Sales · Sales Management

What Makes a Great Salesperson?

4 top sales managers share the qualities they feel make the difference between good and great when it comes to selling

Chris O’Hara, Chief revenue officer, LookSmart, Ltd.

You cannot be a great salesperson these days without some profoundly advanced writing skills. Why do I say that? Every morning on the train from Cold Spring Harbor to Penn Station, for the bulk of the 56-minute ride, 70 percent of the people on the train will be doing some writing—mostly pecking at their mobile devices. That’s a big change from 15 years ago. Back then, writing was something that happened in a more formal setting, when you sat in front of your workstation and crafted a memo, or wrote a proposal after a sales call. Back then, your prospects mostly communicated by phone—and would even answer it once in a while.

What does that mean for today’s sales team? A lot. First of all, your prospects are online…all day long. They are answering emails, reading newsletters, browsing websites, checking their Twitter feeds, and updating their Facebook status. They let phone calls go to voicemail, and comb through their messages once or twice a day. If you are in my business [digital advertising], your prospects are being assaulted by 30 emails a day, all promising to solve the problems of modern media, each with their own compelling value proposition. So, how do you break through all that noise and clutter, and get your prospect to acknowledge you? Good writing.

What makes good writing? Good grammar, constructing a proper sentence, and being able to tell a story all help. What is especially important is avoiding the use of “internet casual” abbreviations in email correspondence. An email should not read like a text message. When you are asking for somebody’s trust and business, it is important to maintain a level of formality and integrity.

As important as writing is, being able to comprehend the industry your team is selling to is equally as important. You probably have four to five competitors that are calling on the same people, trying to sell them something quite similar to your product. What’s going to differentiate your salesperson from the salesperson down the street is not just your product, but what you are providing beyond the product. That thing is called information.

When your salespeople reach out to prospects, are they offering more than just a chance to buy something? If they provide interesting industry news, opinion, or perspective on an issue, or (best of all) a valuable industry connection or introduction, then they are not just selling, they are also building a valuable relationship. The ability to be that type of salesperson revolves around reading everything they can about the field they are in, and becoming an expert. Not everyone can do this, but the 5 to 10 percent of sellers who can position themselves as industry experts will be vastly more successful than the average seller.

Most of us don’t have the perfect, reasonably priced product that just happens to be ready exactly when the customer, money in hand, wants to buy it. Therefore, the key to sales is constantly being around, so that when this miracle of circumstance happens, your salesperson is on the receiving end of it. That translates to your sales team calling a lot of people to remind them that they have something to sell, going to a lot of trade shows, and constantly staying in touch with their prospects. Do this enough, and eventually someone will buy something. Why? Like you, the customer is naturally lazy and wants to get the maximum return on the minimum amount of effort. He has already gone through a lot of annoying work and plenty of bad table wine with you to get to the point where he is comfortable enough to buy something, and he doesn’t want to relive that process all over again. Therefore, even if your product is a little worse or slightly pricier than that of your competitor, he will sooner buy it from you than start a whole new relationship and, worse yet, fill out another credit application.

The number one trait to be avoided is the tendency some salespeople have to sell too soon. A real salesperson should do more listening than selling, especially on the first several appointments. Prospects can read PowerPoints, too. If that’s what your team is doing on sales calls, they should consider another line of work.

[This appeared in the October 2012 issue of New York Enterprise Report]