What makes salespeople great? Are they naturals? How is it that some salespeople are nothing short of rainmakers, while others struggle to be mediocre? Is it the gift of gab, and if so, how do we acquire it? This leads me to the obvious question: If top salespeople have an extra “something,” what is it?

I have spoken with many excellent salespeople who cannot explain what makes them successful. The reason, I suspect, is simple. They just really don’t know! Nonetheless, studies show that top salespeople are doing the same things, and what they are doing is radically different from the other 90% of salespeople.

Upon a closer examination, top salespeople, not surprisingly, love what they do. Equally, they are successful because they focus on the needs of the customer. And finally, the golden players do the things other salespeople don’t want to do.

While personality may enhance some of the characteristics of excellent salespeople, we must all develop certain universal habits and qualities to be successful and productive at sales. Here are some of the most common characteristics that spawn great salespeople:

Extroverts vs. introverts

Realize that it is rare that a person is 100% extroverted or 100% introverted. And, there is a large continuum between the two extremes. In fact, studies show that people who fall in the middle of this spectrum make the best salespeople.

An extrovert benefits by being sociable. Extroverted salespeople become energized by meeting new people. Small talk comes naturally to them. Extroverts start conversations easily and they enjoy the interaction. They relish discussing many subjects. The more topics they can talk about, the better they can connect with the customer. 

Introverts, however, benefit by developing deeper relationships. They are great listeners and they can read the customer. Introverted salespeople ask telling questions and then listen and allow a prospect to express needs before offering measured advice. Introverts recognize that different personalities have unique needs and they uncover the way each person is feeling by observing them and noticing what they say and don’t say. 

Establish rapport and build trust 

Over the years, I have seen every type of personality develop into great salespeople. Regardless of personality, a great salesperson must find an inward measure of sociability and charisma to build a strong rapport with the prospective client. 

Rapport begins with how you greet your customer and continues throughout the selling process. Rapport is the ability to make a friend quickly and get on common ground. It is a process that begins a relationship and cultivates trust between a potential customer and a sales representative. With rapport, the prospect is more inclined to answer our questions and share information freely. With likeability, trust, and the feeling they know you, you will create the successful combination for increased sales, more repeat business, greater profits, and a windfall of referrals.

When first meeting a customer notice her interests. Is there a sports logo on her shirt? Does she have children with her? What kind of car does she drive? Discuss her activities and forget flooring for the early moment. She trusts salespeople she likes. Once you have made the connection, everything goes smoothly. 

The ego/empathy blend 

The ego-empathy balance requires paying attention to another’s desires without wholly sacrificing one’s own. Ego is what gives the salesperson the desire to achieve the sale. Empathy is the other story. Empathy gives one the ability to accurately sense the reactions of other people thus producing the connecting means to make the transaction happen amicably. It is the correct portions of ego and empathy that fosters successful selling. 

Become curious

If you struggle with having enough empathy, allow yourself to become curious about your customers because it naturally makes you focus on your customer’s needs. And, what do we do when we are curious? We ask pertinent questions and then listen and learn with interest and concentration. It gives us the capacity to make people feel important and sense that you care about them. 

Ask questions

Great salespeople want to know if they can win business, and they do this by asking questions that determine needs. By questioning, you are telling your customer you are genuinely interested. 

Experienced sales professionals already know that asking questions is the best way to uncover customer needs. However, we can ask questions and still not be successful, and here is why:  Many salespeople forget to search for the questions that appreciate the customer’s point of view. They are hopefully ‘dream questions.’  “Tell me more about that” … “What I really hear you saying is that” … “So, you feel” … “Have you thought about…”  Consider not only the questions which reveal the reasons a prospect should buy but also why they should not buy. 


If you are in sales, you are in the listening business. Listening is discovering your prospect. If you aren’t listening, you aren’t communicating, and you will never understand your buyer’s perception. Listening is hearing. It shows you are interested in her and that you care. 

Part of listening is nonverbal. Show the customer you are paying attention. Keep an open body posture and look directly at the customer. Nod your head forward and use hand gestures, smile and say “uh-huh” at the right times to show interest and understanding. 

There is a time to offer advice and provide expertise to the customer. However, a trap we sometimes fall into is speaking too soon and too much. We jump in with our ideas, advice and examples hoping others will respect our thoughts and appreciate us. Instead, you will create value by listening first and listening more often than you speak. When your customers feel heard, both you and the customer will feel more connected.


Contrary to established stereotypes that successful salespeople are pushy and conceited, most top salespeople transmit modesty and humility. They tend to be subtle. In fact, self-important salespeople who appear arrogant or big-headed alienate far more customers than they win over. 


Self-confidence is a radiant quality. A confident person believes in themselves and that quality gives them an inherent capability to gain faith and trust with their customers. Confident people draw people to them, and when you combine it with expertise and an unpretentious quality, we become influential. So, while confidence does not guarantee a sale, it always increases our likelihood of success. As mentioned in the second part of my Why Customers Hate Salespeople series, “With likeability, trust, and the feeling that they know you – you will create the successful combination for increased sales, more repeat business, greater profits, and a windfall of referrals.”


Great salespeople know they must sell their company and its services along with themselves. So, as opposed to personifying ourselves as the centerpiece of the purchase decision, top salespeople make sure that the prospect understands they are buying more than a product but also a team effort. Sell your company and its staff as well as yourself.

In part two of this series, we will continue to examine the characteristics of great salespeople. In the meantime, good selling to you.