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Great salesperson? It’s a surprisingly simple formula

Why are salespeople great?

What makes salespeople successful?

What characteristics make up a sales superstar?

Wouldn’t you like to know the answer to these questions?

So would every salesperson.

So would every person who hires a salesperson.

By understanding what criteria sales managers and business owners look for in a salesperson, you may be able to determine how those characteristics fit into your own personal success formula.

Everybody tells me they wanna hire a great salesperson. They go through the expensive gyrations of outsourcing, in-sourcing, testing, interviewing and finally hiring. Then they invest in their hopeful rookie with intensive orientation and a week or two of product sales skills training. Yet the turnover rate of salespeople is pegged at 74% in the first year. Evidently, there’s a gap between who you think is great and who actually is great.

I’ve been collecting great salesperson characteristics from many different sales managers and entrepreneurs. They’ll all give me “hiring” criteria and characteristics. But what they really mean is: “I need this person to have these skills in order to succeed in my company.”

Brian Parsley, a certified human resource expert, has a famous quote: “People hire for skills and fire for attitude.” I have encountered hundreds of salespeople who claim to be great. Most of them are cynical — and broke. The really great salespeople don’t have to brag about it. They carry their own water, mind their own business and don’t have to talk about how great they are because they have a positive attitude and a positive bank account to prove it.

What it’s all about: attitude

It’s funny that every person who has bragged to me about what a great salesman or saleswoman they are has never bragged to me about what a great person they are. And if I’m doing the hiring, I’m going to start with a great person, not a great salesperson.

The lesson here is that attitude is more important than skill. If they have a great attitude, they will accept learning new skills as a way of life. If a person’s attitude is lacking, they fall into the category of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

And then there’s the character of the person. If you have a great salesperson with a rotten character, what do you do? You fire him; that’s what you do.

Here’s an easy answer to uncover the skill set, criteria and characteristics of a great salesperson. Make a list of the 10 best salespeople you have ever known. Don’t forget to include yourself. Leave some space to list their characteristics. You might want to make a spreadsheet listing their names across the top of the page and your list of great characteristics down the side. Now check the appropriate characteristics boxes for each salesperson.

Charting the characteristics

When you begin to chart the characteristics of great salespeople you have known or hired, you’ll find that several of their characteristics are the same: deep belief, ability to build relationships, ability to self-start and ability to maintain a positive attitude.

You’ll also discover that every sales superstar you’ve ever known had individual characteristics or strengths that made him or her rise above the others. Maybe it was the fact that she was a single mom. Maybe it was the fact that he had overcome some tragedy. Or maybe it was just personal determination. Maybe it was their athleticism that created the discipline they needed to succeed.

It’s important that you list every one of these characteristics, so you’re able to develop a full set of criteria. This allows you to measure the criteria against you and your coworkers. It will also aid you in the selection process as you seek another sales star.

Here’s an idea: List all the criteria and create a self-evaluation test. Ask people (yourself included) to rate themselves in each of the sales characteristics. This will give them (and you) insight to strengths and weaknesses, so they (you) will know where to grow.

I’ve developed 12.5 characteristics compiled from salespeople and sales managers over the years. I would give them to you right now, but I’m out space until next week. Stay tuned…

If you’d like examples of how to discover and breed great salespeople go to www.gitomer.com — register if you’re a first time user — and enter the word SALESMASTER in the GitBit box.

Jeffrey Gitomer, author of “The Sales Bible,” and “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” is president of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer. He gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings and conducts training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail


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