I closed millions of dollars in business-to-business sales in my early twenties. I also helped hundreds of companies create more scalable and effective sales processes, creating over a billion dollars in sales revenue.
During my career, I hired and worked with amazing salespeople. I’ve interviewed hundreds of salespeople for my own businesses. As a sales strategy consultant, I trained thousands for Silicon Valley’s fastest-growing startups.
As I build a sales team for my latest software startup, Endpass, I’ve been thinking about what separates exceptional salespeople from those who can’t seem to hit quota.
These are the main traits to look for in exceptional sales hires:
The best salespeople often don’t need much management; just the right incentive structure and a respectful work environment where they can grow and flourish. Working at a company with a great product makes sales easier, but top salespeople can sell just about anything. Discipline has always been a critical trait for good sales hires, but it’s way more important when your team is remotely distributed.
This trait goes well with agility. If you can be creative, you can think of new approaches to give you a leg up on your competition. Maybe you brainstorm compelling new value propositions that even the marketing team hasn’t thought of yet.
One year ago, no one expected we’d be experiencing a global pandemic right now. But the creative salesperson can still optimistically find ways to make the best of this situation, and “make lemonade from lemons.”
Doing sales is hard. You’re constantly faced with rejection; deals you thought were sure to close can often fall through at the last minute. Just like excellent entrepreneurs, superb salespeople must have great perseverance to roll with all the punches and still keep going. This is what makes the difference between those who consistently crush quota and those who fall short when things don’t go according to plan.
Every seasoned salesperson knows that closing deals requires doing enough sales outreach volume. It’s not uncommon to work a dozen or more deals simultaneously if you want to hit or exceed your quota. Tools like Salesforce help track your activities, but you need to be obsessed with your calendar and how you spend your time if you want to be successful in this career.
Sales is all about timeliness; the faster you follow up with people, the better your odds are to close a deal. Dropping balls and forgetting to send emails or call people on is a sure way to hurt your paycheck and your sales career.
Top sellers are good at spotting and creating opportunities. They carefully watch for changes that make potential customers primed to buy. They can dig up information that they incept into conversations to instantly build deep rapport. And when a deal falls through because the decision-maker suddenly quit or gets fired, they already have another contact that can be their champion, and move things forward.
Now more than ever, sales has become a virtual activity. Well before the pandemic, smart sales organizations were already selling remotely because they realized it was more cost-effective and scalable than going to conferences or flying field salespeople all around. You still need to be able to talk to people over the phone or do a video call, but cold email has always been more scalable and effective than cold calling.
Even with the fanciest automated sales tools, you won’t close deals if you can’t write a good email (or some kind of other direct message on social media). That’s why I always make every prospective sales hire write a cold email to demonstrate their writing skills and creativity.
I find this trait in successful hires of all roles, especially when hiring for tech companies. If you’ve worked at a startup, you know how fast things constantly change: new products to learn how to sell, new markets to target, new competitors popping up, etc. While it’s always nice to hire someone who already knows your space and has a network of potential customers, I’ve seen great salespeople switch industries and still be successful.
In fact, I know several savvy professionals who took a risk and left a very successful sale career because they believed the space they were in was shrinking. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves and learned a new market in a slightly more junior role, but in less than a year they were top performers at their respective companies.
As long as you keep learning and growing, you’ll always be successful.