Today I read another article by a sales guru offering highly misleading advice about the ‘traits’ of successful sales people. This particular article, like many others of this genre, was offering advice regarding what ‘traits’ managers should see as desirable when evaluating sales candidates. The writer covered a number of areas having nothing to do with traits so it is entirely possible that these other parts of his article offered good counsel. It is with his wrongheaded advice about the traits that I have a problem. I find this type of misleading advice about ‘sales traits’ and ‘sales personality’ not only quite common but also rather aggravating. To me, it has the feel of observing someone offering street directions to a lost tourist that you know fully well are complete b*******t. So, just as I would feel compelled to interfere and set the lost tourist on the correct path, please do not view this post as a rant. Instead my intention is to provide some clarity and precision to the discussion about traits and style of personality that is required for certain aspects of sales.
In this instance the writer was making the case that ideal sales people are ‘patient’ personalities because of the long selling cycles in the business with which he was familiar. Also, that patience is a necessary trait in order to continue following up with prospects who today are less willing to engage with reps and therefore ignore their efforts to contact them via email, social media and voicemail. His premise is that since it takes a long time to get the sale, top reps need to be patient enough to wait for the sale to come.
To many of you on first hearing this, it probably sounds like it makes sense, so what is the problem? The problem is that it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the core traits necessary for specific sales behaviors. In this case what is clearly misunderstood is the actual traits necessary to hang in for a long sales cycle and to generate engagement from prospects via continual follow up.
Let me start by describing the actual Patience trait drive. Patience can be thought of as the motivational need for stability and predictability. One can also view it as the need for routine, maintenance of the status quo, passiveness and comfort with repetition, steadiness, and a predictable pace. It will impact a sales person’s sense of urgency, deadline orientation, and individual initiative. As well it impacts work pace, multi-tasking, response to change/routine, and response to sameness/variety. You could also see it as reactive-ness vs. pro-activeness.
High Levels of Patience
High levels of this factor mean that the person is very patient, passive, reactive, unhurried, relaxed, calm, deliberate, tolerant, amiable, likes routine/familiarity, likes stability of repetition, dislikes change.
Low Levels of Patience
Low levels of this factor mean that the individual is very impatient (does not have much patience), is restless and pro-active, thrives on change/variety, has nervous energy, deadline oriented, a multi-tasker, is bored by routine and repetition.
The issue then is, if you do hire a sales person with a high level of patience, you have basically hired a passive and reactive person who is certainly good at waiting for things to happen-a ‘passive order taker’. In all my years of talking to managers about the traits they want in sales people I have never had one say they want to hire a ‘passive order taker’. Quite the contrary, almost invariably they will say they want to hire a pro-active self-starter with a sense of urgency-an impatient sales person.
So how do we square this seeming contradiction that sales takes a long time and yet the sales person needs to be impatient? It is true that individual trait drives such as patience will give you insight into the sales person’s on the job behaviours. It is however more accurate to look at all of his or her traits together as a combination. Traits working together tend to emphasize or soften each other and often combine with each other, resulting in whole new sets of behaviours. In this case what we actually require is for the sales person to be impatient and pro-active, as this will ensure he or she has a sense of urgency and will demonstrate the required initiative. This alone is not enough however because the person must also have other trait drives that make them quite dependent on structure in their work such as systems, procedures and guidelines. Individuals with this need for structure also tend to be quite detailed. The final trait drive necessary is a good level of emotional control. In other words, someone who is disciplined enough to stay with things and to maintain a consistency in their activities. So, in combination they need to have a sense of urgency along with a real need to work a specific plan or set of procedures along with a sense of discipline.
Having tested hundreds of thousands of sales people over the last 30+ years I can assure you that this combination of traits is what you will find in a very high proportion of sales people in these long cycle sales roles.
The point of this article is not to contradict or challenge another’s ideas. Instead my goal is to demonstrate the need to better understand what motivates the people you hire and intend to hire.
In order to be able to define and identify the differences in people you need to use hiring tools that lessen your reliance on gut feel and imprecise definitions of the motivational traits of sales candidates. When these tools are used as part of your hiring regime you will operate with a far more advanced understanding of what traits the job requires. Furthermore, mirroring your better understanding of the job, you will operate with a far more objective, clear and precise understanding of what truly makes the candidate tick. This is precisely why you should use a sales assessment test such as ours in your hiring. We would be pleased to hear from you if you would like to learn more.