A friend recently asked me if I would meet with his son, a 20-year-old in search of his place in the future, to discuss the opportunities offered by a sales career. Willing to please -- a good sales trait in itself -- I am to meet with him later today. So, what will I tell this young man who is just beginning his career journey, other than that there's no way to beat a craps table at 1 a.m. in Vegas during a convention, no matter what industry he chooses to join?
That question led to this month's article. How do we select sales as a career? Should we? And how do we find sales talent for our organizations?
A few issues ago, I wrote about a profiling company, Omnia Group, whose personality tests are very helpful in making the final candidate selection. But what about the initial winnowing process necessary to get down to the last two candidates for a given sales position? What do great salespeople have in common? Can selling be learned by everyone, or must the traits needed for success be inherent in one's genetic code?
Here are my top five choices of traits that make a great sales candidate:
» Communicative skills
If these traits are necessary, which is solely my opinion and therefore open for debate, then not everyone is cut out for sales. However, they can be successful if they work hard enough on any trait they recognize that they lack.
Let's break each trait down by its relevance to sales, and review why I see it as a necessity.
I put this one first because without it, there is no sense in even considering sales as your life's work. It may be the one trait that cannot be learned and therefore, the most important trait one must have to succeed at selling. You must compete against salespeople in your own company as well as those of others in your field. Sales requires you to compete for business, and thus have the ambition to see it through, no matter how tough the going gets from time to time. Each failure to gain business must fill you with an even greater desire to get out there and succeed on the next call. There is a good reason you call another operator in your field "the competition!"
At the most fundamental level, life requires sufficient confidence to face exiting your front door every morning. We all do it instinctively, because we have all developed the right physical and mental tools for mundane daily tasks. Sales confidence comes from learning the tools of your trade. You must possess the other four traits in abundance to be fully confident you can achieve success in sales.
You might be the most warm, well-read, gregarious person alive; but without knowledge of the product you're trying to sell, without competitive drive or the ability to communicate effectively, you are sunk.
Confidence is only truly gained when the other four traits are fully vested. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, however, which is why the next trait is vital, too.
The first step of the sales process requires complete focus on the potential client. In order to know how best to approach selling your product, you must first discover where there is a need for your goods and services, and understand that need. This varies greatly from prospect to prospect, and therefore you must fully understand the particular business strategy of each, and empathize with their unique situations, for the best shot at pitching them something they truly need, and therefore are likely to buy from you.
A competitive, knowledgeable salesperson feels a little sting each time a sale is lost. It is the most difficult part of sales to deal with, once you've worked hard to be the most proficient salesperson possible. People say no for many reasons. Understanding that no matter how hard you try, regardless of your own feeling that the sale is inevitable, people will still say no. Ask why they are saying no, and if the issue is unresolveable (such as a relative of theirs being employed by your competition), and you will be able to empathize with their situation. You then can walk away with your head held high, knowing you did the best you could, and with a clear conscience to move on to the next client.
Sales, at its most basic level, is communicating the details of a good or service provided by a company, to another company or person. Hopefully, with even a high school degree, a salesperson has learned to communicate with an acceptable degree of skill. If not, enrolling in night courses in English and public speaking at local colleges and/or joining a club such as Toastmasters will help build the ability to speak clearly and succinctly, with economy of words. Buyers have tight time schedules, and getting a message across in this fashion is vital for optimal selling success.
Knowledge is king. Without it, the other four traits will not have much effect on results.
Knowledge in many ways can only come with age and experience. The younger a salesperson, the longer it can take to achieve their ultimate level of success. This can be made up for by the extra energy and drive often found in youth, so a young new hire is not without merit. Most important is how much knowledge you convey to those new hires before letting them loose on the street. You can hire the greatest salespeople who ever lived, but without teaching them your business from the ground up, they will not be able to represent you regardless of how well they display the other four traits.
Watch for signs of these traits during interviews. Once you feel you have found a few good candidates, back up your feelings with a personality profile such as Omnia profile, and you should find better salespeople who will last longer and achieve greater results.
If you are a salesperson, work at perfecting all of these traits and you will find much greater success in your chosen career.
KEVIN DAW is president of Heritage Coffee Co. (London, ON, Canada), a leading private-label roaster serving the breaktime management industries in North America. He is in charge of coffee buying for Heritage. A 30-year veteran of the workplace service business, Daw has served as a commission coffee service salesman, a principal of a vending operation and president of a bottled water company. Since 1990, he has concentrated on coffee roasting. Active in industry affairs, Daw is a Specialty Coffee Association of America Certified Brewing Technician, a member of the National Beverage and Products Association Hall of Fame, a recipient of the National Automatic Merchandising Association Supplier of the Year Award and a NAMA Coffee Service Committee member.