Discover more from Ah So Insights
The 5 traits of successful sales reps
Whether you’re hiring, applying, or already in the field, it’s time to start paying attention to these qualities
We’ve all gone through the motions. We’ve either asked or been asked, “What are the main red grapes grown in Bordeaux?” or “What’s a Mezcal and how’s it different from Tequila?” Undoubtedly, these are details any sales rep should know. A command of facts is understood to be somewhat equivalent to credibility. Wine and/or spirit credentials act as a shorthand to employers, customers, and colleagues; such qualifications unequivocally state “this person knows their stuff.” However, knowing the difference between Pouilly Fuissé and Pouilly Fumé is not the same thing as success in this business. In my experience, success is driven by these five fundamental traits:
“This is a relationship business.” You hear it all too often. I agree with the statement, but not in the spirit in which it is usually touted. When a sales manager or HR person references this, they are signaling that they want you to have a lot of contacts. A contact is not a relationship.
Relationships are built on empathy and trust. Trust takes time, but empathy—the ability to meaningfully relate to another human being—is instantly felt and is vividly remembered. Do you have the capacity to feel what others are feeling? A lack of empathy is similarly impactful, albeit in a negative way.
If you’re going to succeed as a sales rep, you need to be able to empathize with others’ concerns. It is all too easy to forget that each customer or colleague is different, in their worldview, temperament, emotions when you’re used to spouting the same cookie-cutter spiel about a product for the umpteenth time. When you visit an account are you paying attention to whether or not the person you have an appointment with seems busy or preoccupied? Do you know them well enough to know whether they’re having trouble with their children’s remote schooling or whether they just got a pet?
Work on this sixth sense for recognizing these and other details and you’re well on your way to developing a deeper rapport with others and making meaningful sales and non-sales relationships. Beware, while our capacity for empathy is limitless, our time and energy are not. Many will benefit from deeper engagement, but a few aren’t worth your personal human resources.
Why do you do what you do? Money is a shitty motivator. Trips to a winery or distillery are better than cash (because they are experiences), but they aren’t enough for sustained success. Additionally, these external motivators are hit or miss. For every participant they inspire, two or three will give up out of the belief or reality that they just can’t compete.
Successful sales reps are intrinsically motivated. This doesn’t mean that they get out of bed happy to sell the world wine and spirits just for the hell of it. It does mean that they value what the company values. This might be quantitative growth and hitting targets. It could be principles about craft spirits or sustainable viticulture. It’s best when a combination of tenets is aligned.
When interviewing sales reps, learn what motivates them outside of their job and use the interview as an opportunity to transparently share the company’s motivations. If you’re a sales rep, don’t compromise your principles; you’ll be serving yourself a giant plate of resentment. If you’re a sales or portfolio manager, make sure to design incentive programs that aren’t winner-take-all propositions. Find a way to have each rep compete with him or herself.
The ability to listen
Fran Lebowitz wrote, “great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things and small people talk about wine.” Successful sales reps don’t talk as much as mediocre ones because they spend most of their time listening. They pose thoughtful questions and they problem-solve. They are comfortable with uncomfortable silence and understand that some sales might even be generated by holding their tongue.
Reps that rely too heavily on expository selling (“this wine is made with this grape by this winery in this way”) fail to connect in a way that recognizes that a customer’s agenda likely isn’t the same as their own. Are you brave enough to find out what they actually need?
Know what you don’t know. Be humble. Someone always knows more than you. That’s a good thing, an opportunity to learn.
The ability to get back on the saddle after being knocked off time and time again is not to be underestimated. Grit in the face of adversity says much more than any one’s ability to memorize appellations or distillation techniques. Perhaps this belief reinforces my theory that musicians, actors and actresses, and artists make such good sales reps; they have been battle-hardened by critiques and rejection. The most successful reps are not discouraged by a day full of buyers not pulling the trigger.
Calvin Coolidge knew as much when he said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” I don’t believe Coolidge was ever a sales rep, but he would’ve made a successful one.