Hiring salespeople: What qualities should you look for?
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Hiring salespeople: What qualities should you look for?

Is there really such a thing as a “typical” profile for top salespeople? Are there certain personality and psychological traits that the best salespeople have in common?

Yes, according to research published by Harvard Business Review in 2011. And you may find some of them surprising.

A sales candidate may look the part, talk the talk, and even have the track record to back it up. But just because someone fits our preconceived notion of what a sales star is like, or has been successful in another company, doesn’t mean they’ll be successful for you. As they say in the financial industry, past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

So if you’re looking for a more disciplined approach to identifying stars and potential stars, you might be interested in what researchers at the USC Marshall School of Business found. They interviewed and tested thousands of top business-to-business salespeople, and identified several key traits, which are listed below.

Of course, it would be simplistic to suggest that everyone who possesses these traits will excel at sales, or that the lack of said traits should be an automatic knockout factor. But the list can be a useful guide for finding top-notch candidates, and a good counterbalance to gut-level impressions about someone’s ability to sell.

Here are the key qualities of top salesperson, according to the research:

Modesty. It’s tempting to think that a high-profile personality will win over customers. On the contrary, top salespeople are modest and humble. They don’t have to be the center of attention; in fact, they’re more likely to be team players, who position the entire team, rather than themselves, as the key resource in the sale.

Conscientiousness. Top salespeople aren’t gladhanders who leave the grunt work to someone else. They pay attention to details and take charge of the sales process. They’re not about to leave their success in the hands of others.

Achievement orientation. No surprise here: Top salespeople are highly focused on setting and achieving goals. They like to win, and the only way to know they’re winning is by keeping score.

Curiosity. They are genuinely interested in their customers’ situations. They want to know more, and they know how to find it.

Lack of gregariousness. Surprisingly, top salespeople score really low on gregariousness. They’re friendly with customers, but maintain a bit of a distance. Salespeople who identify too closely with their customers are at risk of putting the buyer’s interests ahead of their own. And they’re also less likely to be taken seriously. The best salespeople operate on a peer-to-peer level with customers.

Optimism. Top salespeople don’t get discouraged easily. If they take a hit, they dust themselves off and keep moving forward.

Lack of self-consciousness. Top salespeople don’t worry too much about how others perceive them. They’re unlikely to get embarrassed — which could help, for example, when it’s time to ask for the order, or when they have to ask a customer some tough questions. Self-conscious salespeople, by contrast, put the spotlight on themselves and what they’re feeling, instead of on buyers.

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