This could be, (and in many ways already has been), a never ending debate, but in my mind, it comes down to a few critical characteristics.
First, the person must be a great conversationalist. This means the salesperson, (likely an extrovert), is:
- Comfortable engaging others in conversation with authenticity.
- Can get to know someone and truly try to determine what their needs might be.
- Is adept at questioning.
- Is genuinely interested in the person they are speaking with.
These people have a knack for gaining the trust of others. They make people feel heard.
The truly great salesperson never makes anyone feel sold. We all have a story of buying something and regretting it as soon as we got home and having the feeling “we were had.” This experience comes from working with a salesperson who wasn’t great. He or she was good enough to get you to buy, but they left a “residue” and you will likely never refer a customer to them, let alone shop there again. They were concerned about themselves and the sale, not you.
The second characteristic of the great sales executive is the ability to make an assessment. Through their questioning and conversational skills, they are able to assess the needs of the customer fairly quickly and determine if their product or service is a match and explain why. This is not the person that rattles off the features and benefits like they are reading a menu. This is someone who really understands what the customer is looking for, (the need), and making the determination, (or not), that they can solve it. The best salespeople are those who know when they aren’t a match and refer you to someone who is. They never fear doing this because they know that in the end, it will come back to them in spades. Sort of like paying it forward.
The third trait that great sales executives have is the ability to “ask” for the order or close the deal. This is where a lot salespeople fail. They get so involved in the conversation, creating rapport and being in love with their solution, they forget to ask for the order. The other reason they don’t ask is that they are afraid of rejection or failure. So if they don’t ask, they can’t be rejected. They leave the sales call and hope the customer calls them. In most cases the customer won’t call. They need to be asked to the dance. You can’t expect them to close the deal for you. The only exception to this is the sleazy sales person who conjures up a worst case scenario or scares the heck out of a customer so they beg to buy so that something terrible doesn’t happen. That is not authentic selling, it’s gimmicks and tricks.
The last trait of the great sales person is follow-through. If you don’t follow-up with the customer to make sure they got what they wanted and are happy, you miss a huge opportunity to create a lasting relationship with that customer and a potential referral source. The best sales executives work off referrals alone after they’ve been at it a few years. The great sales exec is never afraid to fix a problem because they’ve diagnosed the need and want to make sure they were correct. They want happy customers.
Think about all the sales people you’ve dealt with over time. What made the good ones stand out for you? I’ll bet they had most, if not all of the characteristics identified here so next time you hire for sales, remember to interview for ALL 4 of these critical traits.