Are you a sales carnivore? Are you always closing? Do you get to drink the coffee? Maybe selling isn’t for you if you answered no to these questions. Selling isn’t for everyone, despite what some books would say, however it is a skill that’s important in many ways because it deals with many of the same components that also relate to being effective in other interpersonal facets of the world of work. And although there’s an endless array of guaranteed sales effectiveness seminars and books, many of the traits that have been psychologically linked to sales performance are related to your personality (which for the most part is relatively stable, well maybe for most). Not to fret though, as the best step before doing is knowing. So at least if you’re aware of the areas you might be lacking, you can begin to identify these different personality traits and change your behavior to improve your sales skills.
Achievement Drive: Competitive much? How driven are you to be the absolute best at what you do? This characteristic is all about goals and benchmarks (e.g., sales jobs). My last post about gamification provides some for tips on how to motivate yourself when you might not have that natural tendency for achievement.Achievement drive has been the most consistent personality trait associated with sales performance, but it’s also important in any function where there’s a focus on your ability to grow and advance to higher levels within your organization.
Assertiveness: Is your default in life to just speak your mind? Enjoy taking control or the lead in group situations? Is your self-confidence on par with Alec Baldwin’s monologue in Glenngarry Glen Ross? This characteristic is a double edged sword however, when linking it to sales performance. The inverse of assertiveness is agreeableness, and there happens to be some mixed findings regarding which side of the coin is the better half for sales performance. In some situations it pays to be gregarious and congenial. Whereas, in other situations there’s a need to take the lead! The best practice is most likely to just be flexible in interpersonal situations and to empathize with your counterpart in order to see what their position is, and how to approach them based on that.
Flexibility: Speaking of being flexible, it’s quite interesting how cognitive adaptability plays out in sales performance studies. Depending on where customers are at in their buying stage, your ability to be creative and adaptable (the personality trait commonly labeled as Openness To New Experiences) may lead to better performance. In one study, better sales performance with customers in a transitioning phase (i.e., their moving toward a new vendor) was related to salesperson creativity, intellectual flexibility, problem solving, and adaptability. Interestingly, this was also a stage where being agreeable paid off more than being assertive.
Extraversion: This is probably one of the most common knowledge personality traits associated with sales performance. Everyone seems to subscribe to the notion that top sales pros are outgoing, enthusiastic, “stimulation-seeking machines”. But it’s really only half of the story. Extraversion is also typically associated with risk-taking. And raising the stakes in selling situations is not nearly as effective as treating your transactions like a game and carefully strategizing your maneuvers. However, being completely introverted is obviously not conducive to any situation where performance is based on the sheer act of talking to people, so it’s yet another balancing act. In other words, if “it’s all about you”, you’re missing the most important aspect of selling- which is figuring out what’s best for your customer!
Stress Management: The psychological literature also takes how you handle stress into account, only it’s referred to as emotional stability. This has more to do with sales performance over the long haul, as opposed to looking at individual transactional performance. Because, if you’re not too beat up after rebuttal after rebuttal after rebuttal, etc., you’re much less likely to get worn down, and much more likely to keep on pushing on.
Despite the massive amount of sales improvement propaganda, a lot of the scientific research is not so readily distilled throughout the masses. However, some of the top psychologists on social influence, motivation, and decision-making have been getting the word out. It seems that if you really have the drive to succeed, the open and flexible mindset to adjust and calibrate your approach, i.e., either agreeable or assertive, and the grit to handle lots of rejection- a sales position might be something to seriously consider. And if that description is the complete opposite of how you see yourself, you can still work on identifying and realizing these areas for potential, and then making the behavioral shifts needed to be on top of the leaderboard.
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