Executive Suite: Components of a Successful Salesperson

“Dr. David, I’m looking for a really good salesperson. You’ve done a lot of hiring. What should I be looking for?”

If I got a buck for all the times I have been asked that question, I would retired and living on Maui. I’m tempted to say, “Someone who can sell,” but I really am too polite to fire off a verbal nasty like that. It is a good question, because you can cruise through a lot of board rooms in which sales meetings are being conducted and never hear a word about what is really the “right stuff” in a salesperson.

Some research indicates that the attributes of a successful salesperson include ego drive, empathy, and resiliency. There are testing organizations that all but declare these three to be the components, as if Moses had them attached to the Ten Commandments.

Not a bad summary. I’ve heard worse. But my three decades of experience as a sales consultant tell me there are really four components. They are simple, but if you have these four—woman or man--how much money you make will depend almost on how many hours you want to work.


This is what drives the bus. You have heard the old saw, “Nothing happens until a sale is made.”  Well, I’m here to tell you no successful selling is going to occur unless your have the right Mindset. 

Read my lips: What separates sales winners from the rest of the pack is how they think. Everyone finds prospects. Everyone makes contacts. Everyone tries to “sell” their product or service. But not everyone comes from the same place psychologically. Only the winners operate out of the right Mindset.

You can learn all the sales skills—from prospecting to getting in, from presentation skills to closing—but it will do you no good if you do not have a self-directed mindset. It all  comes down to this: You need to be totally self-directed, totally accountable—able to master your feelings, maintain motivation, and to keep on moving when you are running against the wind.


Once carrying the sexist label, “killer instinct,” this refers to the capacity to smell a potential sales when one is around and to move single-mindedly to bring it into your net. This is about closing. Excelling in Opportunism is not about pressure selling. A very feminine saleswoman can be just as good at this as any testosterone-laden male. The best salespeople often wear velvet gloves. 

How important is this? We all know of salespeople that everyone loves. I had one. Irv worked at Fortune 500 clientele. Everybody loved Irv. The only problem is that he never sold much. A little detective work indicated that Irv was a zero in opportunism. His less likable counterparts in other companies asked for the order and cashed the checks. A likable person who cannot close is better as a customer service rep. 


“Bonding” is extremely important. We are talking rapport—connecting—here. Sales is a relational business, and the better you can build quality personal bonds with the people you see and speak with on the phone (or through e-mails, smoke signals, whatever), the better will be your sales. 

We know that people buy from people they like, but you don’t need me to tell you that again. Equally important, they do not buy from people they do not like. Even worse, many will happy to sabotage the efforts of any salesperson they do not like.    


This includes time management, goal-setting, strategizing, keeping good records and databases along with a whole lot of other things. It is, however, very important. The difference between an average amount of sales and a much larger volume of business is often organization. The person who has reached an average level of activity, CAN SELL. That has been settled. How much time she has to sell, and how well she organizes herself is the key factor in that.  The basics are there, so now it is time to max it out with tighter efficiency. 

These are the Final Four. Next time you interview a sales candidate, look for these.

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