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How to Succeed in Sales: 12 Essential Steps for Top Performers

Mark Jung

Jan 05, 2022

succeed in sales

Want to know if you have the right traits to succeed in sales? 

It wouldn’t be fair to say that you can’t win sales if you don’t match all of the characteristics of a good salesperson. There are all sorts of salespeople who do well.

But there are certain characteristics and skills that add up to a higher closing rate and tolerance for the grind that is sales. 

If you take a look at the top performers in a sales department, it’s likely they have at least seven of these sales qualities. 

But if you look across your entire department, it’s likely you’ll find even more commonality (and if you don’t, it’s a good time to start adding the following to your sales training). 

Finally, a sales process that gives you the freedom to sell.

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What Makes a Good Salesperson?

According to Dan Salvetti, account executive at ZoomInfo, the reps with the best sales performance understand just three simple things:

  • The buyer’s challenges and business
  • The product and its use cases
  • How to connect the two 

Top salespeople can bridge the gap between solution and problem, without jumping ahead or making assertions. 

This is a common issue for sales reps, who have a wealth of knowledge on how a product can help their target.

Essentially, instead of thinking of yourself as the hero, you have to nurture and position the prospect into believing they’re the hero by finding a solution that works perfectly for them. 

How to Be a Good Sales Rep: Top Traits of Closers

Have you ever met those sales reps that come into a new role, and are promoted within a few months because they absolutely smash sales records? 

Ever notice that those same people are competitive in nature, have a magnetic or bold personality, on top of having a well-established sales process?

Steve Martin, the author of Heavy Hitter Sales Psychology, interviewed over 1,000 B2B salespeople to find the underlying sales personalities that link them. 

His findings helped us formulate this list of the 12 top traits of a successful salesperson:

1. Resourcefulness

There’s a reason why being called an “order-taker” is an insult in sales. Real salespeople are industrious and don’t wait around for somebody to tell them what to do. 

Can’t get the prospect’s attention via email? Make a video, post it, and tag them. Building successful sales strategies that your audience truly resonates with is what separates top performers from the rest of the sales team. 

2. Thick skin

While you shouldn’t strive to be completely emotionless, having thick skin can ensure that some of the negative interactions salespeople have to deal with won’t ruin your day or your sales. 

You’ll come across unpleasant prospects, demanding sales management, and ruthless competition, and if you’re not prepared to handle the emotional pressures, you’ll probably want out.

3. Self-government

There are lots of jobs that can be done half-heartedly, but sales isn’t one of them, especially through long days of cold calling. The ability to build sales habits and shortcuts that increase sales and keep you pushing, is essential.   

Exceptional salespeople can make themselves work hard even when they don’t feel like it, and even when it’s the last thing in the world they want to be doing.

For example, take a look at the graphic below, comparing the schedule of a typical sales rep versus the schedule of a high-performing rep. You’ll notice more self-government and discipline to focus on what makes money on the schedule of the high-performing rep.

high-performing rep schedule

4. Grit

Grit: “An individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state.”

Grit can take average people further than natural talent and ability alone.

Exceptional salespeople tie their sales goals to their daily efforts, understanding that consistency will impact everyone’s bottom line.

“If I had to narrow it down to one word, it would be humility. Bundled up within the definition would be qualities like extreme ownership, growth mindset, girt, and resilience — these qualities are what your all-stars have.”

Madalina Paul, Regional VP Major Accounts, DocuSign

5. Resilience

Sales reps aren’t paid well because they hear a lot of yeses. They’re paid well because of their ability to overcome nos.

It’s daunting and depressing to be rejected, and it can make us feel like a waste of precious sales time

Resilience, however, can make all the difference. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, successful salespeople become persistent entrepreneurs, ready to make a career out of rejection.  

6. Empathy

What does the prospect want? Push past the nice-to-haves to uncover the real answer. 

The best salespeople know to establish a rapport with their customers. However, only 38% of customers say the salespeople they interact with understand their needs. 

Dooly X-Factors Salespeople stat

Can you put yourself in their shoes and take the time to truly develop the customer relationship, understand their business, separate individual behaviors from buyer personas, know the objections they may have?

The sales profession is often too one-sided, focusing on the product and the benefits to the customer.

But the successful sales rep knows that, to improve sales, you need to be a good listener and integrate empathy into the selling process. 

It’s a hard sales skill to learn, but empathy in sales is necessary if you truly win any negotiation. 

7. Enthusiasm

You can know and say all the right things, but if you’re not enthusiastic about your role and about your product, you’re likely to fall short of your true potential. 

Not only can prospects sense a lack of enthusiasm, they can also be infected by it, for better or for worse. 

If you don’t buy into your product, how can you expect your prospects to?

“It comes down to falling in love with the process. I’m a firm believer that if you think too much about being a top performer you’re going to go into what you do each day thinking that you need that outcome or that you’re lacking something. That energy feeds off into everything you do.”

Anthony Natoli, Account Executive, Outreach

8. Hunger

At the end of the day, if you’re not motivated by a sales goal, you’re unlikely to have the drive to compete with those who do. 

There are no hacks to this trait. Sales requires initiative, and a desire to excel. Without it, you’ll just be going through the motions.

So think, really think about what drives you, then tie it to your current role, because a hungry salesperson will always have the advantage.

9. Balance Between Positivity & Pessimism

This aligns with enthusiasm quite a bit, because your audience can feel every bit of your attitude. As humans, we’re naturally empathetic, so if you’re not positive about the product or a solution, they’re going to feel that. 

A sales job is harrowing, and facing a lot of rejection can wear on you, but if you approach your prospects with positivity, you’re less likely to hear so many nos.

The trick veteran sales professionals preach for maintaining a positive outlook is to detach from the outcome. This frees you to enjoy the ride, not just the dopamine hit at the end. 

But according to a study, nearly two-thirds of high-performers exhibit a healthy dose of pessimism — they don’t reveal this pessimism to the customer, but they’re realistic about the challenges of closing a deal.

Stat about pessimism in sales

A dose of pessimism can help reps understand the limits of the solution they’re selling and set their customers up for success — which builds trust and long-term loyalty.

10. Storytelling

First, lead generation is about creating a narrative (i.e. a pipeline) that starts with capturing the attention of your customer personas and ends with a viable solution for their business (and a closed deal for the rep).

Without storytelling ability, you can’t connect the dots between what a buyer needs and wants, what they already have, and your product or service. 

This is where the strengths of a salesperson are really stretched, because, while this is something you can teach in training, it’s something you have to practice. 

11. Confidence

According to former FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss:

“In the real world, I have seen that anger always leaves a negative residue — always. And anger is always bad for long-term relationships. And that’s the reason that we tell people who are natural born assertives, ‘You gotta fix that voice, [because] it’s always counterproductive.’”

He states that your voice reflects everything, and that being too assertive leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. 

Instead, be confident (not cocky), and use a more playful voice whether you’re cold calling or working on inbound sales leads.

12. Objection handling

Objections are practically a function of sales. You’re going to face them no matter what. 

You could be nurturing a sales lead for weeks, when everything changes and the prospect objects to the amount of money they’d have to pay. 

Or, maybe there’s been a lucrative departure of your point of contact from the company you’re pitching. Someone else takes over and they have objections you didn’t foresee. 

Objection handling is usually built into a sales playbook, but being able to handle objections on the fly really sets you apart. 

Learning to Succeed in Sales Takes Persistence

The qualities of a good salesperson aren’t necessarily inherent. They can be built into sales training and honed in on, advanced, and refined. 

With that in mind, out of all sales traits, listening is perhaps the most important. 

It ties into empathy, objection handling, and storytelling, allowing you to connect to prospects on a deeper level. When you are curious and willing to listen to your prospects, you develop relationships that increase sales and turn you into a top performer. 

9 X-Factors of High-Performing Salespeople

Join the thousands of top-performing salespeople who use Dooly every day to stay more organized, instantly update their pipeline, and spend more time selling instead of mindless admin work. Try Dooly free, no credit card required. Or, Request a demo to speak with a Dooly product expert right now.

Mark Jung

Head of Marketing

Mark Jung is VP of Marketing at Sales Impact Academy. He builds B2B SaaS brands that dominate their categories by creating new strategic narratives that people rally behind. Mark is a great podcast guest, a stellar Fire Talks show host, and a bona fide leader in the revenue marketing space.