Three Qualities of Top Sales People

I was interviewed recently by, a site dedicated to sharing sales best practices. During the interview, they asked me to identify the top three qualities required by sellers in today’s marketplace. (The full interview is here.)

At first, I thought is was a trick question. Consequently, my mind jumped to “it depends” as my first answer. Every situation is different; with different product capabilities, product quality, market dynamics, buyer personas, marketing support and more. But as I chewed on the question, the answer crystallized. Namely, because situations are so different, and they change continuously, and because sales people tend to change jobs on a frequent basis, the top three sales qualities have to do with staying on top, especially in chaos.

Attribute #1: Agility

Let’s explore some of the many challenges that sales people face, They have to battle competition that can change overnight, deal with ever shortening product life cycles, cross chasms from one buyer type to another, navigate political structures and gain access to more power stakeholders, and adjust their messaging to fit each customer, just to name a few challenges.

All of this translates to Agility being the most valued skill a modern sales person must possess to succeed. The Agile Seller is constantly in learning mode, looking ahead, and customizing their sales messaging for each contact on a consistent basis. They embrace the opportunity to engage unfamiliar stakeholders, modify corporate presentations to become more interactive, and tailor their business proposals to resonate with each individual prospect. In a nut shell, they are in a constant state of tweaking, iterating, experimenting and learning.

Attribute #2: Self Awareness

Border Collies are truly one of the most agile creatures on the face of this planet. And my border collie, Lizzie, is no exception to this generalization. However, as she has aged, I’ve noticed her adapting her skills to navigate the challenges brought on by age.

Where she would once chase her cattle dog friend, Cal, from behind, nipping at his heels to trip him up, she now let’s him run in a circle and times an attack when he’s least expecting it, usually with a flanking move when he looks the other way. She knows that she’s not as fast as she used to be, so she has adapted a new strategy to stay on top of her game.

Just like Lizzie, today’s top sellers have to leverage self awareness to succeed in an ever changing environment. My suggestion is to develop a list of situational awareness topics to check yourself against on a regular basis. For example, here’s the list I use with my clients to help them sell more:

  • Have I mutually identified and confirmed the problem set with this client?
  • Have I identified which of these problems will help me to differentiate my solution?
  • Have I identified and confirmed the current business issues that have the attention of their senior management?
  • Have I uncovered the impact of taking or not taking action in terms of money, time, or intangible results?
  • Have I identified all of the stakeholders who have a say in this purchase and developed a plan to gain access to them?
  • Have I developed a formal plan with my sponsor for proving our capabilities (To mitigate what I call “proof creep”, see Foresight below)

They only sure way to stay on top of change is to check yourself against your current challenges. If you come up short, your self discovered observations will provide you with more motivation to change then having it come from your manager or others.

Attribute #3: Foresight

The best sellers track buying behaviors and plan ahead. For example, most buyers change their minds about common commitments they’ve made to the seller, such as the duration of their evaluation. The Agile seller will document the agreed upon evaluation duration (among other commitments) in anticipation of the buyer changing his or her mind. When the time comes and the buyer asks for an extension, the seller references their agreement, but agrees to change the duration for something in return. Then they ask for something that was denied earlier, overlooked, or presents itself as an opportunity. Examples might include access to more powerful stakeholders, a collaboration on developing the buying justification, or an introduction to a colleague at another company. In any case, the seller knows that buyers change their mind and uses that to maintain control on the buying process.

As another illustration, Robyn is a sales person for a company that I’ve been consulting with for about a year now. She tells me that she has integrated a request to meet with the security organization into her daily pattern. “I started noticing that almost every prospect would go through the whole evaluation phase, get funding approval, and then suddenly realize they had to get the buy in of the security team to make a purchase. Now I ask up front for their engagement to avoid delays in purchases.” Robyn has demonstrated the foresight skill and leveraged it to her advantage.

Please share your ideas on the top qualities a sales person must possess to succeed in your market.