What makes a salesperson great? Is it experience? Skill? Drive?

Salespeople work in different contexts and situations– there’s really no single answer to this question.

However, we can all agree that selling is an emotional undertaking. To be a great salesperson, you need to develop and hone a defined set of character traits that enable you to not confuse challenges as dead ends, and allow you to be in control of each sales conversation.

Great salespeople can be described by the following traits:


Goal orientation is a hard-wired trait you’ll find in the best salespeople.

Ask any sales manager; they could probably pinpoint the most goal oriented reps in their roster.

So, how does this manifest in everyday tasks?

Top reps with this trait show a sense of urgency when approaching any sales task–they take the lane of discipline when it comes to “boring” duties and are able to really focus on crucial sales activities.

You can spot the absence of this trait in salespeople who are unable to focus. These reps have low work ethic–they get easily bored when setting appointments; they constantly look for other sources of income instead of making the effort to exceed goals; and they connect with multiple opportunities but fail to close deals.

Goal oriented salespeople begin working on tasks with an end in mind. They constantly review their tactics and tools to see what they need to close deals. They see the relationship between productivity and the sale. They don’t depend on others to supply what they need. Instead, they are self-starting and seek within themselves before asking others for assistance as they are aware that everyone is working to meet their goals.


Great salespeople ask insightful questions. They are naturally inquisitive. This stems from the knowledge that identifying a buyer’s real need begins with asking the right probing questions.

Sure, sales reps need to be amazing in answering questions, but knowing what to ask is equally important.

Ian Moyse, sales director for Axiom Systems, shared that great sales reps are those who are able to dig deep when prospecting. “A high proportion of sales people still do surface level qualification and miss getting good direction from the customer.

Be like a child again, be inquisitive and ask lots of questions; ask Why, Why, Why and often you will be surprised what you dig up and find out!”


Great salespeople aren’t afraid to ask for the sale.

They know that it’s the only way to get things done: going after something with tenacity. Tenacious reps are not fazed by rejection: No is just another door opening.

Selling in itself requires a high level of persistence. Hurdles loom in front of reps on a daily basis. What sets great reps apart from the rest is what they do when obstacles get in the way of their success.

Jeff Gitomer, widely-known as the King of Sales and author of the Sales Bible shared, “Obstacles can’t stop you. Problems can’t stop you. Most of all, other people can’t stop you. Only you can stop you.”

This is the attitude great reps take. They know that only themselves get in the way of their success; so in times of hardship, they tap into their tenacity. They look for new solutions. They refuse to give up. In many ways, they are trailblazers–they create new ways of handling issues, and seek new approaches to improve old practices.


Self-awareness is about recognizing and understanding yourself and why you behave in a particular way.

Sales reps who excel are those who understand this concept and give themselves the opportunity to change things about themselves to bring them closer to where they want to be. This takes a great deal of humility–something a lot of sales reps, and people in general, struggle with.

In the context of selling, great reps manifest their self-awareness through constant self-reminders and examination.

Here is a short list of constant reminders reps need to tell themselves, published in an article by the United Sales Resources (USR):

  • I don’t know everything about my customer. There is probably more that I don’t know than I do know about them. I should do something about that.
  • I have to identify where my customer is in the buying process, so I can be in alignment with my customer. Once we are aligned, then and only then should I attempt to influence their thinking.
  • No one likes arrogant sales people. I won’t act like one.
  • I will stop pretending that I know a great deal about my customer’s business issues and opportunities. I will strive to be authentic in my understanding of what they are trying to achieve. I won’t fake it.
  • I know how I can help my customers. I understand the problems my company can solve, and I recognize the opportunities that we can help customers to capture for themselves. I am first a student of my customer’s problems and opportunities, and second, I am a problem-solver and an opportunity creator.

A great salesperson has no problem identifying their shortcomings. They proactively seek out how to improve their knowledge, and have no problems seeking out help from others. They always want to be better in what they do–they aim to become experts so they can provide more value to the prospects they connect with.


Salespeople often struggle with the fear of angering a prospect. It’s a valid concern; one that begs us to make the delineation between being aggressive and being assertive.

Assertion allows salespeople to move a sales conversation forward without frustrating the prospect. Aggression happens when a rep mutes out the concerns and interests of the prospect, and the sales conversation quickly becomes a crusade to close a deal with no regard to the buyer.

The line is really not that fine, and many sales reps tend to be conservative. They are often more worried than necessary.

Suppose there’s dead air on a phone call with a prospect.

Aggressive: This offer only applies if you buy right now.

Assertive: Could you give me a specific date I can call back for your final decision?

Yes, putting a little bit of pressure on the prospect to get them over a hump is often necessary–but what’s important here is to ensure that it’s just enough pressure. For most sales reps, determining what’s just enough is something learned through practice. Being aware that this is a situation to watch out for is a great start.

Which brings us to the next trait…


Empathetic reps know how to adapt their actions, tone, and behavior to a prospect’s situation.

Great reps are amazing listeners and observers. Assumptions have no room in their process–they seek out clues as to how the customer is feeling, and they put themselves in the prospect’s shoes.

Say, in the middle of a sales call, the prospect mentions in passing that they lost their biggest customer. A mediocre rep wouldn’t even notice and would just proceed to follow the sales process without flinching. A great, empathetic rep would make a judgment call: How do I help the prospect through this tough time? Is it right to push for a sale right now? How do I turn around this situation and show the prospect that I have a solution that can help them get more business?

An empathetic rep is not necessarily a “selfless” rep–they still have the sale in mind at all times. However, they are aware that understanding and listening to the prospect puts them in the best position to provide and add value. This way, they build a relationship with the prospect that goes beyond a single yes-or-no sales call.

Whether you’re a sales manager or a sales rep, it’s important to know these traits so you can develop and sharpen them in yourself and in your team. Sales is as much about the soft skills as they are about memorizing spiels and mastering product knowledge. Those who succeed in sales know that being a great rep involves so much more than knowing how to close a deal.

Read more: Motivate Middle Performing Salespeople