develop an existing recruit, it pays to look for these five winning traits:

  1. The ability to become a trusted advisor
  2. A head for data and a nose for patterns and insights
  3. Technological know-how
  4. A flexible approach to in-person and online interactions
  5. A desire to build skills and knowledge

1. A great sales rep is a trusted advisor

All good sales reps know their product, but the best ones know their customer even better. They put themselves in the shoes of their target market to build trust and ongoing loyalty. 

According to Sue McEvoy, Head of Sales Australia, FCM Travel, a good sales rep is more than a seller — they are an advisor. 

“Buyers now expect more than simply to be sold to. They want a trusted advisor, someone who will inform them of current trends. Share broader industry news and be knowledgeable on matters outside your product such as specialist topics like diversity and inclusion,” McEvoy says.

Alyssia Tennant, Sales and Solutions Director at Simplus, agrees that sales conversations cannot just be transactional. Rather, she says, conversations need to prioritise building a relationship that involves sales reps offering solutions to problems customers have right now, and those they might face further down the road.

It’s this ability to build a trusted relationship that will see great reps excel when it comes to sales KPIs like customer lifetime value.

2. A great sales rep uses data to hit their sales KPIs

Just like you can’t build a home with weak foundations, sales reps shouldn’t build a relationship with flimsy data. 

A lot of sales reps will talk about opportunities and forecasting sales projections without a lot of hard facts to support them. The best salespeople, however, start with the facts and develop a business strategy from there. 

Chris Proctor, Head of Commercial Excellence at Nanosonics, says his top advice for sales reps is to utilise dashboards and basic process training. 

“Build in your forms. You could be getting great results but it reflects far more positively on you if your actions and metrics can be seen, supported and rewarded by upper management.”Great sales reps are also using AI-powered automation tools like Sales Cloud to manage their data and uncover patterns across multiple accounts that help them achieve sales KPIs like lead conversion rates. In this way, they can spend more time on strategic work rather than on busy work that adds little value.

3. A great sales rep is technologically literate

Salespeople like to move at pace, so most don’t want to be bogged down by manually updating spreadsheets and other admin. When interviewing your next sales rep, get a sense of the tools and technologies they use to get a deeper understanding of their customer. 

A sales rep who embraces and understands the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies is an empowered sales rep. AI can streamline work, increase the accuracy of forecasting, and help reps make smarter decisions, particularly around customer behaviour predictions. Harnessing automation puts sales reps in a strong position to boost their sales KPIs.

The State of Sales report shows high performing sales teams are 1.9 times more likely to use AI than underperformers. With an additional 20% of sales organisations planning to use AI in the next two years on top of the one-third that already do, a sales rep who embraces AI-powered technology will be a valuable member of the team.

4. A great sales rep takes a blended approach to selling

Recent events have shown the positives of staff being able to work from anywhere. And while most sales reps are embracing the mix of virtual selling and face-to-face interactions, you want a sales rep who knows how to interact with their customer no matter the environment. And according to Eoin Geaney, Regional Business Leader, Transportation & Electronics Business Group at 3M, that means taking a blended approach to selling. 

“Take a blended approach with in-person and digital interactions. Online customers have certain expectations, such as speed of response. In person, they need human triggers. Using both will help build trust and grow your business.”

5. Look for someone who loves learning — and give them the opportunities

Great salespeople will take the lead on their professional development by looking for insights from anyone. Be that from their managers, peers, and even their customers. 

For Cian Mcloughlin, CEO at Trinity Perspectives, a great sales rep will read, watch, listen, learn, apply and repeat their learnings. 

On top of learning, great sales reps will constantly evaluate themselves to ensure they’re improving and moving forward. There should be a sense of fulfilment from learning something new just as there is from crushing a sales KPI.

And with sales organisations constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the seller experience, focusing on training programs and enablement tools will set sales reps up for success. A great sales rep will understand how valuable those opportunities are and jump at the chance to get on board with training, coaching, and learning new tools.

Identifying a sales rep superstar

While not every sales rep you hire will have all the skills listed on the job ad, recognising their ability to build these skills is what will set a good sales rep apart — and eventually make them great. They’re the person you should aim to hire for your sales team, or — if they’re already on your sales team — support and enable them with the skills and tools that will help them realise their full potential.

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Note: this piece was originally published on 4 November 2021 and has been updated.

Salesforce Staff

The 360 Blog from Salesforce teaches readers how to improve work outcomes and professional relationships. Our content explores the mindset shifts, organizational hurdles, and people behind business evolution. We also cover the tactics, ethics, products, and thought leadership that make growth a meaningful and positive experience.

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