Seven Personality Traits of Successful Salespeople

Successful SalespeopleIf you ask extremely successful salespeople, “What makes you different from the average “Joe” or “Jane” sales rep?” you likely will get an off-the-cuff, and probably inaccurate answer, if any. In fact, successful salespeople might not even know the real answer to this question because most successful salespeople are simply doing what comes naturally.
Over the past decade, Steve W. Martin, who teaches sales strategy at the USC Marshall School of Business, has interviewed thousands of top “B2B” (business-to-business) salespeople who sell for some of the world’s leading companies, administering personality tests to 1,000 of them, with the goal of measuring their five main personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and negative emotionality) to better understand the characteristics that separate them from their peers.
The test results from successful salespeople – top performers, specifically – were compared against their average and below-average-performing peers. The findings indicate that key personality traits directly influence top performers’ selling style and ultimately their success. Here are the key personality attributes of successful salespeople, according to Steve W. Martin, and the impact of the trait on their selling style.

7 Personality Traits of Successful Salespeople

  1. Modesty: Contrary to conventional stereotypes that successful salespeople are pushy and egotistical, 91% of top salespeople had medium to high scores of modesty and humility. Furthermore, the results suggest that showboat salespeople who are full of bravado alienate far more customers than they win over. Impact: Team-Oriented. As opposed to establishing themselves as the focal point of the purchase decision, extremely successful salespeople position the team as the centerpiece.
  2. Conscientiousness: 85% of extremely successful salespeople could be described as having a strong sense of duty and being responsible and reliable. They take their jobs very seriously and feel deeply responsible for the results. Impact: Account Control. The worst position for salespeople to be in is to have relinquished account control and to be operating at the direction of the customer, or worse yet, a competitor. Conversely, top salespeople take command of the sales process in order to control their own destiny.
  3. Achievement-Oriented: 84% of the top performers tested scored very high in achievement orientation, being fixated on achieving goals and continuously measuring their performance in comparison to their goals. Impact: “Political”-Oriented. During sales cycles, extremely successful salespeople seek to understand the politics of customer decision-making. Their goal-orientation instinctively drives them to meet with key decision-makers. Therefore, they strategize about the people they are selling to and how the products they’re selling fit into the organization instead of focusing on the functionality of the products themselves.
  4. Curiosity: 82% of extremely successful salespeople had intense levels of curiosity. Top salespeople are naturally more curious than their lesser-performing peers. Impact: Inquisitiveness, which correlates to an active presence during sales calls. An active presence drives the salesperson to ask customers difficult and uncomfortable questions in order to close gaps in information. Top salespeople want to know if they can win the business, and they want to know the truth as soon as possible.
  5. Lack of Gregariousness: Surprisingly, top salespeople and those ranking in the bottom one-third of performance lacked the desire to be overly social. Overall, top performers averaged 30% lower gregariousness than below average performers. Impact: Dominance. Dominance is the ability to gain the willing obedience of customers such that the salesperson’s recommendations and advice are followed. The results indicate that overly friendly salespeople are too close to their customers and have difficulty establishing dominance.
  6. Lack of Discouragement: Less than 10% of extremely successful salespeople were classified as having high levels of discouragement and being frequently overwhelmed with sadness. Conversely, 90% were categorized as experiencing infrequent or only occasional sadness. Impact: Competitiveness. A very high percentage of top performers played organized sports in high school. There seems to be a correlation between sports and sales success as top performers are able to handle emotional disappointments, bounce back from losses, and mentally prepare themselves for the next opportunity to compete.
  7. Lack of Self-Consciousness: Self-consciousness is the measurement of how easily someone is embarrassed. The byproduct of a high level of self-consciousness is bashfulness and inhibition. Less than 5% of top performers had high levels of self-consciousness. Impact: Aggressiveness. Extremely successful salespeople are comfortable fighting for their cause and are not afraid of rankling customers in the process. They are action-oriented and unafraid to call high in their accounts or courageously cold call new prospects.

Not all salespeople are successful. Given the same sales tools, level of education, and propensity to work, why do some salespeople succeed where others fail? Is one better suited to sell the product because of his or her background? Is one more charming or just luckier? The evidence suggests that the personalities of these truly great salespeople play a critical role in determining their success.

How does this study of Top B2B Performers Correlate To Successful Salespeople in Network Marketing?

Oddly, since B2B sales between billion-dollar, international companies might not seem similar to home business sales, the personality traits are quite similar. The biggest difference is that successful salespeople in network marketing also need to be successful entrepreneurs, and all that comes with that. For example, typically without additional resources, home-based business entrepreneurs need to be excellent leaders and trainers. Similar to a sales manager in the traditional sense, they need to build a sales team that does what they do, follows their lead, and takes consistent action.
Any this is just the tip of the iceberg, to be sure.
What are your thoughts on this? What other similarities and differences do you see between the top “corporate” salespeople and extremely successful salespeople in the network marketing, home-based business, and direct sales arenas? Please comment below!
Best to you!
– Drew

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Finally, and again, please comment below about those similarities and differences, perhaps that you’ve actually seen through your own experience, that you see between this B2B study about successful salespeople and successful salespeople in network marketing, home-based business, and direct sales.




  • Seth July 13, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    It seems that the people who dominate the sales organizations are above the average in these traits that make them successful. However, they may become the top six percent of the industry, but that leaves an awful lot of possibilities for those of us who are not the top salesperson type.
    To be successful in network marketing takes simply opening your mouth to virtually anyone along your path and telling them how great you feel because of your success in your business. That alone will attract the kind of people who will join you, precisely because they are not top sales people. Then, the only skill that you need to succeed is the ability to ask them if they are ready to give it a try, and to guide them through the process of enrollment.
    Now that is a skill that all of us can develop. That is what is reproducible. If only six percent are the true sales types, then there are a vast amount of people for the rest of us to build with! Let’s do it.

  • Mary Jane Harlan July 19, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Good points-we all want to enhance our chance to close but many personality types CAN succeeed in sales with just the perseverance to follow-up

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