Characteristics of Top Salespeople

In Harvard Business Review’s “Seven Personality Traits of Top Salespeople,” modesty and conscientiousness were surprisingly rated as the top two traits of highly successful salespeople. Most would agree: successful selling takes determination, courage, communication skills, and resiliency, but it also requires unassuming qualities like humility and conscientiousness. Hear from local sales executives on what they think are the key characteristics and skills for top sales professionals.

Salespeople.PrainoRob Praino


Account Executive, Bahakel Radio Group

Quiet confidence is probably one of the most useful characteristics in sales. Being confident in your product line as well as your ability to help your client leads to success for everyone involved. The quiet part is essential – listening is a skill that is sometimes the hardest to practice – but necessary! I’ve managed reps who saw great changes in their closing ratio when they finally stopped talking long enough to listen. Second, knowledge is power: knowing your product offering inside and out, and knowing as much as possible about your target client and how those two intertwine gives you the ability to have a casual, in-depth conversation that will lead to a sale. Nobody likes to be “sold” to, so I’ve found educated conversations to be much more effective than a standardized pitch. Know what your client needs and meet that need. Third, I think a sense of self is very important. Be honest and know your strengths and weaknesses, and utilize your strengths.

Salespeople.McLaughlinPriscilla McLaughlin


Employee Benefits Consultant/Broker, BB&T Huffaker Insurance

I think enthusiasm is one of the most important characteristics. You’ve got to truly believe in your product and know how it helps your clients.  Resilience and persistence are also key characteristics needed in sales. I’m not intimidated by the cold call. I try not to take anything personally; I just get back out there and keep looking for the next potential client. I also know it takes time to build relationships and to determine what knowledge and services we have that will be of value to a potential client. Eventually, if there is a need and I stay in touch, I will get an opportunity. Lastly, it’s critical to have support and encouragement. My team is nothing short of awesome and I believe it is impossible to be successful without the support and encouragement of close family, friends, and co-workers.

If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.


– Zig Ziglar

Salespeople.ShumateJessie Shumate


Regional Sales Manager, The Double Cola Company

First, know your customer. Find out what is important to their business and their customers and understand their challenges. Getting to know your customer is essential in knowing how to provide them with tailored support that produces mutually beneficial results. Second, be nimble. The competitive landscape for many industries is ever-changing. For the beverage industry, consumer demographics and social and economic trends impact such factors as product merchandising, price, and promotion.  Allowing for a margin of flexibility within an annual plan can help overcome any unforeseen trends. Third, do what you say you will do. In college, I was assigned to read The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. Fifteen years later, the lesson of “do what you say you will do” still sticks with me for many reasons, but primarily because it shows integrity.  Without integrity, relationship building becomes unnecessarily challenging.

Salespeople.BarronRobert Barron


Senior Vice President of Sales, GameTime, a PlayCore Company

In my 25 years of experience, I find that empathy and ego drive are common traits in top performers. Salespeople who possess a great deal of empathy understand the situation from their customers’ point of view. Having empathy does not necessary mean being sympathetic. It is important to understand how someone else feels even if you don’t agree. Empathy is a sales person’s greatest tool at gaining valuable feedback and insight. The other quality we find in top performers is a kind of ego drive that makes them want and need to make a sale, not merely for the financial benefit. It is the sense of personal fulfillment they gain from doing work and successfully completing the task that drives them to succeed. If you find a salesperson with a good balance of empathy and ego – hire them.    

Salespeople.GrayJessica Gray


Account Executive, Sinclair Broadcast Group

Perseverance – sales is a lot like training for a marathon. You have good runs and you have bad runs, even if you’re an experienced runner. It’s the same with sales; you’ll have good days and you’ll have bad days. The more you show up and take action in your life, the more your talents and skills will show themselves. Practice makes permanent! Empathy – it’s all about relationships and having empathy for your client and genuinely wanting to help your client’s business succeed. I like to put myself in their shoes, so I can find the solution that works best for them.  Positivity is another attribute that’s needed. When faced with negative situations, you have to choose to focus on the positive aspects instead. Enthusiasm and positivity is contagious.

If you are not taking care of your customer, your competitor will.


– Bob Hooey

Salespeople.McKinnisKathy McInnis


Account Executive, Fairway Outdoor Advertising

The two characteristics that are incredibly important to master are becoming a disciplined listener and practicing a connective empathy with your client. Empathy allows you to put yourself into the other person’s circumstances and assists in uncovering and understanding the needs, fears, and goals from their perspective. You cannot truly help a client until you are able to view their business from their eyes. However, to connect on this level you must actively listen to what is being said and not assume going in that you know what the client’s needs are. Practicing these two traits will help you build trust and rapport with your clients and become more of a marketing consultant rather than just another salesman wanting to hit their sales numbers each month.

Salespeople.RodriguezJohn Rodriguez


Senior Account Executive, Brewer Media

I think enthusiasm is one of the most important characteristics. You’ve got to truly believe in your product and know how it helps your clients.  Resilience and persistence are also key characteristics needed in sales. I’m not intimidated by the cold call. I try not to take anything personally; I just get back out there and keep looking for the next potential client. I also know it takes time to build relationships and to determine what knowledge and services we have that will be of value to a potential client. Eventually, if there is a need and I stay in touch, I will get an opportunity. Lastly, it’s critical to have support and encouragement. My team is nothing short of awesome and I believe it is impossible to be successful without the support and encouragement of close family, friends, and co-workers.

Salespeople.BagliDeris Bagli


Vice President of Sales, McKee Foods Corporation

Be a good listener. Deliver value for your customer and deliver it better than your competitors by knowing your customer’s problems and figuring out how your brand or service provides the solution. You only get that information by listening. You want to sell a lot? Stop talking and start listening. The most successful salespeople I have ever met have been great listeners. Next, be a brand builder. A great brand is the foundation for long-term results, job satisfaction, and job security. Brands mean something to consumers of course, but they also matter to employees, who take pride in selling brands they are proud of. Great salespeople think beyond the short-term sale and have a relentless passion for building their company’s brand.

To build a long-term, successful enterprise, when you don’t close a sale, open a relationship.


– Patricia Fripp

Salespeople.WarrenHal Warren


Sales Manager, COS Business Products & Interiors

The qualities I look for in a sales candidate are organization and planning skills. Procrastination is the biggest enemy to a salesperson. Many times, the first one to follow up will win the business. Planning is essential to stay on track. Successful sales representatives must also be persistent and assertive. I have seen many sales and relationships develop because the salesperson follows up. I also look for analytical skills, as we go to market as more of a consultant looking for ways to lower cost and speed up processes for our customers.

Salespeople.DorrRobert Dorr


Director of Sales and Marketing, The Chattanoogan Hotel

Sales is all about relationships. Get to know your clients, their needs and interests. Work diligently to understand your clients and partner with them. Be professional in every way. Whether in person, on the phone, or in other correspondence, the way you interact with others is a direct reflection of how you will treat your clients. Get involved in your community. Being involved is a great way to give back to our wonderful community, meet others, and work alongside people who share our passions. Many successful business relationships start with common interests and shared visions.


Salespeople.AlderdiceEugenia Allderdice


Account Executive, WRCB-TV

Do your research before meeting a prospective client. Gather information on their business from websites, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Research helps you develop pertinent questions. Interview well. Ask good questions during your “needs analysis” meeting. Don’t waste the client’s time.  Listen to what they say. What you hear can help you create an effective advertising message. Relationships will be cemented when the client realizes you’re a person of honesty and integrity and you’re genuinely interested in what is best for their business. Lastly, be confident, but never cocky, in the value your medium has in the market and how the association can increase business for your client.    

Shares