Spend some time with high achieving sales people and it quickly becomes obvious that they share some key personality traits. Evidence of common attributes amongst top sales people comes from many high profile studies. Some of these are particularly notable in terms of the specific traits of top sales performers.

Dr. Christopher Croner, Ph.D, who himself has studied sales people for more than 25 years, cites the following about top sales people:

Over 80 years of research in the sales sector has found that the most important trait common to the DNA of nearly all successful salespeople is drive. Drive is the passion that causes great salespeople to get up early, stay up late and make whatever personal sacrifices are necessary to close business. It is the inner fire that determines not just whether a salesperson can sell, but whether they will sell.

He goes on to explain that drive consists of three elements.

1. Need for Achievement – Top performers are ambitious and goal oriented. They are not satisfied with simply working towards their goals, but are also highly self motivated to achieve their goals. Once they realize a goal, they instinctively set new, higher goals and keep progressing.

2. Competitiveness – The highest achieving sales people want to not only do well, but they also want to be best. Regardless of the pursuit they want to win and when it comes to sales, they are driven to outsell and out earn their peers. They are excited by the opportunity to influence a buyer to buy and speak as if selling is a sport, hence the expression “winning a sale.”

3. Optimism – They expect to succeed. It is what drives them to persevere through the grind and rejection that every sales person faces. Croner points out that some studies indicate that optimists outsell pessimists by 20% to 40%.

Since the mid 1980s, Target Training International has researched  human behavior and sales people worldwide. The company’s research indicated that a person’s attitude had the most impact on sales performance and more than 70% of top sales performers share a utilitarian attitude which is characterized below:

  • Utilitarian – People with a utilitarian attitude focus on investing time, energy or money, with the expectation of a return in greater time and resources. They strive to understand what is valuable, useful and, or practical and focus their energies on monetizing their value. They are attracted to financial incentives and realizing an optimal return on their resources. They are inclined to avoid pursuits that do not provide a return on their investment in time and energy, preferring instead to find the shortest path that leads them to achieving their financial goals.

All of this research is consistent with our own experiences recruiting sales people and building high performance sales teams over the last 20 years. If we were to list the predominant traits that we see across top sales people they would include the following:

  • ambition and drive
  • confidence
  • optimism
  • competitive
  • strong sense of urgency
  • high need to interact with and influence others
  • persistence 
  • resilient / impervious to rejection

A sales leader that is lucky enough to know that these traits are important, is half way to building a high performance sales force. The other half of the challenge is being able to select people with these traits. No easy task. For more on this see Sales Interview Questions and 10 Ways to Motivate Your Sales Team to Crush Their Numbers.

To your success!



Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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