6 top personality traits of a successful salesperson
What makes a good salesperson? Is there an ideal sales personality? Two Zendesk VPs weigh in on the personality traits you should look for when hiring your next rep.
Published September 10, 2020
Last updated September 21, 2021
You want to hire a new salesperson for your team. Multiple interviews go by, and the candidates start to blend together. Everyone says they’re outgoing, goal-oriented, and driven—obvious traits of a good sales personality. So how do you know which candidate to pick for the job?
What is a sales personality?
Pretty straightforward: The idea is that certain traits and tendencies in a person can make them very good at selling. A key personality trait for a hiring manager to look for in those pursuing a sales career, for instance, might be assertiveness. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
And the truth is, being a sales rep takes more than being the right personality type. It's not about just being an extrovert or using the right “key words” in an interview. The best salespeople need a balance of personality traits to keep a happy, calm demeanor and find solutions—even when leads are challenging.
As a manager, it’s your job to understand what makes a good salesperson. More important, you need to know how to identify those sales personality traits in potential new hires.
What do companies look for in a sales person?
We recently sat down with Sharon Prosser, VP of Worldwide SMB Sales at Zendesk, and Justin Van Kleeck, VP of Global Sales Development at Zendesk. We wanted to know:
- What are the personality traits of top-performing sales reps?
- How do you assess candidates based on these traits?
- How do you essentially conduct a personality test in an interview?
Here’s what they had to say about what they look for in a salesperson.
The life of a sales agent involves working to meet goals and quotas month after month. If you aren’t driven by goals, you aren’t going to thrive in a sales environment. Period.
So how do you determine whether a sales rep is goal-oriented? When Justin interviews candidates, he asks them to give real-life examples.
“Have [candidates] give real-life examples, even if they’re personal, of how they pursue their goals,” Justin says. Ask questions like:
- What was the last goal you set for yourself?
- How did you approach it?
- What steps did you take to achieve it?
- Who did you share it with?
You can also ask a potential sales hire about their future goals. Where do they see themselves in five or ten years? Goal-oriented sales professionals will be able to tell you the specific benchmarks they’re working toward, along with how they plan to achieve those goals.
Rejection is a reality of sales. It’s unavoidable when you’re reaching out to over 50 people per day.
The best salespeople don’t take “no” personally. They use logic to understand why a prospect said no, and then they adjust their strategy accordingly.
Sharon encourages her candidates and reps to “get smart about why [the deal] was rejected.” Was it timing, cost, or something else?
Ask your candidate to tell you about a time when they lost a deal. Pay attention to how they relay the experience. They should be able to tell you what they learned from the experience and how they implemented that knowledge in future sales interactions.
The best salespeople are resilient in the face of rejection. Hearing “no” should be motivation to try harder.
When it comes to meeting quotas—or dealing with failure—great salespeople hold themselves accountable. After all, you can’t meet team quotas if one rep is constantly making excuses for coming up short. Your reps should take responsibility for their contribution to a team, even if that means admitting failure.
Watch out for this red flag
To assess a rep for whether or not they can be accountable, ask them about a time they made a mistake that affected their team or organization. For example, maybe they missed an easy sales opportunity because they forgot to follow up with a hot lead. They should take responsibility for that failure and be able to explain what they could have done better.
If they can't easily give you an example? Big old red flag.
“I find most successful salespeople are going to be a harder critic on themselves,” Justin says. “When you dig a layer or two deeper with having people provide examples, if they’re not being genuine, that becomes apparent fairly quickly.”
Curiosity is what drives sales reps to truly understand a prospect’s situation. The best salespeople are invested in getting to know their lead as an individual, with unique needs and pain points. Not only does this establish trust and rapport with a prospect, but it also gives reps the context they need to close a sale.
Ask your candidates to talk about how they manage the initial stages of the sales cycle (prospecting and qualifying).
- What types of sales questions do they ask to understand a prospect’s goals?
- How do they identify the roadblocks preventing those prospects from achieving their goals?
Curious salespeople will “ask the same question five different times/ways to truly understand a situation,” Sharon says. The more understood your leads feel, the more likely they’ll be to invest in your company’s solutions.
Sales reps reach out to people all day, every day. Different personalities can be great at this, but if they don't enjoy being outgoing, they'll likely burn out quickly.
Sometimes you can tell if a candidate lacks this sales personality trait just by interacting with them face-to-face.
“The phone starts to weigh 500 pounds, and they dread picking it up in the morning,” Justin says.
For these candidates, reaching out to leads all day will likely be draining.
Find your extroverts by asking applicants what they like to do in their spare time. You might ask how they recharge after a long week. If the answer is “Get together with friends” or “Meet new people,” it’s likely that person would thrive in a sales environment.
Sales is a highly competitive industry. If you aren’t motivated by the desire to win, you’re not going to be successful in a sales role.
That said, it’s also important to be a team player. Sometimes, winning a deal for your company requires tapping into the resources and knowledge of other reps. “Selling is a team sport, hands down. If you are a lone ranger, you’re going to fall short,” Sharon says.
To gauge your candidate’s level of competitiveness, ask, “Would you classify yourself as someone who loves to win or hates to lose?” Highly competitive people are going to have a stronger reaction to losing, because they expect to win. Anything less is simply unacceptable.
Just remember, your reps should be willing to work together if it means a win for the company. Ask your potential hires about a time when they helped a coworker. If they can’t think of an example, it might mean they’re unwilling to be a team player.
Defining the “ideal” sales personality
As a sales manager, it’s your job to understand what makes a good rep. Consider Justin and Sharon’s advice to evaluate whether job candidates have the right traits for the job. You’ll be well on your way to building a strong sales team by following these industry leaders’ tips.