For decades, businesses have been trying to discover the formula for the "perfect" salesperson. There are tons of books, blog posts, and editorial articles out there with advice on how a salesperson should act. However, much of this commentary is a bit broad -- they'll tell you to be direct, communicate, and have a positive attitude, which are qualities most CEOs want to see in all of their employees, not just the sales staff. While I can't claim to have unlocked the unified field theory of sales, my business has an awesome sales team, and I've found that there are five traits in particular I try to find and foster in new sales-hires.
1. Research Skill
The ability to research is a quality rarely sought out in the average salesperson, but it's extremely useful to sales. Preparation is vital -- salespeople have to exude confidence and be able to answer questions. They're supposed to serve as the resident expert, but if they don't do their homework before pursuing a lead, they'll wind up looking like an ill-prepared schmuck. When I interview a potential hire, I want them to show me they prepped for that interview. They researched my company, looked into what we do, are curious about where we're headed, and came in with questions to ask.
2. Problem Solving
No one likes buying anything under pressure; that is why door-to-door salespeople are so widely reviled. So if you are still using the high-pressure, slick-pitch tactics that have been around since the 50s, you're going to lose sales. People recognize common sales tropes, and they'll shut you out the minute they think you're trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Your sales staff still needs to generate revenue, but they can do that much more effectively by presenting your company's services or product as a way to solve a client's problem. This is where that research element comes into play -- looking into the industry, finding potential problems, building a conversation, and establishing a rapport together is a lot more effective than reading the same scripted pitch over and over, hoping it eventually sticks.
I've met a lot of salespeople that suffer from an overabundance of confidence. Now, confidence is fine, even admirable, but being confident is not synonymous with being a jerk. Successful sales teams collaborate together and support one another, so a good salesperson can't have a 'me-me-me' attitude and focus solely on their performance. A little bit of friendly competition is fine, but when you have one person swooping in and trying to grab leads and clients from their coworkers, you end up with an office full of angry people, and one gloating idiot. When hiring a new salesperson, look for those who put an emphasis on teamwork and can show how their work alongside a team led to the growth of the company.
Okay, I admit that it can be hard to be a proud salesperson when you're selling cheap knives to the elderly. But when you work in a sales department, you should take pride in what you do and what your company sells. Businesses should be on the lookout for salespeople that are passionate about what they sell because they genuinely want to help make the lives of their customers easier, rather than just going through the motions to sell them on a brand.
5. Customer Service
One of my favorite questions to ask a potential hire is, "When do you think your relationship with the client ends?" I always have a few interviewees that tell me they are finished with the client after the sale, which is the wrong answer. Your relationship with that customer lasts as long as you work for the company. I've seen customer service make or break countless businesses, so I make sure my sales staff knows they have to be there for every customer, big or small, and that they follow up accordingly.
Every company has different needs, so my star salesperson might look very different than yours, but there will always be a few key characteristics that never change. You need a sales team that works together and builds on the individual talent that makes up that team. Sales come out of conversations, so your sales staff has to be prepared to honestly and earnestly talk with potential customers about any and all questions they have. While it may not be a proven formula for absolute sales perfection, if you balance the acts of helping and selling in your sales, you should have no trouble finding new business.
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