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I recently worked with a group of young salespeople, most just out of college. It was a fun engagement where I served as facilitator, teacher, and mentor. One participant asked, “We are all getting started in our selling careers. What are some of the things that you’ve seen in working with top sales producers? What do they have in common?”

It was a great question, and I could have given 20 answers, but narrowed it to these five traits:

1. Coachability

This means more than just taking feedback well, which is important. But it’s even more important to seek coaching from more experienced salespeople. A highly successful vice president of sales I know calls it “forced mentoring.” One young salesperson I spoke with, Sam, would reach out to successful veteran sales reps on his team. He’d offer to buy them coffee, breakfast, or lunch so he could learn from the best. Sam said his forced mentoring shortened his learning time (and also thinned his wallet for awhile).

Top salespeople are “buggers.” They bug people for wisdom, help, and guidance. Average salespeople are reactive about professional development. They wait for their sales manager to set up a coaching session. Their attitude often is, “Well, my boss is the one who should be setting up the coaching sessions with me.” Good luck with that victim-reactive approach. I have always worked for busy leaders, always bugged them for time, and always received it.

2. Strong Work Ethic

One of my clients in the financial planning business has a great quote. “You have to do your first year sometime.” Work-life balance is a popular phrase today, and it’s important. But here’s a reality check: When you are starting in sales or moving to a new sales position, you’re probably going to have little work-life balance. It’s temporary, not permanent. Do the work and put in the extra time needed to build your account base, gain new product knowledge, and hone your selling skills. I meet a lot of successful salespeople and am fascinated to learn about their journey to success, which is almost always paved with hours of hard work.  

3. Open to Learning

“Trusted advisor” is a popular phrase in sales. Now I like and understand the value of being a trusted advisor to clients. But it’s time to apply the emotional intelligence skill of reality testing to see if you are a trusted advisor — someone who’s always open to learning new things about sales. I’ve asked multiple salespersons posing as trusted advisors about the last business or sales book they’ve read. I often hear, “I just don’t have the time to read.” Well, it’s difficult to add value to a conversation and be a trusted advisor if you’re still two years behind the knowledge curve.

4. Self-Awareness

This skill for selling with emotional intelligence is the foundation for self-management. Self-aware salespeople notice triggers that can produce a nonproductive response, which causes regret. I call this the trigger-response-regret loop. For example, a trigger can be selling to a personality type you’re not comfortable with. You have trouble connecting and building rapport. Or selling to a good negotiator can trigger you to go into a product dump or drop your price — even when you know you offer a better value.

Self-aware salespeople take the time to reflect and figure out what triggers cause them to execute a behavior or skill that results in positive outcomes. Without self-awareness, salespeople repeat the same mistakes over and over. The trigger-response-regret loop leads to discouragement and self-doubt. Self-aware salespeople still make mistakes — but don’t repeat them.

5. Assertiveness

This is the ability to state what you need. It’s also an important emotional intelligence skill needed to create win-win business relationships. Salespeople lacking assertiveness turn into sales victims. They complain that prospects, customers, and peers take advantage of them. The reality is they lack the assertiveness to state what they need. Remember, you teach people how you want to be treated.

For example, salespeople lacking assertiveness write hundreds of proposals. They often don’t learn beforehand if the prospect is actually willing and able to invest in their services. Here’s the scenario: The salesperson is at the stage to discuss and agree on a budget. The salesperson asks the prospect for her range of investment in purchasing his product or service. She responds, “I have no idea — just put something together.”

The nonassertive salesperson goes along to get along. He spends valuable time putting together recommendations and sets up another meeting to share his solutions — and the budget. All of sudden the prospect has a budget, because she replies, “That’s more than I wanted to invest.”

It’s time for a quick reality check. Your prospect had a budget; otherwise, how could she tell you that your solutions are too high? Apply your self-awareness and recognize that you lacked the assertiveness to ask for what you needed. And what you needed before investing your valuable time was a determination if this prospect was willing or able to invest in your services.

Top salespeople are 'buggers.' They bug people for wisdom, help, and guidance.”

Colleen Stanley | President and Chief Selling Officer, SalesLeadership, Inc.

Learn More

How to Craft the Perfect Sales Pitch By Annie Simms,
Account Executive, Salesforce
The Simple Client Meeting Rules Every Salesperson Should Follow By Laura Stack,
President and CEO, Productivity Keynote Speaker and Author, The Productivity Pro, Inc.

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