Leadership 101 – Making Your Invisible Sales Stars Shine

There is an age-old sales argument about whether sales skills or personal attributes make the best sales professionals. While many state that product knowledge and “selling game plans” are the true linchpins of success, others suggest that the proper attitude is the only thing necessary to become a sales superstar.

In short, it all comes down to one thought:

Is it possible to be a great sales person if you have no prior experience with the product you’re selling?

What the Research Says

In 1983, Greenburg & Greenburg showed that only 20% of sales performers in their study made up 80% of an organization’s total book of business. They also found that 55% of salespeople had little to no sales aptitude–that is, the ability to close a deal and walk a customer through that funnel smoothly. The study suggests that such an uneven distribution might exist in your own business: you might have lots of people who completely understand your product, but who do not possess the skill and experience to close simply because it’s not their job.

Research has fortunately identified a few traits that are common among successful sellers, including individuals who have no experience selling. By identifying people with these traits in your company, you can redistribute this percentage quite drastically, resulting in a more even sales profile among employees. This creates an ecosystem where anyone who is knowledgeable about your product feels both confident and empowered to sell it when necessary, and in turn increases the quality of your business.

10 Common Traits Among Sales Superstars

In order to be able to identify the kinds of people you need on your team, it is vital to know what you’re looking for. These traits have been identified by researchers over the last 30 years as the most desirable for success in the sales industry. (Sardar & Patton, “What Makes a Great Salesperson? Links Between Our Heritage and the Future.” Anzmac)

  1. Sees obstacles as challenges
  2. Takes responsibility for results
  3. Is empathetic
  4. Exhibits above-average ambition
  5. Is goal-oriented
  6. Talks to strangers easily
  7. Has high energy
  8. Is self-confident
  9. Is  money-motivated
  10. Needs to make a difference

Although this list might seem daunting at first, finding in individual with at least five of these qualities is a good indication that they could be successful on your team. The goal is to keep your eyes open and look for the hidden success signals that you may not be seeing.

The Unsung Office Sales Superstars

As a sales manager, it’s likely that you deal with sales professionals in your industry on a regular basis. You’ve seen successful and unsuccessful reps and are intimately familiar with the ways these attributes can manifest themselves. The question is: are you keeping “sales blinders” from seeing those attributes in non-sales staff?

Consider this scenario:

Charlotte was hired on as an assistant office manager a few months ago. Your clients love to stop by her desk to engage in chipper banter when they pay, and she always gets files to your desk within minutes of your request. She has suggested a new payment system that will help your organization save money, and jokingly wondered if she could get a commission of the savings. She has no problem staying late to complete the weekly newsletter, and you’re always impressed with how good her writing makes your company look.

If you haven’t already seen the signs, it may be time to move Charlotte into a sales training position. Not only does she exhibit a knack with people, attention to detail, and above-average work ethic, she is goal-oriented and money-motivated. Given just a little sales instruction, she could be making far more money for your sales team than she could ever save your company as an office assistant.

Salespeople Hiding in Plain Sight

In your day-to-day business you come into contact with lots of people. While you know that each one of them may lead to a potential sale, you might not realize that each of them could also be a potential sales success story. From the guy at the coffee shop to the girl selling movie theater popcorn, it’s vital to keep your personal expectations of what a “professional” sales superstar is fluid. You never know where you’ll find that perfect cocktail of drive, social acuity, and determination.

Another area that your competitors are probably overlooking are the experienced and aging Baby Boomer generations. Everyone wants to hire the young and attractive 30-somethings to drive their sales sky-high. The problem is, youth has a premium, and it can be an expensive venture to hire a salesperson at the top of their game.

The 50-60 age group is often overlooked when it comes to hiring sales staff, despite their age and potential sales star qualifications. Don’t be afraid to hire an older sales professional who shows they have innate curiosity and a determination to succeed. Just because they are older doesn’t mean they can’t connect with customers personally. In fact, depending on your business, it might mean they’re the only ones who can connect.

Polishing Your Rusty Sales Staff – Or Replacing It

Finally, it is vital to take a look at your current sales stars and see if there is a way to polish their shine. Do they consistently exhibit the drive and determination that means sales success? Are they taking rejection personally, or focusing on brand knowledge rather than prospect need?

There are ways to help cultivate the skills necessary to be a good sales professional. Here are a few ideas to prompt personal growth from your staff and lead to better selling.

  • Have sales team members decompress after a failed sales meeting. Encourage them to focus on the things that they learned and how those lessons can improve future selling attempts.
  • Publicly acknowledge team members who take responsibility for both good and bad sales experiences. Acknowledge your own positive and negative interactions as well.
  • When in debriefing meetings post-sales call, make the focus on customer experience. For example: “Why do you think she made that decision? Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.”
  • Reward ambition, even if it doesn’t result in a product. For example: “I appreciate you staying late to complete that presentation. That’s the kind of ambition that will make you successful at this.”


Sales professionals who exhibit the traits of hard work, dedication, love of people, and goal-orientation may be the best sales people, regardless of their experience with the sales profession. If you keep your eyes open to those in your office and community, you may find that the shiniest sales stars are just waiting to be plucked from obscurity.

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