There are 5.7 million sales professionals in North America – perhaps millions more, in the world. And yet, only a few can claim to reach stellar performance or results. What makes a Zig Ziglar, Grant Cardone, David Ogilvy or Dale Carnegie? What separates the good from the truly great? We made a list of the sales skills of the best reps, and you know what? Talking people into buying things wasn’t high on the list.

Data from the Miller Heiman group shows that only 53 percent of sales professionals are hitting or exceeding their quota. This percentage has steadily decreased from 63% over the last 5 years, showing that all is not right when it comes to sales performance.

salespeople quota graph - quota achievement statistics

InsideSales.com studies have shown that leadership activities of coaching and mentoring positively impact the growth and retention of top performers, maximizing investment in people and processes.

In B2B organizations, transitioning just 15 percent sales reps from lower performing groups to higher performing quadrants can lead to significant revenue increase.

So, how do you find the skills which allow some sales reps to constantly over-achieve and break records – and weed out the behaviors which are causing others to underperform?

Evaluating Sales Reps Performance

Evaluating a sales rep’s performance and skills should be an ongoing process. To be able to rate sales professionals on a scale, sales leaders can look at key metrics such as closed revenue, sales conversations, qualified leads or the number of sales activities.

However, the numbers tell only a part of the story.

How you get to these numbers is a matter of perseverance, communication skills and hard work. There’s no silver bullet.

sales skills of best performers

The Sales Skills That Make a Great Rep

We asked sales managers what are the sales skills of a great salesman, and here’s what we found out.

Listening Skills

Sales professionals are in a position that requires strong communication skills, and that doesn’t necessarily mean talking. It means hearing out your customers and finding what’s best for them – not for you, as painful as that may be sometimes.

“Successful sales people don’t try to convince customers that their product or service is right for them. Instead, they begin by listening and finding out if the potential customer is a good fit before leaping for the sale. This prevents them from coming off as pushy and saves time and money by that would otherwise be spent on chasing unlikely leads,” said Joe Zente, CEO of The Alternative Board in Austin.

Great salespeople need to understand the prospect, their problems and goals, added Steve Benson, founder and CEO of Badger Maps. “They communicate solutions that enable them to be more successful,” said Benson.

The only way to understand your prospect is through listening, adds Matt L. Schmidt, Sales Director of Diabetes Life Solutions – however, very few salespeople take the time to listen. “If you listen carefully to a client or prospect, they will tell you exactly what they need or want,” said Schmidt.

Resilience and Grit – The Best Sales Reps Are Hard Workers

Sales suffers one of the highest attrition rates of all professions, which is why it serves to recruit salespeople who show resilience and grit, explained Calum Coburn, from the Negotiation Experts.

“Sales pros have to deal with rejection lot. They do not get calls back, they do not receive feedback after investing a great deal of energy and time on a proposal or pitch. So when recruiting sales managers and leaders, you would do well to recruit those who have staying power,” said Calum.

“You can measure grit or fortitude. As well as looking for grit from previous roles in the form of sticking it out in the face of knockbacks, ask your sales applicant about their hobbies and extra-mural activities. If they stuck with something for 2 years or more, this shows staying power. One year is the bare minimum,” added Calum.

Jon Gorman, sales manager at Fundera, added that he looks for salespeople who are hardworking and resilient, when hiring.

“If you’re behind on your numbers for the month, how will you deal with it? Are you going to call it in, or work harder, double down and catch up? The right attitude goes a long way in sales, and if you are hardworking and resilient you will be better at your job,” said Gorman.

Empathy, A Much Needed Sales Skill

Being empathetic is also an incredible sales skill that allows you to tune into customers and anticipate their needs and wants.

“Great salespeople are empathic. They need to listen to the prospect and care about their issues. The key here is listening with an unbiased ear. They are humble – they need to be willing to put the prospect and/or client first before themselves and their company,” said Carrie Pobre, trainer at Sandler school of sales training in Los Angeles.

A great salesperson knows what the customer wants before they even know it, and guides them to the perfect product or service, adds Eddie Kane, sales manager at tadibrothers.

“If the customer has confidence that the salesperson will find the perfect product, it will be a closed deal. The customer will be happy and repeat purchase,” said Kane.

The Best Sales Reps Come Prepared

Cold calling isn’t dead, it’s reborn in the digital age, with new tools and processes. Sales professionals now spend a few minutes researching each prospect or contact before calling them, to ensure they have the right person and that they can personalize the message.

“The best sales pros invest more time preparing for their negotiations, recognizing that every client interaction is a negotiation. They write down their questions, then improve on the wording. A quick SWOT analysis helps them gain valuable insights. They research the heck out of their key accounts, on a company and industry level, and more importantly on the personal level of understanding who they’re selling to,” said Calum Coburn.

Self-Motivated and Competitive

Great salespeople are self-motivated and competitive, said Carrie Pobre, from the Sandler school of sales training in Los Angeles. Most often, they put forward sales goals themselves to motivate them, and don’t wait for company direction.

“Great salespeople are competitive. It’s just in their blood,” said Pobre.

“One of the oddest things I’ve found in sales, is that a ‘love of people’ is actually not required. Some very successful salespeople actually don’t really like people. What they do have is a desire to help others and the skills to help the prospect figure out if their product/service is a fit,” added Carrie Pobre.

Bonus Tips:

Product Knowledge

Product knowledge is not the most important skill for a salesperson to have, however it is a requirement for closing deals. Whether you are selling a product or services, make sure you know the features like the back of your hand.

“Before you sell/serve anyone you must know every detail and history of your product,” said Dave Ramsey, author and sales trainer.


sales effectiveness assessment - sales performers