7 Signs You're Meant for Sales

In the film "Tommy Boy," David Spade's character describes the high-caliber salesmanship of "Big Tom" as follows: "He could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves." That might be a bit far-fetched, but you get the point. With selling skills like that, you have to wonder if good salespeople are born or made. Realistically, it's probably a little bit of both, but there's no denying that personality can make or break a sales career. Read on to find out if you have the seven personality traits that, when combined with study and practice, produce sales superstars.


Three women talking

Image via Flickr by Jason Hargrove

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), extroversion refers to the "act or state of being energized by the world outside the self." In other words, extroverts derive energy and pleasure from socializing with others. They tend to talk more, show more enthusiasm, and assert themselves more than introverts. Sales careers require constant interaction with established and prospective customers, so it makes sense that successful salespeople would find this critical component of the job exhilarating rather than depleting.

Research shows that extroverts have an advantage in sales for three reasons: 1) extroverts tend to be outgoing and sociable in their interactions, 2) extroverts tend to be more persuasive due to their confidence and enthusiasm, and 3) extroverts are more insistent than introverts, making them more convincing.



While it might seem counterintuitive, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that 91 percent of top salespeople had medium to high scores of humility and modesty on personality tests. The results of that study also suggested that salespeople who show very high levels of confidence and bravado actually alienate customers. HBR speculates that modesty drives success in sales because it produces a team orientation. Modest salespeople put the team -- such as management, consulting, and technical engineers -- instead of themselves at the center of the sale to help close the deal.



With this attribute, it's hard to determine whether this is a learned skill of successful salespeople or an innate quality. Regardless, the aforementioned HBR study found that less than 10 percent of top salespeople demonstrate high levels of discouragement or frequent sadness. In fact, 90 percent reported experiencing infrequent or only occasional sadness.

Disappointments are an inevitable part of sales, but those who succeed in the profession bounce back quickly without taking losses to heart. The result is competitiveness -- resilient salespeople keep themselves in the game mentally and emotionally so past disappointments don't taint future opportunities.


Also referred to as lack of self-consciousness, confidence is another salient attribute of successful salespeople. Sellers deal with rejection often, so having a healthy level of self-assurance going into interactions helps cushion these setbacks. HBR defined a confident seller as someone who is not bashful, easily embarrassed, or inhibited. Their study found that less than five percent of top sellers demonstrated high levels of self-consciousness. With regard to selling style, the corollary of confidence is aggressiveness. Good salespeople make a zealous case for their product and brand and are not afraid of resistance or opposition.


Moderate Gregariousness

It's hard to part with the stereotype of a salesperson as a back-slapping, fast-talking, glad-handing person who wheels and deals his way into success. However, new research from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School begs to differ with this folk wisdom. Wharton's study found that top salespeople are less gregarious than one might think. The salespeople who brought in the most revenue actually showed less gregariousness -- about 30 percent less -- than those ranking in the bottom one-third of performers.

The study points out that top sellers seem to have perfected the art of moderate gregariousness -- they display the beneficial traits of assertiveness and excitement, but they temper them, so they don't come across as arrogance, self-involvement, or bravado. These latter traits can make customers feel like they're being manipulated by a salesperson who's more interested in talking than listening. Salespeople with moderate levels of gregariousness strike a balance between listening and talking, as well as selling and serving.



The American Psychological Association did a study in 1993 on the performance of sales reps. The results showed that the #1 predictor of sales success is conscientiousness, which HBR defines as "having a strong sense of duty and being responsible and reliable." Conscientious people work hard, are goal-oriented, and hold themselves to high standards -- all qualities that serve salespeople especially well. Salespeople with this trait take personal responsibility for their numbers and hold themselves accountable for their performance. Because they are so personally invested in their jobs, conscientious salespeople are proactive and go out of their way to achieve their desired outcome.


Goal Orientation

Top sales performers have high achievement or goal orientation. Salespeople with this characteristic focus on achieving goals and constantly assess their performance in light of their goals. However, the specific type of goal orientation can make or break a sales career.

A study by Southern Methodist University found that performance goal orientation, which causes individuals to view a challenge as a threat, leads to poor sales performance. Salespeople with performance goal orientation tend to withdraw from the task and lose interest because they fear failure. By contrast, sellers with a learning goal orientation see a challenge as an opportunity to grow and become better. When facing adversity, these sellers persist and intensify their efforts to prevail, while also enjoying the challenge. Salespeople with this orientation demonstrate far better performance outcomes as a result.

The notion of balance is an important one in defining the ideal personality of a salesperson. On the one hand, a successful seller must be a good conversationalist, enjoy people, and have a healthy degree of confidence. On the other hand, top performers also demonstrate conscientiousness, accountability, and humility while avoiding over-the-top gregariousness. If the seven attributes mentioned here describe you to a tee, you already have a head start on the competition when it comes to forging an illustrious career as a salesperson.

Contributed to jobs.net by Courtney Rudd

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