You may not know exactly what makes a great sales rep, but you know what you like. 

If that phrase sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a take on an old adage about the world of fine art. Some people may not have a background in art history, for example, but they have no problem choosing a painting on the basis that they prefer abstract expressionism over something more representational. The only issue, of course, is that they wouldn’t be able to talk about the actual value of the artwork they acquired. 

Hiring a sales rep based on gut instinct or highly subjective criteria equates to much the same thing. You may connect with them on a personal level, and your own experience of buying from a sales rep may suggest they have some special qualities, but that’s not the same thing as properly judging someone’s qualifications. 

This might seem kind of odd, given how important driving revenue is to small and medium-sized businesses. These missteps when assessing sales talent often happen because companies are already so busy that they just want to streamline the whole process. Instead of thinking through all the nuances involved in sales, it’s easier to try and reduce “greatness” to a single quality or trait. 

Some of the obvious examples here include tenacity, a way with people, a drive to exceed goals and to compete with other members of the sales team. To some extent, any of those traits can make a great salesperson

Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll probably find that great sales talent is multi-faceted and develops based on training, experience and an aptitude for certain kinds of activities. Use these as you develop your job description, hire and coach the reps on your team: 

1. Audience-oriented empathy

Yes, you’ll want to hire sales reps who live, breathe and sleep all the details about your products and services so they can be convincing when they make a pitch. What should interest them more, however, is what goes on in the daily lives of the customers and prospects they’ll meet. 

Reps who consistently try to put themselves in the shoes of their target market become better able to have a conversation that comes across as insight from a trusted advisor. This leads not only to sales, but ongoing loyalty. 

2. A bias towards evidence

Like all of us, sales reps know how to try and “fake it ’til they make it” by talking about opportunities and forecasting deals without a lot of hard facts to support them. The best salespeople, however, start with the facts and develop a strategy from there. 

You’ll see this in practice when reps input lots of data into a CRM like Sales Cloud, and their pitch decks, call notes and other materials around it. They don’t just look narrowly within the data, either, but try to find patterns across multiple accounts. 

3. Cross-functional thinking

Sales should not be a silo. More than ever, reps need to partner effectively with marketing. Reps that recognize this don’t wait to have a marketing team member chase them down to find out why they’re not acting on a lead. Instead, they initiate a constructive discussion about lead scoring and qualification to improve the entire process. 

A cross-functional thinker is well aware of their counterpart’s goals and motivations and how it connects to those of their own department. Then they work to see how they can find mutually beneficial outcomes. This applies not only to the relationship between sales and marketing, but the customer service team as well.

4. Openness to automation

If a sales rep wants to be great at their job, they probably don’t want to be bogged down in manual ways of working, like trying to track everything in spreadsheets or by using sticky notes on their monitors. They eagerly embrace tools that make them more productive, while accelerating the time it takes to bring value to their customers. 

Today, that manifests itself in sales reps who are confident enough in their own abilities to learn from artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that help them make predictions about customer behaviour. It’s no longer us versus the machines, but a matter of taking advantage of automation to improve everything you do in sales. 

5. A real-time mindset

Sales reps who need to wait until they get back to the office, sit down at their desk and go through everything on their computer will sell less than those who can respond more immediately. It’s that simple. 

Today’s greatest salespeople see their smartphones as more than a place to play mobile games or update their social media status. They become fluent in the most dynamic business apps that can help them act with urgency to whatever their customers and employers need. 

6. Constantly coachable

Perhaps most importantly, great salespeople take the lead on their professional development by looking for insight from anyone. This can include their manager, of course, but it can also include their peers, their customers or those working in other parts of the business. 

In fact, the top sales reps tend to see their career as a lifelong learning journey, in which they get as much a sense of fulfillment from improving their abilities to make the sale as actually crushing their quota. This also means they tend to be highly self-evaluative and measurement-focused, no matter how they’re spending their time. 

Is there one special trait that makes a great salesperson? The answer is no — and thank goodness. Even if the reps you hire or manage don’t have all of these traits, you can build these areas into their training and development, and use them to analyze performance over time. They may be good sales people today — but you can help them become great!