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April 23, 2006

My "Top Ten" Great Salesperson Traits

A couple of weeks ago, Terry Gold had a fabulous post on Hiring Salespeople. Terry is a great guy, an avid ongoing learner, committed to people and their success, and the CEO of Gold Systems. I've been a huge fan of Terry's ever since I met him 3 or 4 years ago. Brad Feld calls him the best "non-salesy salesperson" he knows. Terry outlines what he thinks are traits that have worked for him over the years in hiring salespeople, and what hasn't worked. I've edited his list and thrown in a couple of my starters/non-starters given I've hired and fired quite a few salespeople over the years. You could argue that companies in different industries and in different stages of maturity change this list somewhat, but it's still probably a pretty good litmus test for hiring nontheless;

1) Hire someone that, as Terry says, can "SELL STUFF". Do they have a track record that demonstrates they can sell. This might seem like  a no brainer, but do the diligence. I've seen salespeople that still hang their hats on the fact that they were successful selling technology during the late 90's where fish were jumping into the boat. What have they done over the past 3-4 years, in a difficult technology environment?

2) Hire someone that will "jump right in". Someone that isn't afraid to make mistakes, that is willing to ask the wrong questions. This is especially true in a new technology area. If you're in a "me too" business, the guy who needs to learn first, then sell, might work out. But 9 out of 10 times it's a bad sign.

3) Hire someone that is "genuine". As Terry points out, we sell to smart people, they can smell a fake. I love it when someone says "I have no idea - but I'll find out". People that buy technology, that buy anything, are looking to partner with you to find a solution to their problems. Not for you to sell them. That went out with the Tin Man.

4) Hire someone that can "build relationships". If you find yourself being enamored during the interview, chances are your customers will too. If they can charm you without you feeling like they're slimy then it's probably a good bet that he/she can build relationships with customers too.

5) Hire someone with "presence". You know what I mean. The guy/woman that walks in a room and you pay attention to them right away even though they didn't open their mouth - and when they do it's the icing on the cake. It's hard to put your finger on it but you know it when you see it. This gives customers a sense of security. That they're dealing with the company who can take care of them.

6) Hire someone who "knows what people are thinking". This is a bit more difficult to be able to guage, but a great sales person always speaks to "how a customer is listening". It's not about what you are trying to say/or sell but rather how they are listening to what you are saying. This one is really important and often missed.

7) Hire someone who will "try, try again". I love salespeople who don't give up, even in the face of a big "NO". What's to lose, they already said no, keep on pushing. If I get a call from a potential customer who is angry that one of my salespeople "wouldn't let go, or stop" I'd think that its a good thing.

8) Hire someone who will "ask the tough questions". I've been in too many situations where salespeople don't ask the tough, direct questions. Anyone can ask the milk toast questions. If you want to gain the advantage, get a piece of knowledge that the competition doesn't have. Plus it puts you on a different level of relationship with the customer. They resepct that.

9) Hire someone that can "follow a process". I don't care if you are selling widgets or aircraft carriers, sales is more of a science than an art. There are sales processes that make you more efficient, that move an opportunity through a pipeline quicker, that make sure you don't get caught flat footed or blindsided when a deal is "suppose to close".

10) Hire someone that will "talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere". This speaks for itself but I'll throw in an added dimension. The number of qualified opportunities that you/your organization has is a direct correlation to the number of conversations you are having. Everything happens or gets started in a conversation....everything. More deals are started on a plane or in a bar than we'd like to admit.

Well, there you go, my top ten traits. I actually have a few more but then again it wouldn't be a top ten. These are the ten most important traits to me after the basics get covered - smart, articulate, etc. I've used all of the more commonplace tests that you can put someone through to determine if they will turn out to be a great salesperson or not. I hired a hundred or so sales people at Qwest Cyber Solutions doing that, some were effective, some weren't. In the end, this list has served me pretty well.                                                                           

April 23, 2006 | Permalink

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My post on Hiring Salespeople has generated a lot of great comments from people with a lot more experience than me. If you are interested in this topic, go back and read the comments. A friend of mine (who else [Read More]

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