Sales superstars are elite performers. They constitute 4% of the sales force, deliver a disproportionate share (about 64%) of a company’s total sales receipts and take home as much as 50 times the income of their peers in the bottom 80%.
Detailed by Brian Tracy in Be a Sales Superstar, this finding validates the Pareto principle (aka the 80-20 rule) that stipulates that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of effort. For example, 80% of sales come from 20% of clients, or, in the case of top performers, 80% of high-value clients come from only 20% of sales reps.
The challenge of making it into the top 20% of sales reps is enormous, but so are the perks, which include six-figure salaries based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In this article, we’ll look at the skills and habits of the best salespeople and how you can set yourself up for a career full of sales success.
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How to be a great salesman or saleswoman in today’s landscape
So, how does one become an elite sales performer?
While there are striking similarities in how experts address the issue, the differences are just as pronounced. Whether these experts are outlining a process or enumerating personality traits, you’ll seldom find identical formulas for excellent sales performance coming from two independent sources.
For instance, experts differ in their opinions on which single quality best equips you for success, citing various traits such as grit and conscientiousness as the most important. Meanwhile, you’ll find self-help advice in the form of books, podcasts, articles and videos that promise to transform you into the ultimate sales professional.
Still, there are notable attempts at bringing some process, science and even analytics into the fray. InsightSquare parsed executive opinions on Quora, while Objective Management Group conducted rigorous research involving 1 million salespeople to isolate characteristics of top performers.
We’ve probed into these and other sources to find where they intersect and establish common grounds for further exploration.
The top 8 sales superstar qualities
Consider these qualities as the bedrock of selling excellence, something anyone who plans on pursuing a sales career and wondering how to become a salesman or saleswoman should build and improve on continually.
Top salespeople reach their enviable level by “owning” the things that matter: the product, the process and their performance. They assume responsibility for engagement outcomes and never point fingers nor make excuses when things go wrong. This trait compels salespeople to make excellence a pervasive and permanent influence in their workflow.
Because they consider themselves directly responsible for the success of all their efforts, these achievers always set high performance and quality standards for themselves, often exceeding those established by their organization.
It takes more than inborn talent to achieve saleswoman and salesman success and become a selling sensation. Arguably, you can become one even if you lack the inborn traits that some commenters on Quora believe predispose a person to a great career in selling. While not everyone accepts that great salespeople already had it in them at birth, everyone agrees that you need extensive sales training and the will to keep upgrading your sales skills to deliver consistently high performance.
Top performing salespeople always seek fresh, creative solutions to their challenges and are willing to learn new techniques and tools to up their game. Moreover, as seen in highly successful sales gurus, a passion for continuous learning and self-improvement often extends to other aspects of life such as health, family, lifestyle and social relationships.
Saleswoman and salesman success is determined by whether or not reps achieved the goals they set out to accomplish. We describe people who far surpass their goals as “extremely successful,” while we apply the term “dismal failure” to those who fall far below an established benchmark.
Hence, successful people are those who are focused on consistently accomplishing the objectives set out before them. As these goals are often represented by milestones and quantified by different metrics, sales superstars appreciate numbers, set sales goals and achieve them. In selling, these goals include sales targets, activity goals, success rate and efficiency ratios.
4. High motivation, will and grit
Sellers with low motivation rarely, if ever, achieve targets. That's understandable. Without motivation, you'll find it difficult to meet targets, much less exceed them. A few instances of customer rejection and sales objections can easily sap your will to go on.
In contrast, highly motivated sales representatives are driven to surpass targets, possess the grit to continue and overcome fear of rejection even amid discouraging circumstances, and view problems not as stumbling blocks but as opportunities for growth and improvement.
5. Product knowledge
You'll find it easier to sell something you know intimately than something you barely know anything about. All salespeople are expected to know the features and benefits of their product or service.
What differentiates superstars from the regular salesperson is that they know their wares so thoroughly that they are confident and proud of what they’re offering, and they possess the ability to spot new ways of leveraging the product as a solution to customers' unforeseen problems. More importantly, they have the discipline to keep updating their product knowledge to the point where they become authorities in the field.
6. Customer connection
An effective salesperson goes beyond product knowledge and cares about forming meaningful relationships with existing and potential customers. Much of selling involves knowing your customer's pain points and genuinely seeking to help them solve problems. Build trust and make great first impressions by speaking your customers’' language and leaning on soft skills like active listening to understand their concerns.
Good salesmen and saleswomen are highly attuned to their customers' needs and continually strive to help solve their problems. They have highly developed people skills, high emotional intelligence and next level communication skills. A good salesperson understands how to read body language, ask the right questions, handle complaints professionally and collaborate effectively with other sales team members.
7. Sales process conformity and adaptability
Superstars understand that selling is both a science and an art. Hence, they strongly adhere to a systematic and efficient sales process that makes their job easier to accomplish.
However, they can also draw on business creativity to adapt their approach to changing environments or scenarios. Because they keep their workflows aligned with an established process, these elite sellers keep their pipelines full and flowing.
Another lesson for those wondering how to be a great salesman or saleswoman is that superstars are always prospecting, following up and closing deals as fast as they can.
Additionally, sales superstars…:
Qualify leads. Top performers understand that to close deals fast, you must target the right prospects by weighing each lead against your buyer personas and ideal customer profiles.
Spend more time on sales activities. Top performers consistently follow -up, make more sales calls and spend time researching prospects so they can send tailored outreach that captures attention and elicits responses.
Ask for referrals. Sales Insight Labs’ recent study shows that only 18.6% of salespeople ask for referrals every day. One of the fastest ways to reach saleswoman or salesman success is to ask for introductions as often as possible.
Use social selling. Top performers use social media networks like LinkedIn to find leads, build relationships and close deals.
8. Time management
Time is the most valuable resource salespeople have at their disposal. That's why sales superstars prioritize customers who can generate the most value for the business.
To make sure they’re focusing on high value prospects and leads, sales superstars adopt and diligently use their CRM and other sales management tools. In the fast-paced world of sales, automating tedious tasks is critical; so is minimizing the time it takes to engage customers and close deals. When not helping clients, top sales performers spend time prospecting or mastering their skills.
If you are an entry-level sales rep, you already know how to become a salesman or saleswoman. You might think you already possess most of these skills to varying degrees and consider yourself to be a good salesperson.
However, to become an elite sales professional, you need to practice and hone your skills at work and join training programs that will help you develop critical traits. It might take years to master all of them and reach top saleswoman and salesman success, but given how highly successful salespeople exude confidence, wisdom and fulfillment, it's certainly worth doing.
If you want to learn which countries are the biggest sales superstars, check out our Global Sales Performance Review.