Core skill for salespeople: Verbal acuity

Traits of Good Salespeople

“Sales” is an insanely flummoxing concept to me. It’s pretty much everything at some level — because you can have the greatest product, the greatest process, or the greatest people in the world, right? But if no one can sell it and make others buy it, well, you’ll probably be working somewhere else before long. For something that’s so important, it’s also insanely shrouded in confusion and buzzwords when “experts” try to discuss it. Consider:

Every now and again, there’s some new research on what, exactly, makes a good salesperson. Here’s one such new effort. What did this one find?

Let’s start with this, because it’s important:

Interestingly, individual success had no correlation with company growth rate. The study included reps from companies with 20% or more annual growth, 5% to 20% annual growth, no growth, or decreasing revenue. Across all four cohorts, the percentage of high-performing salespeople stayed consistent.

Alright, so … your organization can be great in terms of revenue growth — and that has no correlation back to the individual success of your sales guys. (Flip side also works.) Basically, it’s possible for a great salesperson to exist on an island, so to speak. Hence, the skills we’re discussing can work almost regardless of organization.

Here were some of the key individual aspects:

  • Verbal acuity
  • Achievement orientation
  • Inward pessimism

This is kind of interesting. Here’s why, IMHO:

1. How we think about “sales guys:” We have this very “Coffee is for closers!” approach to thinking about guys in sales, right? And that’s reflected above — achievement orientation — but at the same time, these are people with a strong inward pessimism. Hence, they can look at a situation and say “This lead isn’t right” or “This isn’t the best fit.” They question themselves, even if they seem like a Type-A hard-charger on the surface. There’s some EQ/CQ there. We probably almost never hire for sales by thinking along those lines, but maybe we should.

2. Verbal acuity: People tend to view “communications” as a soft skill in the working world; “soft skills” aren’t tied to revenue, and thus, people give approximately 0.025 shits about them for the most part. But in sales, communications is crucial. Check this out, via HubSpot:

Using the Flesch-Kincaid test, a score representing how readable a selection of text is, the study determined that high-performing salespeople communicated with prospects at the 11th to 13th grade levels, while underperformers averaged around 8th or 9th grade.

I realize there’s a lot of dumb people in the business world (read this), but if you’re talking to someone at a high middle-school level when you’re 45 … that’s kind of fucked-up, no?

3. Relationships: People who (a) can communicate effectively, (b) have a strong results orientation but also (c) have that looking-inward thing tend to be some of the people we most gravitate towards in life. As a result, the relationship bonds are a bit stronger. Isn’t that the crux of what a good salesperson should be?

Phrased another way: who’s going to buy something from someone they don’t like or feel a connection with, right?



Ted Bauer

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