What does it take to become a successful corporate sales representative? Steve Martin, a faculty member at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, performed personality tests on 1,000 corporate sales representatives to answer this question. He reported the results in his book “Heavy Hitter Sales Psychology: How to Penetrate the C-level Executive Suite and Convince Company Leaders to Buy.” The personality tests were given to high technology and business services salespeople. He compared test results from top performers to those of average and below average performers. The findings indicate that key personality traits directly influence top performers’ selling style and ultimately their success.
His survey of top corporate salespeople indicated that 91% had medium to high scores of modesty and humility. The most successful salespeople are team players, notes Martin. Their teams are multidisciplinary and include researchers and marketing managers. In contrast to stereotypes, top salespeople are less gregarious than average performers. They aren’t overly friendly people often too close to their customers. Instead they have the ability to persuade customers to respect them and follow their recommendations and advice.
Key traits of top salespeople
About 85% of the best performers were highly conscientious and took their jobs very seriously. They are focused on achieving goals and measure their performance against achieving these goals. They are competitive. Martin concluded from his studies that there seems to be a link between playing sports and being able to bounce back from losses and prepare themselves for new opportunities to compete. They aren’t afraid to cold call new sales prospects.
Many corporate sales people have degrees in chemistry, other sciences, and engineering. In keeping with this background, top salespeople are more curious than average performers. Their curiosity drives them to ask potential customers difficult questions to help them understand the true nature of their problems and what they want a product to do for them.
The sales process
The corporate sales process is evolving. To assure that they and their team are focused on developing products that customers really need and are willing to pay a good price for, corporate sales representatives are spending less time traveling to visit customers in 2009 than they did five years earlier. An SEC Solutions (www.secsolutions.com) study indicated that salespeople are spending 15% more time planning their sales activities. (SEC Solutions is a consulting firm helping corporate clients improve the effectiveness of their sales processes.) Time spent on administration has increased 21% while actual time spent with customers has decreased 26%.
Superficially this is a worrisome trend – less face time with customers? How can this facilitate the sales process? However, salespeople are spending more time with their team getting themselves and others ready for these presentations. They work with sales managers, product development scientists and engineers and others on the details of these presentations. Among other things, they face the customers with a clear idea of the benefits their firm’s products provide customers, the value of these benefits, and how their firm’s products compare with the offerings of their competitors. Once they make the sales, salespeople spend more time getting feedback from customers and educating end users about their products and how to use them. They develop strategies on how to build on their success and sell additional products to the customer in question.
Another reason for customers spending less face time with sales representatives is that many firms have undergone staff reductions. The remaining employees have more work to do and less time for these meetings.
In particular, presentation skills are even more important to sales success than previously. Having less time to present the value proposition to customers, each presentation needs to be carefully crafted for maximum effectiveness.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.