9 Sales Traits That Define High-Performing Reps

Sales techniques7 mins
Sep 24, 2020
salesperson playing close attention

Have you ever gone to the grocery store hungry? If you have, you know exactly how bad an idea it is. You get caught up in the moment, and, all of a sudden, your cart is filled with five different types of chips, 10 boxes of cereal, and who knows what else.

However, if you go to the grocery store prepared with a list, things tend to go much smoother. Sure, there are still temptations, but you have some level of defense in the form of your grocery list. Though a much higher stakes game, hiring for a salesperson is kind of similar.

According to the Department of Labor, a bad hire can cost up to 30% of the employee's first-year earnings. That is a lot of money to be losing on something entirely preventable (like all those chips).

While some traits you look for during hiring may be specific to your company and values, others, especially in sales, can help predict the candidate's success in a role. But, in order to do that, you need a starting point.

In this blog post, we break down the innate and learned traits that make for an all-star sales rep and some unexpected places where you might look for them. We'll even give you one or two questions to ask during the interview that could help you dig a bit deeper. Don't forfeit any more revenue on poor hires — get it right the first time.

1. Self-motivated

It takes an average of 18 calls to connect with a buyer. Sales team members need to be hungry. Otherwise, their sales may just slip through their fingers. While sales managers and teammates can play an integral part in motivating sales reps, the lion's share of the work will fall to the rep themselves. When hiring, be sure to ask questions that identify people who are self-motivated and hungry. For example:

  • "What's the best way for a manager to motivate their team?"
  • "Tell me about a time when you achieved your personal goals and how you did it."

2. Courteous

Customers want to work with sales representatives who seem professional and kind. Similarly, a recent survey determined that 85% of people prefer to work with colleagues who care about them. Looking for individuals who show kindness and courtesy during the interview helps ensure your team member's success externally with customers and internally with your team. To sniff this out during the interview, one simple trick is to listen if they say please and thank you. See how they carry themselves with you and how they make you feel, and look for a thank you email after the interview.

3. Honest

Only 3% of people trust sales team members. You want people to feel like they can trust their team members, and you want your customers to feel like they can trust your sales team. Screening for honest candidates during the interview process is one of the best ways to ensure that they'll build trust with all of the people who matter. To dig into this, ask what they would do in a grey area scenario. For instance, if there was a small deal where they could get away with fudging the numbers, would they?

4. Humble

Everyone's met an egomaniacal salesperson. They can harm your team's morale, make customers feel put-out, and end up frustrating people cross-functionally. It's good to have rockstars on your team, and it's vital that they remember their humility and recognize that there's no “I” in “team.” If you're looking to uncover humility in a potential candidate, ask them about accomplishments from previous teams and listen to see if they give credit to others.

5. Caring

When prospects can tell their sales rep is listening to them and hearing their needs, it makes the process much more comfortable and enjoyable. Empathy helps your customer feel like you’re all playing on the same team.

This research on sales rep performance by the American Psychological Association found that the most predictive indicator of sales success is "conscientiousness." To determine how empathetic and caring a potential new team member is, ask them questions like where they've volunteered or about a time when they needed to put themselves in someone else's shoes.

6. Calm under pressure

People that have been under fire before know how to handle pressure well. If someone has been in a high-stress role or worked in a high-performing sales organization, they should be able to speak to how they keep their cool. The best salespeople are quick on their feet and able to manage themselves when things get tricky. One great question to ask to uncover this trait is:

  • “What do you do when you start to feel the heat?”

7. Resilient

What would happen if, every time a prospect said "no," your salespeople just gave up? Resilience is a crucial trait for salespeople and something that is largely learned through experience. Here are a few questions that you can ask to uncover how resilient your candidate is:

  • “How do you deal with a hard day?”
  • “Have you ever had a losing streak? How did you turn it around?”

8. Organized

A recent study by Salesforce reports that 79% of business buyers say it's critical or essential that their salesperson is a trusted advisor who adds value to their business.

To have this kind of knowledge and awareness of all of their prospects, your sales team members need to organize themselves well. To look for this trait during the interview, ask questions like:

  • “How do you manage your time? What's your system?”

9. Questioning and willing to learn

Salespeople that ask questions are the best at uncovering the needs and pain points of their customers. They also show a willingness to learn. When you get a candidate that asks great questions about the interview process, product, or existing customer base, you can usually assume that you'll get a rep that will continue to advance themselves and learn throughout their career. Some things to pay attention to: Do they ask more than just cursory questions about the position? Can they speak to the last thing they taught themselves?

Hiring from outside of sales

There are a few roles outside of sales where people may develop or exhibit these traits. If someone with one of these roles on their resume comes across your desk when hiring, don't dismiss them as not having the right sales experience — they may be a secret weapon for your team.


Teachers are excellent at public speaking, communicating effectively, and learning the needs of the people they work with. People that have worked as teachers may already have many of the skills mentioned above. Beyond that, they are creative problem solvers that are extremely people-focused — excellent qualities for any salesperson.

Customer support professionals

Empathy can be tough to measure and is super hard to assess in an interview. But, all great salespeople should have it in spades. Another team that unilaterally has empathy is Support. Support people are quick to learn and develop creative solutions to challenging problems. They’re also tenacious and resilient, just like the best salespeople.

Athletes or coaches

Sales by necessity has a healthy level of competition, and people that do well in a sales role should have this inner drive innately. If you look for people who have played sports professionally, recreationally or even coached, you will easily find this level of friendly competitiveness. Be sure to temper it by talking about sportsmanship, but finding a history of sports is a great way to measure inner competitiveness.

Ask the right questions

Just like going to the grocery store unprepared, trying to hire without some sort of blueprint can have unintended consequences. If you go into the hiring process having a general understanding of what you're looking for and what will work well for your team, you're well