The 2-Minute Thought: Great salespeople are a competitive bunch

Highly productive salespeople are confident and ambitious.  They have a plan for themselves.  They are driven by money.  They care about how others perceive them.  And they are pretty interesting characters.  Just read Steve W. Martin’s brief piece in Harvard Business Review called “A Portrait of the Overperforming Salesperson.” 

Martin teaches sales strategy at USC’s Marshall School of Business and recently conducted a study of over 1,000 salespeople who reached more than 125% of their assigned sales quota last year.  That’s not an easy thing to do.  Only 15% of the participants in Martin’s study hit that hurdle.

There are a lot of interesting statistics in Martin’s study about the very best salespeople.  Here are some of them:

  • 66% agreed with the statement, “Money is extremely important to me and how I measure my personal success.”
  • 84% said being recognized as “one of the best by peers at their company” is very important to them.
  • 50% said they’re the type of person that keeps lists of goals, while 36% said they’re thinking about what things will be like in 5 or 10 years.
  • 72% said they remember childhood as a happy time
  • 72% said they prefer varied activities instead of daily routines.
  • Only 17% said they became close personal friends with their clients.

Some other noteworthy results:

  • Emotional connection matters:  When it came to strategy, the top sales method was “getting customers to emotionally connect with you.”  The next two were “tailoring your sales pitch to the customer’s needs” and “asking questions that show your expertise.”  But “showing the value of your solution” and “driving the topics of conversation” ranked last.
  • Perceptions vary on what amount of deception is acceptable: 7% agreed with the statement, “If the customer’s best interest is served by slightly obscuring the facts, that’s ok.”  21% agreed with “Subtle manipulation is reasonable, so long as the truth is served.”  34% agreed with “You don’t have to point out every blemish of your product.”  And 36% agreed with “Nothing but the whole truth is acceptable.”
  • The very best see themselves differently from the rest: Those who sold below 75% of their quota described themselves most frequently as “responsible, likable, confident, empathetic, smart, and humble.”  But the most popular descriptors for those who reached over 125% of their quota were different.  They were “confident, X-factor, quick-witted, likable, responsible, and productive.”