I have been enjoying HBR’s Most Popular Blogs of 2011. The list includes the 11 most popular blog posts on HBR from last year, and in one case forever. Steve Martin, the sales development guy, not the comedian, says there are 7 key personality characteristics that identify top selling sales people. His research is based upon survey responses of 1,000 candidates selling high technology and business services.
I think Steve’s point of view has some merit as far as determining what people look like when they make it into the Presidents Club of top sellers. What’s missing is what does that mean to you and me? What if we don’t look like that? How do we know if we should try to change or if we’re in the wrong profession?
To me, it boils down to two things. One you can change and one you probably can’t. In research involving 500,000 salespeople (yeah, that’s half a million), university researchers found that a key component of sales success is the willingness to do whatever it takes to be successful. We call that commitment. Not commitment to the company per se, but commitment to the idea of being successful. People who are committed like that will change whatever they need to about themselves to be successful. By the way, your level of commitment to success is largely unchanging over your lifetime and while it might be implantable in someone that does not have it, it is so costly to do it that it is often better to leave the profession.
On the other hand, an area that Martin did not touch much on at all is skills and training. In the same research it was found that individuals with training and skills opportunities (meaning they are both able to learn and have significant room for improvement) can make great strides in improving their sales performance. I’m concerned that leaders will read Martin’s comments and toss out high potential individuals that simply need better coaching and management, rather than investing to make them stronger, which in many cases is the shorter path to more revenue.
So while I agree that the traits he identifies are interesting, and that certain people probably are not meant for the President’s Club, I think it takes a closer look to see whether an individual has promise or not.
Click here to read Steve’s post.