7 Personality Traits of Top Salespeople – from Harvard Business Review


What determines the performance of top salespeople? Answer: Personality, not knowledge.

Love this article in Harvard Business Review, as the author, Steve W. Martin, (bio below)

Steve. W. Martin

shares 7 personality traits that top salespeople have in common. He personally interviewed thousands of salespeople and administered personality tests to 1,000 of them.

“My goal was to measure their five main personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and negative emotionality) to better understand the characteristics that separate them their peers. The personality tests were given to high technology and business services salespeople as part of sales strategy workshops I was conducting. In addition, tests were administered at Presidents Club meetings (the incentive trip that top salespeople are awarded by their company for their outstanding performance). The responses were then categorized by percentage of annual quota attainment and classified into top performers, average performers, and below average performers categories.

The test results from top performers were then compared against average and below average performers. The findings indicate that key personality traits directly influence top performers’ selling style and ultimately their success.”

With my background in sales, I relate to the personality traits that made me so successful in winning business.

In addition, check out my article “How to Hire Great People Every Time” which shows why the obvious candidates are often not the best choices.

I summarize the article here, but invite you to read the full article at 7 Personality Traits of Top Salespeople.

The key question in my mind is this:

If personality traits are what make a top salesperson, why don’t companies try to hire those personality traits?

In my experience, here’s what almost all companies look for in salespeople:

  • Industry experience
  • Quota achievement

But as the research shows, top salespeople have 7 personality traits in common. Here are the 7 Personality Traits of Top Salespeople.

  1. Modesty
    Modest salespeople work well on modern sales teams. Modest people make good team members.
  2. Conscientiousness
    This trait enables salespeople to manage the sales process. Staying on top of key issues and concerns is a key item. (We believe in the adage “A Promise Made is a Promise Kept.”)
  3. Achievement Orientation
    This helps them to understand the politics of a situation and drives them to meet with key decision makers. (We’re known as the Fearless Competitor.)
  4. Curiosity
    Curious salespeople ask open and revealing questions in the sales meetings which close gaps and speed decisions.
  5. Lack of Gregariousness
    Many are surprised by this finding, but sales needs to earn trust. Too much talking destroys trust. Great salespeople use words selectively.
  6. Lack of Discouragement
    The top salespeople often have a background in sports, so they know how it feels to lose and how to come back from it. Sales is about competition and bouncing back from losses.
  7. Lack of Self-Consciousness
    This points to a fearless attitude. Are they willing to take a chance and reach out to a top executive? (As mentioned, we’re known as the Fearless Competitor.)

The author sums up the article:

Not all salespeople are successful. Given the same sales tools, level of education, and propensity to work, why do some salespeople succeed where others fail? Is one better suited to sell the product because of his or her background? Is one more charming or just luckier? The evidence suggests that the personalities of these truly great salespeople play a critical role in determining their success.

Steve W. Martin

Steve W. Martin

Steve W. Martin teaches sales strategy at the USC Marshall School of Business. His latest book on sales linguistics is Heavy Hitter Sales Psychology: How to Penetrate the C-level Executive Suite and Convince Company Leaders to Buy.

For Dave Stein’s take on assessments, check out Understanding the Value of Assessments for Sales Hiring

Do you measure the personality traits of your sales candidates? What has been your experience with it? Please enter your comments below.

We invite you to purchase our $49 Demand Generation training course.

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Jeff Ogden (@fearlesscomp) is President of the B2B lead generation consultancy, Find New Customers. Find New Customers helps companies rapidly grow revenue by transforming how they attract, engage and win new customers. Contact Find New Customers by calling (516) 495-9350 or by sending an email to sales at findnewcustomers.com.

Find New Customers, can certainly help your business dramatically improve the flow of sales-ready leads to salespeople.” Paul Dunay, Buzz Marketing for Technology.

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20 thoughts on “7 Personality Traits of Top Salespeople – from Harvard Business Review

  1. My mother used to say that I’d be good in sales because I liked to talk. Boy was she ever wrong. As you point out, less talking is better when it comes to being in sales. Ask questions and listen. Great article and thank you for your insight.

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