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March 12, 2015

The Seven Personality Traits of Top Sales Performers

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Sales performers have been required to adapt to evolve and stay at the top of the sales game in a variety of ways.

Some of these come down to the salesperson themselves (having a natural affinity for helping people), some pertained to management (top salespeople are enabled by company executives), and others were based on what salespeople are equipped with (hint: the top-performing players use technology to sell.)

But in order to adapt, top sales performers have to have a foundation of characteristics that allow them to excel. We have set out to find out what those traits were.

Reframing the salesperson

There is often a negative connotation when it comes to sales: that the role of a salesperson is to “push” a product or service on a consumer or business, whether they truly need it or not.

However, in the case of top sales performers, we’re referencing professionals who genuinely understand the product or service, and the market that has a demand for it. They know that it’s about matching the right people with the right products and services.

But it’s not quite that simple. In order to do just that, salespeople have to possess certain characteristics. Fortunately, Harvard Business Review’s Steve W. Martin took the time to evaluate top sales performers and boil those characteristics down into the following list of seven.

The seven characteristics of top sales performers:

1. Modesty

If you have the stereotypical profile of a salesperson in your head, it’s likely that this characteristic takes you by surprise. But in Mr. Martin’s research, 91 percent of top salespeople scored “medium to high” in the ranks of modesty. They recognize the fact that people don’t want to be “wooed” by falsehoods or over-confidence. Humility is the name of the game.

2. Conscientiousness

Taking on a role in sales typically means knowing rewards are tied to results. Perhaps that’s why 85 percent of top sales performed reviewed in the study showed high levels of conscientiousness — a “strong sense of duty and responsibility.”

3. Achievement orientation

Again, we’re back to rewards being tied to results. If salespeople weren’t wired to achieve (see: win), they likely wouldn’t make it to the top. The study showed these performers were “fixated” on achievement, and HBR suggests that because of that, they are more strategic in how they make the sale.

4. Curiosity

This one is exactly what it sounds like — 82 percent of top sales performers ranked high in curiosity, over their lower-performing counterparts. What does a high level of inquisitiveness mean? HBR alludes to the fact that curious salespeople are more likely to ask the difficult questions and dig deeper to better understand the customers’ needs. Their curiosity leaves no room for information gaps.

5. Lack of gregariousness

If you’re anything like us, you thought you read this one wrong. Or, you ran to look up “gregarious” in the dictionary to make sure you knew what it meant. But yes, this is right — top sales performers averaged 30 percent lower than below-average performers when it came to their preference for being with people and friendliness. HBR offers this explanation: “Dominance is the ability to gain the willing obedience of customers such that the salesperson’s recommendations and advice are followed. The results indicate that overly friendly salespeople are too close to their customers and have difficulty establishing dominance.” Interesting? We’d say so.

6. Lack of discouragement

Top salespeople don’t get discouraged easily. Mr. Martin suggests that this directly correlates with his informal research that finds that most of the top sales performers played organized sports in high school, where they learned how to “handle disappointment and bounce back from losses.”

7. Lack of self-consciousness

Despite being modest, less than five percent of top sales performers reported high levels of self-consciousness. Considering the tenacity and resilience required of top sales performers, it’s no wonder they’re not losing sleep over what their hair looks like.

The behaviors that make the performance

Armed with the above list of top sales performers’ characteristics, we’d say you’re well-equipped to seek out the right individuals for your team. But, the list leaves us with one question — what makes this list of personality traits the blueprint for a top sales performer?

The personality traits described above translate into the following behaviors that separated top sales performers from their second-place counterparts, as reported by buyers:

  • Educated me with new ideas or perspectives
  • Collaborated with me
  • Persuaded me that we would achieve results
  • Listened to me
  • Understood my needs
  • Helped me avoid pitfalls
  • Crafted a compelling solution
  • Depicted purchasing process accurately
  • Connected with me personally
  • Overall value from the company is superior to other options

Building a stellar sales force

Building an effective workforce starts with hiring the right people. Above, with the help of top research firms, we’ve detailed out the characteristics that top salespeople exhibit, and the behaviors that result from them. Once you’ve identified and hired those people, it’s time to train them for your business, and equip them with the best possible tools to hit the ground running.


Linda Hall performs marketing and public relations efforts on behalf of JobFLEX, an estimating software.