What really makes a sales star?

I had an interesting conversation recently with a sharp young woman who was exploring a career change. When I asked what she considered her core competences and outstanding skills to be, she answered by saying, “I’m not sure – I’m just a salesperson.”

Wow! In a world where the success of every business depends upon its ability to entice customers to buy its products or services, being good at accomplishing that is a skill not to be underestimated. When I dug in further, this particular young woman had an excellent track record in sales, indicating that her skill set included the ability to listen and quickly assimilate information provided by her prospective customer, to develop trusted relationships, and to clearly articulate her company’s value proposition – all great qualities which translate well into a wide range of career options for her.

It’s interesting that we sometimes tend to place higher importance on the people who invent, make and create than we do upon those people who actually sell the products (and who ultimately bring in the revenue necessary to fuel the sustained growth of the company).

So, what does it take to be a great salesperson? Here’s my list:

Self-awareness
Good salespeople know their strengths and understand how to put those strengths to work for them in a sales situation. They have internalized who they are and what attracts people to them, and have figured out ways to translate that into a compelling relational style that causes people to listen to them and to believe them.

Lack of self-centeredness
Surveys have repeatedly shown that people do not respond positively to those who dwell on themselves and create sales situations that are “all about them.” Potential customers want you to listen to them and to authentically respond to their needs, not vice versa. Selfcentered salespeople make others feel pressured and put off the vibe that closing the sale is the only thing they care about (not about meeting the prospect’s needs).

Ability to create trust
The ultimate positive positioning for someone in sales is to be viewed as a trusted advisor and collaborative partner, rather than a vendor who is trying to sell something. This approach may take a little longer to accomplish, but it is so much more productive in the long run.

Comfortable with senior executives
Frequently, sales cycles involve multiple layers of decision-making within a corporation, and it is critical for the salesperson to be able to perform at the highest level. While the initial prospect meeting may be with a lower-level contact, C-level executives are often involved, especially with regard to larger dollar-volume sales. So, it is important to understand how senior executives think and make decisions.

Ability to explain the solution
These days, it is relatively easy for buyers to research information that helps them decide what to purchase and who to purchase it from. Therefore, it is extremely important for sales people to be able to compellingly articulate why and how their product or service meets the specific needs of that particular prospect. Value propositions can include increasing revenues, decreasing costs, gaining a competitive advantage and reducing risk, among other things.

Good closers
The “hard close” rarely works and can be associated with a “take it or leave it” mentality, which is off-putting to most prospects. A soft close, on the other hand, is based on the premise that buyers have choices and that they are in control of the buying situation – a much more comfortable place for them to be in.

In summary, I believe that the best salespeople can be characterized as “sales chameleons” who have the flexibility and insight to adjust their approach to match their prospects’ needs and preferences in the moment. And also, that truly good salespeople should be valued as key players in their companies’ success.

Cathy Ackermann, founder and president of Ackermann Marketing & PR, may be reached at cackermann@thinkackermann.com