What Makes a Good Salesperson? 11 Traits of High-Performers

What makes a good salesperson?

Becoming a good salesperson doesn’t happen by accident, and that’s actually a net positive for managers and sales reps alike.

Why? Because while some skills are innate, the best salespeople actually focus on developing skills that will result in more productivity and closed deals. 

When we talk about the ‘best salespeople’, we’re talking about reps who:

  • Consistently meet their sales quotas
  • Approach their work confidently, positively and proactively
  • Understand how to use technology to be as efficient as possible

In this article, we’ll explain how to be a great salesperson plus more by breaking down eleven common traits of high-performers. In addition to highlighting must-have soft skills, we’ll also dive into recent trends from our State of Sales Report 2019-2020. So, what makes a good salesperson?

  1. They’re critical thinkers
  2. They’re empathetic
  3. They’re good listeners
  4. They’re ambitious
  5. They have a hunger to learn
  6. They love what they do
  7. They know when to walk away
  8. They possess problem-solving skills
  9. They’re happy to collaborate
  10. They’re focused
  11. They’re optimistic

1. They’re critical thinkers

For starters when thinking about what makes a good salesperson, a good salesperson can think on their feet. So much of sales is making decisions in-the-moment. This includes overcoming sales objections and other situations where a prospect might present a roadblock.

Rather than freeze up or get frustrated, skilled salespeople think ahead. For example, let’s say a prospect keeps bringing up one of your competitors. This is the perfect opportunity to steer the conversation away from the competition and focus on proving that your product is a better option. Careful not to talk about the services or features that your competitors lack as that could cause the prospect to fall into a negative mindset and focus on the features that you lack as well. Instead, reinforce which solutions you can offer them that will uniquely and proactively solve their problem or pain point and reframe the conversation to focus on what makes your solution special.

However, critical thinking is about more than anticipating questions and knowing how to deal with challenging sales calls. A good salesperson also knows how to use critical thinking to prioritize their schedules.

As noted by our State of Sales Report 2019-2020, only 16% of respondents said that they “always” hit their sales quotas. There are plenty of factors that lead to missed quotas and poor time management is a big one. In fact, only 22% of sales reps use an effective time management methodology

It’s important to understand what your priorities are on any given day. For example, who should you be following up with? Which deals just can’t wait? Conversely, which deals aren’t worth the effort and should be deprioritized through your lead qualification process?


High-performing reps learn and perfect key sales activities that allow them to make the most out of the time in their day. Tools like Pipedrive empower critical thinkers to make smart time-management decisions by highlighting “what’s next” on their to-do lists.

Pipedrive helps reps become great salespeople

Rather than second-guess your next sales activity, you can better organize and prioritize your tasks. If nothing else, this can help save you some brainpower that you can spend on your decision-making skills during sales calls.

2. They’re empathetic

Good salespeople know what it means to walk in their customers’ shoes. The importance of empathy when thinking about what makes a good salesperson can’t be overstated. You can’t create any sort of personal connection with your prospects without understanding where they’re coming from.

For example, what sort of struggles and pain points are they facing? What are your customers’ desires, goals and motivations? 

Developing empathy means knowing your customers inside and out. From reviewing customer personas to shadowing successful agents and actually interviewing customers, empathy is a key piece of training and developing a sales team. 

Developing soft selling skills like empathy means putting what you’ve learned into practice. This means actually talking to customers and using empathic statements naturally within the conversation, such as, “I understand” or “You’re completely right”. 

It’s critical that empathy is not perceived as tied to any sort of script. It must be genuine if you expect a prospect to trust your intentions. Practicing empathy ultimately makes you more approachable, which is a huge part of how you become a great salesperson.

3. They’re good listeners

Piggybacking on the previous point, you need to listen closely to what your prospects are saying. As noted in our guide to consultative selling, soft sales skills such as active listening are make-or-break for modern sales teams. This is backed up by our State of Sales survey, which found that sales professionals who regularly worked on their soft skills were more likely to consider themselves successful.

how to be a good salesperson soft skills

Lacking active listening skills can lead to poor customer-relationships, which is one of the biggest reasons for churn. In other words, you need to be able to not only understand what your prospects say but also read between the lines. For example, do they sound hesitant? Annoyed? Are you sitting through a bunch of awkward pauses? 

The ability to pick up on your prospects’ tone relates back to the importance of quick, critical thinking. Based on research from RingCentral, having to repeat oneself is among the biggest pet peeves of people talking to companies on the phone. 

That’s why it’s crucial to keep track of not only the subtext of what your customers have to say but also specific details.

4. They’re ambitious

No surprises here: an effective salesperson is driven. Maybe that drive comes from a sense of competition among coworkers or perhaps it’s partially motivated by commissions. Either way, good salespeople are go-getters that naturally want to improve without having to be told to do so.

If you want to know what motivates your reps, don’t be shy about asking them. This is especially vital during the interviewing, hiring and onboarding processes. You want your new hires to want to know how to be a great salesman or saleswoman so that they can improve and progress.

what makes a great salesman or saleswomen

5. They have a hunger to learn

According to data from Gallup, employee engagement goes up when workers are allowed to develop their skills in the workplace. The same logic rings true for your sales reps.

High-level reps don’t feel forced to figure out how to become a better salesperson. Instead, they take those steps because they want to. Ideally, your company should support them in doing so.

But according to our report, the vast majority of salespeople say that they’re developing their sales skills “on the job” (92%) and just over half (51%) are learning via “feedback from their manager”, which is the next most common development technique.

Although firsthand experience is obviously a positive, it’s definitely not the only way that salespeople can or should hone their craft. Also, some of the most important soft skills require you to get perspective beyond your day-to-day tasks. Key examples include:

  • Attending webinars and conferences
  • Consuming content from sales leaders (blog posts, podcasts, videos)
  • Self-guided online courses from reputable salespeople
  • Sales and psychology books
  • Working with a mentor
  • Pursuing sales certifications
  • Manager feedback (as noted above)
  • Performance analysis

There’s no shortage of options for developing your skill stack, but that last point is a big one. Regularly reviewing your performance data makes it easier to understand which areas of the sales pipeline you might be struggling with and how you can get better.

6. They love what they do

It might sound like a no-brainer, but successful salespeople actually enjoy their jobs. Studies show that workers who consider themselves “happy” in their roles are ultimately 13% more productive.

Passionate reps are the ones that relish the challenge of a cold sales call. They thrive by being around their co-workers, supported even more by a competitive environment. That happiness translates into sales soft skills such as confidence, making agents even more magnetic to leads and prospects on the phone.

When figuring out how to be good at sales, perhaps the one thing you can’t learn is passion. If you have someone on your team that’s pumped about their sales career, do everything you can to nurture that sense of pride.

7. They know when to walk away

What separates a top salesperson from an average one? The former knows when to walk away from an opportunity.

As the old saying goes, time is money. Our survey data notes that over a third of salespeople struggle most with prospecting and lead qualification, which are two of the biggest time-wasters when deals don’t actually end up going anywhere. 

Reps should have a ballpark idea of how long it takes to decide whether or not a prospect is worthwhile (20 minutes on the phone, two weeks of emails, etc.). This also reinforces the need for reps to have deep knowledge of your product and service to know right away whether or not prospects match your customer personas.

You should likewise know what a qualified lead looks like in terms of their behavior. For example, which lead generation channels are the most likely to convert? This is yet again where a CRM can be a game-changer.

8. They possess problem-solving skills

Salespeople often deal with tight schedules and a seemingly never-ending to-do list. That’s why so much of figuring out how to be a good salesperson means being resourceful. 

This means being a self-starter that’s able to make use of the knowledge and tools in front of you rather than constantly needing to ask others for help. Your sales strategy should be dynamic rather than rigid and forcing you to stick to a single process or call script.

After all, no two prospects are the same. With prospects expecting more and more from salespeople in terms of both trust and problem-solving, the ability to think and act on your own is crucial. This ties back to number 1 on this list: critical thinking.

9. They’re happy to collaborate

Although a good salesperson is typically a self-starter, no agent should be a total island. A study conducted by CSO Insights notes that collaboration increases sales quota attainment by as much as 21%.

Whether it’s sales team collaboration or working with marketing team members, communication is key in the modern workplace and an important trait in what makes a good salesperson. From emails to internal communication channels and beyond, the ability to go back-and-forth with your team seamlessly is a huge point in your favor for getting things done.

10. They’re focused

As a salesperson, you’ll often be juggling multiple deals at once, all of which require qualifying, nurturing, note-taking, follow-ups, pitches and much more. It’s understandable why so many salespeople get bogged down and lose hours of their day without realizing it.

That’s why it’s so important to do what you can to focus without bouncing between tasks. Technology helps monumentally with this. In fact, companies that don’t leverage technology efficiently experience a 12% decrease in their goal achievement rate. And in our own State of Sales study, we discovered that there was a clear correlation between using lead generation or CRM technology and sales success. 

By consolidating your tech tools, you can keep your in-house and customer communication consolidated in one place. Productivity hacks and deep work can help keep you focused, but all the salesperson tips in the world can’t replace a solid software stack.

11. They’re optimistic

Working in sales means experiencing a lot of unanswered emails and calls, rescheduled meetings and hearing the inevitable ‘no’ quite often. That’s because not everyone you reach out to will be interested, or have the time, to learn more about the product or service you’re selling, even if you know that it has the potential to solve many of their problems and grievances. 

The best salespeople learn how to overcome rejection and sales objections and move onto the next prospect with continued optimism. Moreover, superstar sales reps learn how to reframe their mindset in order to celebrate hearing ‘no’, as it means they are one step closer to making a sale. Plus, honing the ability to proactively lose allows you to objectively identify common sales objections, which will help you in your future efforts.

Ultimately, maintaining optimism helps you to stay calm, think more clearly, increase your sales stamina and hone your skills.

Bonus: How to effectively highlight sales skills in your job application

Now that we’ve broken down how to be a great salesman or saleswoman who goes above and beyond, let’s review how you can put your skills front-and-center.

If you’re a sales manager, you’re tasked with uncovering soft sales skills from your interviewees and new hires. The problem? You can’t actually see them in action. That’s why you need to determine the following when combing through candidates’ experience:

  • Whether or not they actually have concrete results and hard data from their previous sales roles
  • Their ambition and what “hard work” means to them
  • Do they understand what a sales cycle looks like and which data points and KPIs matter the most?
  • Whether or not they’re open-minded and willing to adapt to your company
  • Do they actually enjoy being a salesperson?

Let’s say you’re a salesperson that’s looking to impress hiring managers with your skills. Whether you want to stand out via LinkedIn, Google search, or an in-person interview, make note of the following:

  • Metrics and data points related to your previous sales performance
  • Specific challenges you’ve managed to overcome as a salesperson
  • Long-term sales career goals
  • Why you have a passion for sales in the first place

That’s the short of it, but you can check out our resume guide for job seekers and sales hiring managers if you want to learn more.

Final thoughts

There are tons of soft skills for superstar salespeople to focus on and acquiring and improving them will help to significantly enhance your overall performance.

A combination of the skills above and the right tools is the perfect combination to ensure that you’re empowered to be productive in any sales role. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our State of Sales Report 2019-2020 for the biggest sales trends of the year and beyond.

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