A unique combination of personality dynamics separates the top performers from the rest.
By Herbert M. Greenberg, Ph.D.
Herbert M. Greenberg is president and CEO of Caliper, a team-building company based in Princeton, N.J. Caliper helps small companies as well as large corporations hire the best employees and build winning organizations.
How do you identify people who have what it takes to become the top producers in your sales force? What do the top 20 percent of salespeople have that the rest can only dream of? How do the true professionals make selling seem so natural? And why is it that most salespeople, regardless of how hard they work, simply cannot make the grade?
Smart hiring decisions can make the difference between profit and loss in your company and can turn a marginal sales force into a team of superstars. Learning how to find the “right people” for your team should be the first step toward building a successful sales force.
But who are “the right people”? How can you identify those natural salespeople, the top 20 percent who have what it takes to sell for your company? And why does it seem so difficult to predict whether an individual has what it takes to sell successfully?
The problem isn’t a lack of people who have the inherent talent and potential to make it in sales. Quite the contrary, our studies actually show that virtually one out of every four people in the general population has far better ability to sell than most people currently in the sales profession. The difficulty lies in trying to guess which one of these candidates possesses this ability. Having evaluated more than 1 million individuals for virtually every business position, we have found that most of the very best salespeople possess four fundamental personality qualities: empathy, ego drive, ego strength and service motivation. They are the ones who will not only succeed in sales but will become your top producers. But without these qualities, sales is an extremely hard road.
Why is this?
It takes a very special person to understand a prospect’s needs, to come up with appropriate solutions, to be able to ask for an order assertively, to service an account once it is brought on board and to take the inevitable amount of rejection involved. Salesmanship, after all, is not order-taking. Salesmanship involves being on the line.
So what kinds of people are motivated to face the challenge and – more often than not – the rejection that salespeople must endure to make a living?
The ability to accurately sense the reactions of other people and to recognize the clues and cues they provide allows you to relate effectively to them.
The salesperson with poor empathy aims at the target as best he or she can but lacks the guidance mechanism to home in on the bull’s eye. The one with excellent empathy is not hemmed in by prepared sales tracts but can sense prospects’ reactions and make the creative modifications necessary.
Ego drive is the inner need to persuade another individual as a means of gaining personal gratification. The ego-driven individual wants and needs this victory in an intensely personal way as a powerful enhancement of self-esteem. Ego drive is not ambition, aggression, energy or even the willingness to work hard. The ego-driven individual needs achievement in successful persuasion, not only for the material benefits but for the feeling of satisfaction that comes from the victory.
For the real sales pro, that satisfaction comes from the successful one-on-one persuasion of another person. The ego-driven individual feels 9 feet tall when the prospect finally says, “I’ll take it.”
It must be recognized that although empathy and ego drive are separate characteristics, they are inseparable when it comes to sales ability. Ego drive is the motivating force launching the salesperson toward the potential customer, and empathy is the guidance mechanism that allows the salesperson to follow the prospect through typical evasions and objections until the prospect’s real needs are targeted and the sale is closed.
The individual with a great deal of ego drive and not much empathy will win over a certain number of customers through sheer drive, but one sidestep by a prospect will result in the salesperson’s running into the outfield fence.
On the other hand, the seller with a great deal of empathy and not much ego drive is probably a nice person and will even get a few orders because of that. But he will lose too many sales because he is lacking the real motivation to close.
Salespeople need resilience to bounce back from rejection and be even more motivated on the next attempt. They must never feel totally demolished when a sale is lost. How rejection is dealt with is as basic to successful selling as having empathy and ego drive. The degree of self-acceptance is a key to sales success. Individuals with healthy, intact egos like and accept the way they are. This permits their personality dynamics to operate freely and fully, and they function at or near top capacity.
Now, more than ever, having an inner need to come through for others – and to be appreciated by them – is necessary for success in sales. Such people have a need to get things done in a timely manner, and they have an attitude and conviction that if they commit themselves to do something, they will get it done and it will be done right. Their word is golden. For the service-motivated person, getting someone to say “Thank you, you did a good job” provides the same kind of gratification as getting someone to say “Yes” does for an ego-driven person.
The major personality dynamics of successful salespeople, then, are empathy, ego drive, ego strength and service motivation. Lack of any one characteristic can guarantee sales failure, but possession does not automatically guarantee success.
Depending on the sales situation, other qualities may be required for success, such as the ability to make decisions and judgments quickly or the ability to negotiate and to prospect persistently. And, as mentioned, there are situations where somewhat less strength in one area can be compensated by the other key qualities.
Therefore, the overall challenge in selecting and developing successful salespeople is to thoroughly understand the requirements of the specific sales job, then to seek individuals who possess the requisite personality strengths.
Given the staggering cost of mistakes in hiring, it is obviously good business to make every effort to reduce the number of such mistakes. The answer lies in selecting only those people who possess the right personality dynamics.