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What Does it Take to be a Good Sales Person?

April 29, 2014

One of the TV shows that I find myself watching week-to-week is Shark Tank. In this show, entrepreneurs try to “sell” their business or business concept to a group of venture capitalists with the hopes of getting an investment from them. Not only does this investment give the entrepreneurs money, but it also provides them the advice and connections that will facilitate the growth of their business. So, their five-minute pitch is critical. I have seen entrepreneurs in the show excel … and also flounder.

Watching this show brings me back to I/O psychology concepts — what does it take to be a good sales person? It’s clear from watching this show as well as observing customer service interactions, that there is a core set of skills and abilities needed to be a successful sales person. The best way to determine the core competencies for a specific role is to conduct a job analysis. However, there are some competencies that consistently show up as being important for success in research and applied settings.

Below, I highlight three of these important competencies.

1) Passion

When someone enters the shark tank, you can tell immediately whether they are fully invested in their company or whether they see it as merely a job or side job. The differentiator here is passion. Sales people must be passionate about what they do and show a drive to continually advance their product or service.

This passion and excitement gets transmitted to you and then you are more likely to see their product or service as a worthwhile investment. You can have the highest degree from the best business school in the country, but if you don’t have passion and drive, you will not win too many people.

2) Emotional Intelligence

Going into a sales situation requires pre-work. Sales people need to understand their audience so they can tailor their message to the audience. However, this prep work is only the first step. The entire sales process requires active engagement. During the pitch, sales people need to effectively respond to the verbal and non-verbal cues from the customer.

This often requires adaptation in the sales approach, especially if the product or service is innovation. For example, one entrepreneur on Shark Tank re-conceptualized the typical energy bar. How, you ask?  By using crickets as a form of protein. Picking up on the shock and disgust from the sharks, the entrepreneur changed his selling tactic by marketing crickets as a new, sustainable, and eco-friendly form of protein. The entrepreneur continued to respond appropriately to the reactions and cues from the sharks, and, ultimately landed a deal.

While most sales people are not trying to sell crickets for consumption, the basic skill of emotional intelligence and social awareness is critical. Salespeople must be able to pick up on the cues from others and respond or adapt appropriately.

3) Sales Ability/Problem Solving

When the entrepreneurs approach the sharks, they propose a deal for the amount of money they want in return for the percentage investment. Based on this proposal, a valuation of the company is easily determined. At least 25% of the entrepreneurs enter the shark tank with a wrong or inappropriate valuation.

For example, some will request 10% investment for 100K (1 million dollar valuation), when they don’t have proof of sales. Even I know that this would be a shot in the foot.  The inability to effectively evaluate the product or service is an immediate turn off because it shows that the sales person is not able to work well with numbers or accurately project numbers based on opportunity and risk. 

Salespeople need to have some degree of problem-solving skills in order to determine what the bottom line price could be for a product to profit. However, they also need problem-solving skills to think about how they can best frame their product in the broader market to achieve maximum sales.

As you can see, sales people have a unique set of skills important for success on the job.  Luckily, we all don’t have to have the skills to survive in the Shark Tank, but at PSI, we have the tools to help you find the right sales people for the job.

Alissa Parr, Ph.D. Alissa Parr, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include the development, implementation, and evaluation of assessment processes. Alissa has experience managing entry-level through executive level assessment and selection efforts across a number of different industries including government, financial, military, education, healthcare, and manufacturing.