One element in building a business that there is no way of avoiding, is selling. And why is that? Because unless your products and services are being purchased or have the potential of being purchased, it is not a business you run, it is a hobby you are engaging in. The sale of products and services on the other hand, provides the crucial evidence of market existence, particularly in the early stages of business, and the necessary impetus for growth through availability of finance.
If you are starting out, chances are that you need to build your sales skills even more, since most start-ups have limited budgets and the entrepreneurs themselves are best placed to sell their products and services. But what makes a good salesperson?
There is much research that has been done on what makes a good salesperson by leading business schools in the world. As you would probably guess, many studies find overlapping traits. Based on the research matter available on the subject, we find five major ones, that if inculcated can make one ace sales, or at least become better at it.
# 1. Empathy
A Harvard Business Review article published in 2006 brought into focus a study that had first been conducted in 1961 to understand the American insurance industry’s challenge of an inefficient sales structure as witnessed in high turnover among agents in the backdrop of high salaries, commissions and expense accounts as well as high costs of recruiting and training salespersons in terms of both time and money for the companies.
The study, conducted over seven years of field research, resulted in a drilling down to dominant personality traits to look for in salespersons to ensure greater efficiencies. One of the key ones herein is empathy or as HBR defines it – ‘Ability to feel’. Empathy, the 2006 article says, is “…the important central ability to feel as the other fellow does in order to be able to sell him a product or service, must be possessed in large measure.” In other words, it is the connect with the customer’s thinking that is important for the salesperson. And this is because “… he senses the reactions of the customer and is able to adjust to these reactions. He is not simply bound by a prepared sales track, but he functions in terms of the real interaction between himself and the customer.” Put it another way, empathy gives a salesperson an ability to be flexible in her or his manner with the client without having to refer to a textbook.
# 2. Ego Drive
A second personality feature important for good salespersonship is what the same study calls ‘Ego Drive’, which actually bundles two characteristics into one. The first one , which is ego, is about the impact of a sale on the self-perception of the sales person. The article says that the existence of this ego “makes him want and need to make the sale in a personal or ego way, not merely for the money to be gained. His feeling must be that he has to make the sale; the customer is there to help him fulfil his personal need. In effect, to the top salesman, the sale—the conquest—provides a powerful means of enhancing his ego. His self-picture improves dramatically by virtue of conquest and diminishes with failure.”
However, there is need to temper this ego, with a drive that acts as a motivation in the face of failure. The article explains it as: “Because of the nature of all selling, the salesman will fail to sell more often than he will succeed. Thus, since failure tends to diminish his self-picture, his ego cannot be so weak that the poor self-picture continues for too long a time. Rather, the failure must act as a trigger—as a motivation toward greater efforts—that with success will bring the ego enhancement he seeks.”
#3 . Ambiverted personalities
In another study, published by the Journal of Psychological Science, and conducted by Adam Grant, Professor of Psychology at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, it was found that the belief that extroverts make the best salespeople is actually a myth. Which, is not to say that introverts make the best sales people, either. According to Grant “Ambiverts achieve greater sales productivity than extraverts or introverts do. Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale but are more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident”. As an extrovert, there is a possibility of coming on too strong; while as an introvert your inclination towards sales might be limited, thus restricting the ability to master it.
# 4. Modesty
Besides extraversion being ruled out as a key metric to ensure effective salespersonship, another surprising trait pointed out by experts is modesty. According to Steve W. Martin, who teaches sales strategy at Marshal School of Business, University of Southern California, “...ostentatious salespeople who are full of bravado alienate far more customers than they win over”. Instead, more modest salespersons are able to “…position the team that will help them win the account as the centrepiece”, rather than being the main deciding point.
# 5. Confidence
The only one trait, which is perhaps not just a no-brainer to have as a salesperson trait, but nevertheless worth mentioning, is confidence. Whether it is asking for business to an existing client or chasing a cold call, the need for confidence cannot be underscored. A number of associated factors are mentioned by various experts, which cumulatively either suggest or add up to confidence.
For instance Martin of the University of Southern California says that the ‘Lack of self-consciousness’, to the extent that “…top salespeople are comfortable fighting for their cause and are not afraid of rankling customers in the process. They are action-oriented and unafraid to call high in their accounts or courageously cold call new prospects”. He also mentions ‘lack of discouragement’, which is essentially the ability to bounce back after failure, also a trait common among confident people.
To see what confidence can look like, we leave you with a video of the legendary Steve Jobs, who was not even 30 when he made this speech, taking on some of the biggest name in tech history.