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Top 5 Pieces of the Sales Performance Puzzle

July 26, 2012

Why are some people successful in sales while others are not?  In other words, what makes for a good salesperson?  This is a question that sales managers and executives ask themselves regularly.  Perhaps a more perplexing question is why someone who is successful selling in one job is a complete failure in another, or vice versa.  Is there a way of dramatically increasing your odds that someone is going to succeed in a sales role?

There are 5 competency areas that are consistently related to higher levels of sales performance.  The names used to describe these 5 areas differ from study to study, but the underlying constructs remain the same.  These 5 pieces will help you put together the sales performance puzzle:

The Top Five

1. Achievement Motivation. The extent to which someone is driven to succeed.  It is usually associated with competitiveness and goal achievement.  The fear of failing is also a component that comes into play here.

2. Emotional Stability / Adaptability.  The key here is the extent to which the individual can function effectively even when faced with rejection or stressful situations.  This might also be referred to as ‘Resilience.’

3. Emotional Intelligence. This is a newer area of research compared with the others.  It’s also a very broad area that encompasses a number of other factors.  The key here is the extent to which the individual empathizes and understands the emotions and motivations that underlie human behavior, i.e., how well they ‘read people.’

4. Accountability / Locus of Control.  In essence, this relates to the extent to which people see themselves as responsible for their own success or failure.  They are accountable.

5. Organization / Time Management. The key here relates primarily to time management and prioritization.


The Next Three

There are three other competency areas that are close to breaking into the top five but don’t quite meet the criteria of being consistently and strongly related to success.  This most likely means that they may be more important in some situations or positions than in others:

6. Extraversion / Outgoing.  Tend to be talkative and enjoy being around other people.

7. General Cognitive Ability.  Relates to logical reasoning, interpreting information quickly and accurately.

8. Communication (oral and written).  This relates to being articulate and easily understood.


What Doesn’t Work?

While there are any number of factors that don’t relate to sales success, some are more surprising than others.  These 3 areas intuitively seem like they should be linked with successful sales performance but really are not:

  • Conscientiousness.  This is a competency area that is consistently related to success for most jobs but not for sales.  This area relates to being structured, rule bound and having a strong work ethic.  While the work ethic component is related to sales, structured rule bound components are not.
  • Agreeableness.  This is related to being friendly, likeable and enjoying social relationships.  It’s different from being extroverted because you could be quiet and reserved while still being friendly and easy to get along with.
  • Education.  Getting good grades in school, or having a college vs. a high school education has very little to do with success in sales.

This is just a high-level look at some of the components that can make an individual an effective sales person (or not).  To learn more, read a whitepaper that I co-authored, "Predicting Success in Sales," which goes into more detail and provides additional resources for improving the sales performance in your organization.

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Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. is the Manager of Product Development at PSI. She is an expert in the design, development and validation of psychological assessment tools. An integral member of PSI since 2000, Amie has led the development of numerous competency-based assessments, including online in-baskets, job simulations and motivational fit instruments.