Some salespeople suck and stay stuck. Others manage to go way above average. A few become sales superstars. These elite performers — who constitute 4% of the sales force — deliver a disproportionate share (about 64%) of a company’s total sales receipts and rightly 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) and should spur you to join the top 20%. From there, you can eventually achieve superstardom by being among the best of that already high-performing club. The challenge is enormous, but so are the perks, which include six-figure salaries based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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 hundreds of 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. We've created a list of qualities based on these common grounds. Consider these qualities as the bedrock of selling excellence, something anyone who plans on pursuing a sales career should build and improve on continually.
What makes a sales superstar?
- Responsibility. Top sales professionals 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.
- Trainability. It takes more than inborn talent to become a selling sensation. Arguably, you can even 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 training and the will to keep upgrading your skills to deliver consistently high performance. Top people in sales 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 – passion for continuous learning and self-improvement often extends to other aspects of life such as health, family, lifestyle, and social relationships.
- Goal-Orientedness. Success is determined by whether or not we achieved the goals we've 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 individuals 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, setting and achieving goals all the time. In selling, these goals include sales targets, activity goals, success rate, and efficiency ratios.
- High Motivation/Will/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 can easily sap your will to go on. In contrast, highly motivated sales professionals are driven to surpass targets, possess the grit to continue even amid discouraging circumstances, and view problems not as stumbling blocks but as opportunities for growth and improvement.
- 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.
- Customer Connection. If knowing the product is important, then loving customers is doubly so. Much of selling involves knowing your customer's pain points and genuinely seeking to help them solve problems. Build trust by speaking your customers' language and actively listening to their concerns. Excellent sales professionals simply love people and continually strive to help solve customers' problems that lie within their expertise. They maintain a customer-focused outlook and develop relevant skills – such as listening, asking questions, complaint handling and closing sales – that will help them serve clients better.
- Sales Process Conformity/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. Superstars are always prospecting, following up and closing deals as fast as they could.
- Time Management. Time is the most valuable resource salespeople have at their disposal. And it's surely something you should never waste. That's why sales superstars prioritize customers who can generate the most value for the business. 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.
Build your sales superstar credentials now
You might think you already possess most of these skills in varying degrees. But to become an elite sales professional, you need to have all of them in ample amounts. 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. But given how highly successful salespeople exude confidence, wisdom and fulfilment, it's certainly worth doing.
If you want to learn which countries are the biggest sales superstars, check out our Global Sales Performance Review.