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Top Qualities of Top Sellers According to Leading Researchers

While no one study can be the final authoritative source, end-all research or silver bullet, several top studies looked at together can suggest common criteria to excel in sales performance. Study results listed below help identify several characteristics, traits and behaviors of high performers and quota beaters.

One of the first studies covering high performance selling characteristics was published by Harvard Business Review (July/August 1964 by David Mayer and Herbert Greenberg). The authors studied more than 8,000 salespeople and found two key characteristics among top performers: empathy and ego drive. Empathy refers to the ability to understand the prospect’s feelings and position. That knowledge is used to make a successful presentation. Ego drive refers to a special need to conquer, which motivates top achievers to close sales. A follow-on Harvard study recognized successful sales attributes vary by sales manager, however, the qualities summarized below are consistently valued across industries, cultures and sales management.

  • Top sellers don’t take ‘no’ personally or allow it to make them feel like a failure. They have high enough levels of confidence or self-esteem so that, although they may be disappointed, they are not devastated.
  • Top sales people instill 100% acceptance of responsibility for results. They don’t blame the economy, the competition, or their company for dips in closings. Instead, the worse things were, the harder they worked to make negatives work to their advantage.
  • Top sales professionals have above average ambition and desire to succeed. This is a key area because it effected priorities and how they spent their time on and off the job, with whom they associated, etc.
  • Top salespeople show high levels of empathy. The ability to put themselves in the customers shoes, imagine needs and concerns and respond appropriately was a habit.
  • Top sellers are intensely goal oriented. Always knowing what they are going after and how much progress they were making kept distractions from side-tracking them.
  • Top sales people have above average will power and determination. No matter how tempted they were to give up, they persisted toward goals. Self-discipline was a key.
  • Top sales people are impeccably honest with themselves and the customers. No matter what the temptation to fudge, these people resisted and gained ongoing trust of customers.
  • Top sales professionals demonstrate the ability to approach strangers even when it is uncomfortable.

Dr. Sidney Lecker of Yale performed research focused on the planning and performance of over-achievers and identified eight abilities leading to high performance:

  1. High-performance people know what they want and reject any activities which might distract them from their goal.
  2. High-performance people develop macro-attention to deal with large undertakings, but at the same time, efficiently solve small day to day problems.
  3. These people have the power of contrary thinking and can operate almost independently of what is happening in their environments. They create a success environment.
  4. High-performance people can tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. They can deal with confused situations that others would flee from.
  5. These successful people set a winning pace in the marathon in life and thus avoid burn-out and stress related problems.
  6. These people manage their emotions successfully and have all the characteristics of sound emotional health.
  7. High-performance people know how to use other people to get ahead, how to delegate, how to network with other high performance people and how to work cooperatively.
  8. High-performance people understand and know how to use the principals of human communication.

New York researcher and author Jacqueline Thompson studies some of the most successful entrepreneurs, salespeople and business leaders. She lists the traits of super-achievers in her book, The Very Rich Book.

  1. High-performance people are very competitive.
  2. Work is the favorite hobby of high performance people. They draw few distinctions between work and play.
  3. High-performance people are social extroverts. At parties, they try to talk to almost everyone.
  4. These ultrasuccessful people are neither pessimists nor optimists. They are open minded, have few prejudices or preconceived notions, and are practical.
  5. High-performance people are rarely sick and very seldom take a day off.
  6. High-performance people seek constant change and avoid the status quo and dull routines.
  7. High-performance people have an almost unlimited attention span when they are doing something they enjoy.

Dr. Charles Garfield is CEO of the Charles Garfield Group which specializes in strategies for superior performance. Dr. Garfield describes six key characteristics he has found in almost all high performers:

  1. High performers are able to transcend their previous levels of achievement.
  2. They avoid ‘comfort zones’ where others get stuck.
  3. They are guided by internal goals.
  4. They solve problems rather than place blame.
  5. They take risks after examining the worst consequences of an action.
  6. They mentally rehearse events.

Sales Manager Success Criteria | Giving a look to the other side of the coin, a recent survey by New York based The Nierenberg Group of 900 sales professionals found three qualities most desired among their sales managers.

  1. Good communication skills, 33 percent
  2. Ability to motivate, 28 percent
  3. Listening skills, 13 percent

The survey’s participants also noted that the hard-driving sales manager is a thing of the past. Instead, sales professionals should be given the tools, processes and knowledge to be successful or to move on.

Once you know the techniques used by super-achievers, you can make them work for you. Inventory your own high performance characteristics. Recognize your weaknesses, identify courses of action to improve upon those areas and set new performance goals for yourself.



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