by Ken Schmitt and Vicky Willenberg

It’s a metrics-driven world. A company’s success or failure lies on the shoulders of its salespeople and their ability to bring in, upsell, and retain customers. Does that mean a successful salesperson is measured by numbers alone? If so, a ‘good’ salespeople can only become ‘great’ salespeople if they exceed their quota, right?

Wrong. A successful salesperson is not built on numbers alone and it’s time for Hiring Managers to recognize this. Research shows, 25-40% of Sales Professionals leave within the first 18 months. It’s easy blame this on the new hires, claiming they’re not good sales people or they don’t truly understand their market. In truth, the fault lies on the shoulders of the organization for inaccurately defining what makes a successful sales professional.


A Need to Conquer

According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, a successful salesperson possesses a need to conquer. This is “a particular kind of ego drive that makes them want and need to make the sale in a personal or ego way, not merely for the money to be gained.” For these salespeople, failure is not an option. In fact, it serves as a motivator when things get tough- a motivator to work harder, adapt, communicate with the prospect more, listen more effectively, etc.

People Skills & Empathy

Just because someone is a ‘born salesman’ doesn’t mean he or she is a good salesperson. Top-notch sales professionals relate to their prospects. Empathy is a key component here. To be empathetic, a salesperson must be a better listener than talker. He or she senses the reactions of the customer and is able to adjust to these reactions.

Recognizing where the client is in the decision-making process and meeting them at that place is a prime example of showing empathy in sales. Overselling to a nervous or undecided prospect gets you nothing but a probable cancellation down the line. First and foremost, ask questions — diving deeper into the company’s structure, path, growth plans, sales team structure and how leads are generated. Their answers give a clear picture of where they are in the buying cycle and drive the direction of your pitch.  Take detailed notes to ensure you are hearing and what they are saying (or think they are saying) and are on the same page.

Listen to what Sara Jensen, VP Business Development of Innovative Employee Solutions, has to say about what a successful salesperson looks like:

Hunter Mentality with Farmer Patience

A successful salesperson doesn’t wait for prospects to come to them. They are willing to do the work to source new customers and wade through leads identifying the “easy sell” vs a “tough sell”.  Relying on connections and referrals is not enough.  These successful Sales professionals hunt for new clients and know how to foster long-term customer relationships with their customer.

Product & Service Knowledge

It is a given that a successful salesperson must know their product/service inside and out. More than that, though, they must be able to provide tangible proof that they are worth the client’s time and money. Showcasing your unique value proposition with customer feedback, analytics, and success stories goes a long way. Customers may say you are the most expensive choice.  Demonstrate you have the best service and they will get the personal hands-on attention they want, they will tell you this while signing on the dotted line. Listen to their needs and present achievable solutions which prove they are getting what they pay for.

Measurable & Repeatable Sales Process

Top sales professionals use a process that has been proven to successfully close the deal. They are acutely aware of each prospect’s position in the buying cycle and have a plan to bring them to the next step, eventually guiding them to the “buy.” Using metrics, they analyze their sales process to find weaknesses and quickly make the necessary changes to solve the problem.

Politely Persistent

Strong sales professionals know how to stay on their prospects’ radars. When clients go radio silent, it’s best to approach them with a reminder of the timeline they gaveyou when you began working together.  Show them you are conscious of their growth goals and timelines to gently bring the plan back to the top of their To Do list. Sales Super Stars know when to politely push-back.  There is a difference between picky and unrealistic. Tell prospects you have ‘feet on the ground’ and the advice you give is based on real-time market intel. It should be trusted and followed.

Follow-Up Strategy

No sale is complete until the follow up strategy is set in motion. Thanks to advancements in sales automation, developing the strategy is much simpler than it has been in the past. Long term nurture, up-selling, and referral campaigns are automatically built into your automated sales funnel. Hiring managers are looking for candidates with the discipline to follow the funnel to completion.


Sales professionals are expected to have a strong work ethic and a go-getter attitude. A trait often overlooked but even more essential to getting the job you want is grit. Grit is “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” according to Angela Lee Duckworth, and means the difference between success and failure for anyone from 5 to 55.

Download your copy of “Hiring a Successful Sales Professional”

About the Authors

Ken Schmitt is the CEO and Founder of TurningPoint Executive Search and the Sales & Marketing Leadership Alliance. Specializing in placing sales, marketing and operations professionals across the country, Ken’s 20 years of recruiting experience have equipped him with the knowledge to serve as a thought partner to his clients for all recruiting, hiring and human capital-related initiatives. Ken sits on the board of Junior Achievement, the American Marketing Association, the San Diego HR Roundtable and is an Advisory Board Member for San Diego Sports Innovators (SDSI).

Vicky Willenberg has served as the Social Media Manager for TurningPoint since 2011. In 2014, she was elevated to Digital Marketing Manager, broadening her participation across all things digital for the firm. A former teacher with a Masters in Education, Vicky is an active and published blogger at The Pursuit of Normal and a marketing professional. She has her finger on the pulse of the latest trends in the recruiting, hiring and leadership sectors.

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