Module 2: Choose Your Path

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Sales Characteristics

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Sales Characteristics

Are You Born to Sell?
People think that successful salespeople are those who have the “gift of the gab,” but that’s not really what makes salespeople effective. Although communication and relationship building are valuable skills, just being able to talk to people is not enough to be successful in sales. After completing this module, you will better understand the profession of selling and what it has to offer, including insights about which personal characteristics and talents are best suited to sales, which industries you might work in, and how you can be successful in the profession.

When Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, delivered the commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, he told the story of how he and Steve Wozniak started the now $32 billion company in a garage in 1976. Jobs said, “I was lucky—I found out what I wanted to do early in life.” [1] But life at Apple wasn’t always so perfect. When he was thirty, just one year after the launch of the Macintosh, he was fired from the company he founded. Although he was publicly humiliated and frustrated and didn’t know what to do next, he realized that he indeed loved what he did. From there he went on to start Pixar, the company that created Toy Story.
He left the Stanford graduates with some personal words of wisdom: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” [2]

The most successful salespeople know how to engage with their customers.

They let the customers identify for themselves the way the product or service offered can deliver value. Consider the following points that make a salesperson successful, are they a good match to you and your skills.

It never goes without saying that character—the combination of your beliefs, tendencies, and actions that you take—is the single defining trait for a salesperson. [3] Your character defines how you will conduct yourself, and it is the yardstick by which customers measure you. After all, your customers are spending their money based on what you say you will deliver; they have to trust you.

According to a survey by Forrester Research, trust and believability are so important in the buying and selling processes that 71 percent of buyers based their decisions on these traits. [4]

The most successful salespeople know how to engage their customers in a way that helps the customers identify for themselves the way the product or service offered can deliver value.

The Xerox Company, says it best: “Your prospect will never buy because you present a pitch. She instead buys from what she convinces herself of. This means that if you are selling a watch, telling your prospect you will cure his ignorance of time will not be enough. Your prospect will literally talk to himself to discover that this watch will indeed keep him from running late. He will not listen to you; he will only listen to himself.” [5]

Speaking is not the most important aspect of selling—listening is, because “salespeople are communicators, not manipulators.” [6] “Listening builds relationships,” according to Marjorie Brody, author of Help! Was That a Career-Limiting Move? [7]

According to Barry J. Elms, CEO of Strategic Negotiations International, psychologists say that we listen using only 25 percent of our brain. [8] Salespeople who take notes, refer to written material, and are intently aware of their nonverbal cues can be extremely successful because they see and hear things that people who are talking just can’t absorb. [9]

It was Einstein who said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first fifty-five minutes to formulate the right question because as soon as I had identified the right question, I knew I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” [10]

This demonstrates the power of asking the right questions. Those questions can only be asked when you listen and have the ability to connect. Paul Blake, believes that asking the right questions is vital to the success of his sales force. That’s why he asks one key question when he is interviewing candidates: “Do you believe you have the right to change someone’s opinion?” [11]

Willingness to Learn

Although you are building a strong foundation, you will continue to learn new things every day when you are working.

Salespeople must not only have product knowledge and understand the buying and selling process; they must also learn skills that will make them more effective and efficient as salespeople. If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in sales, keep in mind that like other professions it takes time, training, and experience to be successful.

Drive to Succeed

You can’t be successful if you don’t set goals. Great salespeople set goals for themselves, achieve them, and celebrate those achievements. They visualize what they want, then put together a plan to get it. [14]

The drive to succeed is important not only in sales, but also in everyday life.

Consider US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. He set out to do something that no one else had ever done: win eight Olympic gold medals. It’s instructive to look at his drive to succeed and what he did to prepare and achieve his goals.

You can only succeed when you go the extra mile, by investigating one more lead, going back for the second sales call even when the first hasn’t been successful, and trial closing even if you are not sure you can really get the sale.[16]

It’s the eternal optimism that pushes you, even when others might think there is no reason to pursue the sale. If you think you can make it happen, you should definitely be in sales.

You can set yourself apart by taking smart business risks. Great salespeople go beyond the norm to explore and test the waters. For example, making phone calls to senior executives that you have never met, networking with people you don’t know, or making a presentation to a room full of customers all involve some level of risk. [17]
Taking risks in life and in selling is best summed up by Lisa McCullough, a high-profile stuntwoman: “Don’t focus on your fears, focus on what you want.” [18]

“No risk, no reward” is a familiar saying. But best-selling author Jeffrey Gitomer says, “No risk, no nothing.”

He believes the only way to succeed is to take risks and sometimes fail. It’s the failures that can lead to success. [19]

It may sound intuitive that successful salespeople shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a customer’s order, but you would be surprised at how often it happens. Most customers want you to ask for their order. “Would you like fries with your hamburger?” “What can I get you for dessert?” and “Would you like to pay with credit or debit?” are all examples of salespeople asking for the order.
A large percentage of the time these salespeople are successful,and meet their customers’ needs at the same time. You reduce your chances of being successful if you don’t ask for the order. [20]

Most sales positions require independence, self-motivation, and discipline. Independence is especially important if you are calling on customers in person.

It usually requires travel, which means that you have to be able to manage your time. In fact, it means that you set your schedule and do what you need to do to meet your sales goals. But having this kind of independence requires discipline. Salespeople must be focused and hardworking in the long term.

As Michael Janusz, an account manager at ACL Laboratories put it, “I went into sales because of the dynamic environment, competitive aspect, and income potential. I do think there is a shortage of good salespeople.

I think this is because it takes a unique blend of skills and a disciplined person. There are many people who can talk well, manage a territory well, or work hard. However, not many can put it all together.” [21]

Along with the need for independence comes the importance of flexibility. Just as you are able to set your own schedule, you have to be flexible based on your customers’ needs.

Most sales positions are not nine-to-five jobs.

That means you might be traveling out of town during the week or even for long periods of time, especially if you are selling internationally. You have to be available when your customers want to buy.

If you’re not passionate about what you’re selling, how do you expect your customers to believe in you and your product? You have to love what you do, believe in it, and feel passionately about it.

Passion encompasses all the traits mentioned above; it’s how they all come together. Passion is the element that sets you apart from other salespeople and makes your prospects and customers believe in you and your product or service.

Every profession requires a lot of those who pursue it. Mahan Khalsa, founder of Franklin Covey Sales Performance Group and author of Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play: The Demise of Dysfunctional Selling and the Advent of Helping Clients Succeed, sums up the traits of a successful salesperson this way: “[22]

There are three traits that define a
successful salesperson:

IQ or intelligence quotient, the ability to create rapport and build trust
EQ or emotional intelligence, a good way to approach and follow up sales
XQ or executional intelligence; the ability to execute the sale

Creating Value

The role of a salesperson can be summed up in one sentence: “Salespeople are value creators.” [24]

For example, Apple salespeople are not just those that are pushing a product, hoping that you buy so that they make their sales quota.

They are experts who know everything about the products in the store whether they be MacBooks, iPods, or iPhones.

Apple salespeople engage you in dialogue, listen, and learn about what you are looking for. They ask questions, such as:

What do you do with the photos you take?
Do you like to make videos?
Do you want to easily access the internet from your phone?

No techno-talk, no slick sales pitches.

They just want to know what’s important to you so that they can let you try the product that not only fits your basic computing needs, but blows you away.

To build trust and confidence with their customers, Apple developed the Genius Bar so that Apple users know that they can always to talk to an individual and find help with any problem or question they may have.

In fact, Apple dedicates a section of their Web site to the Genius Bar and invites customers to make an appointment online to come to a store to talk to one of the “resident Geniuses.”

As a result, Apple is able to charge a premium for its product and generate such demand that in some cases people are lined up to buy their products, as was the case for the launch of the iPhone 3GS in 2009. [25]

WII-FM (What’s In It For Me)

While a job in sales can be demanding, it can also be very rewarding in many ways. Even in these days of iPods and Pandora,WII-FM (What’s In It For Me) is an internal radio station that everyone listens to.

It’s not a bad thing to think about what’s in it for you. After all, if you are considering investing your career in the selling profession, you should know what’s in it for you. The life of a salesperson is never dull. You could be working with a single or multiple customers. You might work in a corporate office, or you might work from your home.

You might talk to customers via phone, live chat, instant message, and text, or you might meet with them in their office in your neighborhood, your region, or anywhere around the world.

You might be working on research to identify new customers, preparing a presentation for a new or existing customer, meeting with customers face-to-face, following up to get contracts signed, or communicating inside your organization to be sure all goes well to deliver the product or service to the customer on time and on budget. On any given day you might be working on any number of activities to support an existing customer or to approach, present, or close a new customer.

What Can You Achieve?

A job in selling can be a gateway to wherever you want to go. Selling could eventually give you fame and fortune, but more immediately it can also give you the satisfaction of providing solutions to people, financial opportunity, even financial independence. Sales drive every company’s growth. When you are in sales, you are responsible for the future of the company. That’s why many sales positions offer unlimited income potential. Sales is considered a pay-for-performance profession. [27]

This means that you are paid based on your performance, which in this case is sales. Your income is commensurate with the amount of sales you generate; simply put, you can make as much money as you want.

This is a major difference between sales and most other disciplines. In most sales positions, you earn a salary and perhaps some other elements of compensation, such as a bonus. In sales, you can determine your income because it is usually not limited to a specific number; it is based on the amount you sell.

Stanley Marcus, the ninety-three-year-old chairman of Neiman Marcus, started as a messenger boy, then as a junior salesperson in his father’s store before working his way to the top.

Michael Dell founder of Dell computers started out by selling computers from his dorm room. [26]


To be successful in sales and in life, you have to enjoy what you do for a living. A good salesperson does more than sell; he builds a relationship and trust with the customer and offers solutions.
A successful salesperson is a good listener. It’s important to listen and understand the challenges that the customer is facing in order to present solutions that will work.
Asking the right questions is critical to being successful in sales. It is the right questions that provide an opportunity for customers to share their challenges.

Successful salespeople are always learning new things from selling techniques to technology in order to bring the best ideas to customers.
Selling requires independence and discipline. There is no typical day in selling so salespeople have to be able to manage their own time.
One of the biggest challenges of being in sales is the number of times you hear “no.” Successful salespeople are resilient, have a positive attitude, and are willing to take risks.
Passion is one of the most important characteristics of a successful salesperson. If a salesperson isn’t passionate about what he sells, it’s unlikely that his customers will be motivated to buy.
The primary role of a salesperson is to create value for the customer and the company.
A job in sales can be very rewarding on both a personal and a financial level, and it can lead to just about any career path you choose.


Think about the sentence, “Salespeople are communicators, not manipulators.” What does it mean? Why is it important to know the difference in sales?

List at least three characteristics of a good salesperson. Do you have any or all of these characteristics? What is appealing to you about a profession in selling? What is not appealing to you about a profession in selling?


[1] Steve Jobs, “You’ve Got to Find What You Love,” commencement address at Stanford University,
Palo Alto, CA, June 12, 2005,
Stanford Report, June 14, 2005,http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html (accessed June 16, 2009).[2] Steve Jobs, “You’ve Got to Find What You Love,” commencement address at Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, June 12, 2005, in Stanford Report, June 14, 2005,http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html (accessed June 16, 2009).
[3] Dave Kahle, “The Four Characteristics of Successful Salespeople,” Industrial Distribution 97, no. 4 (April 2008): 54.
[4] Robert W. Bly, “Everyone Loves a Story,” Target Marketing 32, no. 6 (June 2009): 23.
[5] Kerry Johnson, “Five Characteristics of Peak Sales Performers,” Event Solution International, http://www.eventsolution.com/education/businessarticles.html (accessed June 16, 2009).
[6] Monroe Porter, “Six Common Characteristics of Successful Salespeople,” Pro 20, no. 6 (May 2008): 33.
[7] Pamela J. Holland and Marjorie Brody, Help! Was That a Career-Limiting Move?(Jenkintown, PA: Career Skills Press, 2005). [8] Steve Atlas, “Listening for Buying Signals: Missing Your Prospects’ Buying Signals,”Selling Power 20, no. 2, http://www.sellingpower.com/content/article.php?a=5350(accessed March 16, 2010).
[9] Steve Atlas, “Listening for Buying Signals: Missing Your Prospects’ Buying Signals,”Selling Power20, no. 2, http://www.sellingpower.com/content/article.php?a=5350(accessed March 16, 2010).
[10] Kim Michael, “The Most Powerful Tool in the Sales Arsenal—Part 1,” American Salesman 54, no. 6 (June 2009): 3.
[11] Paul Blake, interview with the author, Greater Media Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, December 11, 2009.
[12] John F. Tanner, Jr., Christophe Fournier, Jorge A. Wise, Sandrine Hollet, and Juliet Poujol, “Executives’ Perspectives of the Changing Role of the Sales Profession: View from France, the United States, and Mexico,” Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing 23, no. 3 (2008): 193.
[13] Margaret Norton, “Is the Successful Salesperson Made or Born?” EzineArticles,http://ezinearticles.com/?Is-the-Successful-Sales-Person-Made-Or-Born?&id=1020044 (accessed June 16, 2009).

[14] Kelley Robertson, “10 Characteristics of Successful Salespeople,” Business Know-How, http://www.businessknowhow.com/marketing/successful-salesperson.htm(accessed June 16, 2009).

[15] Geoffrey James, “Which Generation Is Best at Selling?” BNET, July 29, 2009,http://blogs.bnet.com/salesmachine/?p=4424&page=2 (accessed July 27, 2009).

[16] Dave Kahle, “The Four Characteristics of Successful Salespeople,” Industrial Distribution 97, no. 4 (April 2008): 54.

[17] Dave Kahle, “Characteristics of a Successful Professional-A Propensity to Take Risks,” Agency Sales 36, no. 6 (June 2006): 40.

[18] Lisa McCullough, “Lessons from a Stunt Woman,” video, Selling Power,http://www.sellingpower.com/content/video/?date=3/23/2007 (accessed March 16, 2010).
[19] Jeffrey Gitomer, “No Risk No Reward,” video, May 17, 2008,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBHBk-A4a5M (accessed August 28, 2009).

[20] Monroe Porter, “Six Common Characteristics of Successful Salespeople,” Pro 20, no. 6 (May 2008): 33.

[21] “What Do Salespeople Want?” BizTimes, March 30, 2007,http://www.biztimes.com/news/2007/3/30/what-do-salespeople-want (accessed June 19, 2009).

[22] Mike McCue, “Lessons from the Master,” Sales and Marketing Management, March 1, 2008, 22-24.

[23] Anna Muoio, “Sales School,” Fast Company, December 18, 2007,http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/19/one.html?page=0%2C2 (accessed June 23, 2009).

[24] John F. Tanner, Jr., Christophe Fournier, Jorge A. Wise, Sandrine Hollet, and Juliet Poujol, “Executives’ Perspectives of the Changing Role of the Sales Profession: View from France, the United States, and Mexico,” Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing 23, no. 3 (2008): 193.

[25] Brandon Griggs, “iPhone 3GS Launch Has App Developers Seeing Gold,” CNN.com, June 19, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/06/19/iphone.3gs.launch (accessed June 26, 2009).