Hiring for skills is great -- but when it comes to client-facing roles, you need to make sure your hires have the necessary mix of sales traits that will help grow your company and embody its values and dedication to excellence.
Think of it this way: you want your accountants to excel in money and numbers, your marketing pros to be master word-wranglers, and your engineers to navigate code better than a fish can swim.
Your sales professionals need to have plenty of hard skills (like solid planning, business acumen, tech skills, and the ability to close deals), but they also need the right attitude and demeanor to engage with your customers effectively.
Getting sales hiring right is critical. A bad hire can cost you up to 30% of that employee's annual salary -- so you want to avoid onboarding people who aren't a good fit.
Now you might be wondering what are the qualities of a good salesperson -- and where are some surprising places where you may find them? We’ve rounded up 20 traits you might want in a salesperson and a few good places to look for them.
It takes an average of 18 calls to connect with a buyer. Sales team members need to be hungry for client discussions and come into calls with a positive attitude. Otherwise, their sales performance may not be what your organization needs.
And while sales managers and teammates can motivate 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 to win. For example:
- "What's the best way for a manager to motivate their team?"
- "Can you tell me about a time when you achieved your goals and how you did it?"
- "What motivates you to work hard?"
Customers want to work with sales representatives who are professional and kind.
And honestly, so do other sales reps and sales team members. A recent survey determined that 85% of people prefer to work with colleagues who care about them. When interviewing potential team members, you can screen for kindness and courtesy.
You can do this in many ways, but one simple trick is to listen for if they say please and thank you. You want to watch how they carry themselves with you and make you feel, as well as watch how they treat anyone else they interact with. This includes recruiters, potential colleagues, and even your administrative assistant if you have one.
If you’re working virtually, they may not interact with any of these people in person - but you can still watch for signs of kindness and courtesy over email and Zoom. Finally, check to see if they’ve sent a thank you email or note after the interview. Bonus points if they’ve reached out to thank anyone who spent time with them during their interview process.
3. Honest and straightforward
In general, salespeople have a bad reputation. Author Daniel Pink has written about this in his bestselling book, To Sell is Human. He shares a word cloud of words associated with salespeople, and a lot of them are fairly negative. And according to Hubspot, 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 they'll build trust with all the people who matter.
To find out if someone is honest and shoots straight, ask what they would do in a grey area scenario. For instance, if there was a minor deal where they could get away with fudging the numbers, would they? Or, if a customer asked them to do something they considered unethical, would they comply or refuse?
Another stereotype we often come across in sales is that salespeople are egotistical. So, while confidence is important, so is humility. Almost everyone's met an egomaniacal salesperson - and most people can recall working with that person being less than pleasant.
Having a sales rep with a big ego on the team can harm your team's morale, make customers feel put out, and end up frustrating others in the organization. It's good to have rockstars on your team, but they must remember their humility and recognize that there's no “I” in “team.” If you want 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 and empathetic
The sales process is much more comfortable and enjoyable when prospects can tell their sales rep is listening to and hearing their needs. Empathy helps your customer feel like they’re all playing on the same team.
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 that make them "walk a mile in someone else's shoes." This will help you see how they think about others and how much they can empathize with your customer's pain points. Need a few good questions, try these:
- Can you tell me about a time your potential customer or a colleague was dissatisfied and how you helped resolve the situation?
- What would you do if a colleague had hit a sales slump?
- Tell me how past clients would describe working with you?
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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, have a problem-solving approach in every difficult situation, and can manage themselves when things get tricky or when they have to handle sales objections. Some great questions to ask to uncover this trait are:
- “What do you do when you start to feel the heat?”
- "Tell me about a time you had to perform under pressure?"
- "What would you do if an angry customer threatened to cancel their contract?"
7. Resilient and hungry to succeed
What would happen if, every time a prospect said "no," your salespeople just gave up? Resilience is a crucial trait for salespeople, primarily 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 -- and what does that hard day look like for you?
- “Have you ever had a losing streak? How did you turn it around?”
- "When have you dealt with a challenging customer situation?"
- "What is the longest time you've worked with a client before they agreed to sign a deal with you?"
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.
Your sales team members must organize themselves well to have this kind of knowledge and awareness of their prospects. They need to follow up on the right schedule, plan ahead to prepare their presentations, and research their prospects. They also need to make sure they spend enough time with prospects and existing clients, answering their questions and providing them with support.
To look for this trait during the interview, ask questions like:
- “How do you manage your time? What's your system?”
- "Tell me about a recently completed project and how you managed it."
- "What do you like to have in order before kicking off a new project?"
- "How do you make sure you respond to client inquiries promptly?"
9. Curious and willing to learn
Salespeople that ask questions and show interest in learning are the best at uncovering their customers' needs and pain points -- and that is crucial for a sales rep's success. It allows them to lead their customers to the solutions they sell in the most effective and compelling way.
Naturally curious people will do this without making it feel like an interrogation -- their questions flow from the conversation and make your customers feel like the hero of the entire story rather than school kids in a classroom. To uncover this trait, pay attention to how they converse with you and how many questions they ask during the interview.
10. Enthusiastic and upbeat
Your sales reps need to be your brand's biggest cheerleaders. They need to make customers feel comfortable and show them the value of your product or service. As such, you should look for someone with a lot of good energy, which they can combine with their knowledge of the product or service to make a sale.
Do note that, generally, people think only extroverts can be good salespeople – but that is not always the case. As a matter of fact, introverts can be enthusiastic and energetic too – and they can make fantastic salespeople.
To uncover this trait, you can ask questions like:
- “What do you love about sales?”
- "What does a great customer experience mean to you?"
- "How do you stay motivated and upbeat when dealing with difficult leads?"
11. Creative and charismatic
An essential part of sales is thinking on your feet and developing creative solutions for customers. To close deals, your sales reps must be inventive, charismatic, and persuasive.
To determine if a candidate has these traits, ask them about their past successes. You can also assess creativity and charisma through role-play scenarios. Give them an imaginary customer situation and ask them how they would handle it. This will give you a better view of what they’re like when interacting with customers.
12. Accountable and well-prepared
The best salespeople are always accountable for their goals and actions. They take ownership of their results and know how to prepare for calls and meetings so they can lead the negotiations gracefully and successfully.
To uncover these traits, you can ask questions like:
- “How do you prepare for calls?”
- "Describe a situation where you had to take ownership of a problem."
- "What systems do you have in place to track the performance of your deals?"
- "What do you do to ensure your meeting materials are up-to-date?"
13. Good listening skills
Good salespeople are good communicators, meaning they need to know how to really listen to potential customers. People feel valued and are more likely to trust the sales rep when they are listened to.
To uncover this trait, try asking questions like:
- “What techniques do you use to connect with customers?”
- "How do you ensure the customer feels heard?"
- "Tell me about a time when active listening led to a successful outcome."
- "How do you build rapport with customers?"
14. Attentive to details
Sometimes, the most revealing facts about a lead lie not in what they say their issues are but in the details they slip through in a conversation. For this reason, good sales representatives need to pay a lot of attention to details -- like, for example, noticing the customer's tone of voice when they speak about their pain points.
To assess a candidate's attention to detail, you can ask questions like:
- “How do you uncover what matters most to customers?”
- "Describe a moment that you noticed something important about a customer that others had missed -- and how you used that to close the deal?"
- "How do you ensure you don't miss any details in customer conversations?"
15. Culturally aware
Effective salespeople have high emotional intelligence, and they need to be aware of cultural differences that may influence how a conversation goes. hey, need to be able to adapt their sales approach when selling in different cultures.
To assess a candidate's cultural awareness, you can ask questions like:
- "What strategies and techniques do you use to build relationships with customers from different cultures?"
- "How have you adapted your approach when selling in different cultures?"
- "What do you think the key elements of a culturally aware sales approach are?"
- "Describe an experience where cultural differences had an impact on a sale."
Having a deep knowledge of your product or service is essential for successful sales reps, but it's just as important to have the ability to draw insightful conclusions from customer conversations.
Without being insightful, your salespeople will end up navigating in the dark. No matter how direct customers and prospects are, you can’t rely on simply their words. Your salespeople need to know how to navigate their opinions, suggestions, and reactions to your product, and they need to know how to transform that into meaningful insights – for their relationships with customers and for your business as a whole.
To assess this trait, you can ask questions like:
- "How do you use data to gain insight into customer needs and challenges?"
- "Describe a situation when you used customer conversations to increase sales."
- "What strategies have successfully driven the conversation towards insightful conclusions?"
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Relationship building is key to sales success. A successful sales rep must build trust and establish meaningful customer relationships beyond the initial sale. Of course, the main goal here is to close the deal -- but this should always be done in a way that nurtures real, human-to-human, lasting relationships rather than transactional ones.
To uncover this trait, you can ask questions like:
- "How do you build strong relationships with customers?"
- "Describe a successful relationship-building strategy you have used in the past?"
- "What strategies do you use to encourage customers to return for more?"
18. Passionate and goal-oriented
The most successful salespeople have a deep passion for their work and are focused on achieving their goals. They stay organized, are always striving to do better and grow their sales numbers.
To uncover this trait, you can ask questions like:
- "What is your biggest sales success so far?"
- "What type of goals do you set for yourself in sales?"
- "Describe a moment your passion for sales was the key to success?"
- "What strategies do you use to stay motivated and keep up your performance?"
19. Tech savvy
The modern sales environment requires a good understanding of technology, from CRM software to online marketing platforms. Good sales reps need to be tech-savvy and know how to use the latest tools and technologies at every stage of the sales process.
From social selling tools (like LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator) to business intelligence software, good sales representatives need to know the ins and outs of the tools that make their work more efficient.
To assess a candidate's tech-savviness, ask them questions like:
- "What is your experience with sales software and CRM systems?"
- "Describe a time you used technology to increase sales."
- "How do you stay up to date with the latest sales tools and technologies?"
- "What strategies do you use to maximize the impact of technology on customer conversations?"
20. Good at multitasking
Top salespeople are adept at multitasking, and they're great at juggling multiple conversations and tasks simultaneously. They also need to be able to switch gears quickly, show adaptability, and focus on the task at hand.
To uncover this trait, you can ask questions like:
- "Describe a situation you had to manage several customer conversations simultaneously?"
- "How do you prioritize tasks to deliver results quickly?"
- "How do you stay organized when dealing with multiple customers?"
Hiring from outside of sales
Good salespeople are everywhere -- not just in the sales world per se. You should look beyond people with direct sales experience to expand your horizon and uncover new talent. You'll be surprised at just how many great people you can find in industries outside of sales. They might not have the experience – but they have the skills and the personalities you need to make your sales team a mean, lean, deal-closing machine.
Here are some places you could look for people with the skills and traits that make successful salespeople.:
Teachers are excellent at public speaking, communicating effectively, and learning the needs of the people they work with. People who have worked as teachers may already have many of the abovementioned skills. Beyond that, they are creative problem solvers that are extremely people-focused — excellent qualities for any salesperson.
Customer support professionals
Empathy can be difficult to measure and hard to assess in an interview. But all top performers in sales should have it in spades. Another team that unilaterally has empathy is customer 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 is based on a lot of competition -- the healthy kind, but nevertheless competition. People who have played sports professionally have an innate ability to compete and push themselves until they reach their goals. They’re also resilient and have the skills to lead as well as motivate others. All of these traits come in very handy when working in sales.
What are the top 3 traits of a salesperson?
The top 3 traits of a salesperson include:
- Self-motivation (because salespeople should always strive to do better, and that can only be intrinsic to who they are, rather than an external motivator.)
- Courteous and polite (because your sales reps interact with a lot of people – and they need to know how to be charming, polite, and courteous regardless of the answers they get.)
- Excellent listening (because, despite popular belief, salespersons need to listen more than they speak, and draw insightful conclusions from their conversations.)
What is the best sales trait a salesperson should have?
There are a lot of sales traits a salesperson should have, but if you had to narrow it down to one best trait, it’s self-awareness. Knowing you are curious, what you need to do to succeed, and when to listen are all qualities related to how you know who you are at the deepest level.
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Hiring for personality traits in sales
Remember that finding great salespeople starts with identifying the right personality type for your company. While each salesperson needs to possess certain traits, such as empathy and strong communication skills, great sales reps also need to have an appropriate combination of traits that fit the culture and environment of your company.
The key to finding driven, results-oriented sales reps is being open-minded about the possibilities rather than taking a rigid, resume-based approach to hiring. Look for people with the right personality, and you'll help your business achieve its sales goals!
And once the right sales team members come onboard, Qwilr can help them with organizing and sharing compelling sales collateral and proposals.
About the author
Brendan Connaughton|Head of Growth Marketing
Brendan heads up growth marketing and demand generation at Qwilr, overseeing performance marketing, SEO, and lifecycle initiatives. Brendan has been instrumental in developing go-to-market functions for a number of high-growth startups and challenger brands.
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