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These 6 Factors Separate the Best B2B Salespeople from the Weakest [Research] - SalesStaff - Blog

These 6 Factors Separate the Best B2B Salespeople from the Weakest [Research]

Today, I wanted to share some insights from one of the best sales articles of the past few years, in my opinion. It was originally published on the Harvard Business Review (HBR). It’s an article based on research about which factors separate strong salespeople from weaker ones, written by Steve W. Martin. Martin teaches sales strategy at the USC Marshall School of Business and has written several books on the topic. His articles on HBR are some of my favorite articles on sales.

[Note: I’ll recap the article but here is the original for your convenience.]

The question he poses that he sought an answer to was this:

What separates high-performing salespeople who exceed their quota from underperformers who miss their quotas by more than 25%?

How the Answer Was Ascertained

The findings are based on Martin’s:

  1. Research with about 800 salespeople and sales leaders
  2. Anecdotal interviews with 1,000+ top salespeople

The 6 Factors Separating Top Salespeople from Not-Top Salespeople

Verbal Acuity

AKA the level at which the salesperson communicates. There’s a readability test called the Flesch-Kincaid test which indicates how difficult a passage is to understand. Martin cites that “[o]n average, high-performing salespeople communicate between the 11th and 13th grade level when scored by the Flesch-Kincaid test as opposed to the 8th and 9th grade level for underperforming salespeople.”

Achievement-Oriented Personality

Is this really a surprise? We know that top salespeople, by nature, are pretty driven to succeed. In fact, 84% of the top salespeople surveyed scored well in achievement orientation. And Martin brought up an interesting nuance. Get this. 85% of top salespeople played sports in high school, thus making them fine-tuned for the pressures of a competitive career like sales.

Situational Dominance

Martin says, “Situational dominance is a personal interaction strategy by which the customer accepts the salesperson’s recommendations and follows his advice.” We all make that quick determination of whether the person you’re speaking to is superior, inferior, or a peer. The scores of top salespeople were 20% higher, on average, than underperforming salespeople in the area of situational dominance.

Inward Pessimism

Most people naturally prefer to describe themselves as optimists, and 90% of the salespeople surveyed indicated they were generally optimistic people. However, it was found that almost 67% of top salespeople have pessimistic tendencies. Martin theorizes that this idiosyncrasy is due to the fact that salespeople must be pleasant and approachable to prospects, yet the best salespeople are always critical as to the real viability of their deals and credibility of the buyer.

Sales Management Impact

About 49% of underperforming salespeople rated their sales manager as excellent or above average, while 69% of top salespeople rated their managers highly. This is statistically significant by any measure.

Even more telling is how study participants ranked the attributes of quality sales managers. The top three factors identified by top salespeople?

  1. leadership and management skills
  2. practical experience and sales intuition
  3. communication and coaching skills

The top three factors of good sales managers identified by underperforming salespeople?

  1. industry expertise and product knowledge
  2. communication and coaching skills
  3. fights for the team

This makes perfect sense when viewed in the context of how top performers and underperformers relate to their managers.

Sales Organization Influence

This finding validates that sales organization morale is an intangible you can’t ignore. While 53% of top salespeople rated their sales organization’s morale as being higher than most sales organizations, only 37% of underperforming salespeople rated their company’s morale as higher than most.

The organization holding sales staff accountable is also significant. Martin cites that, “39% of high-performing salespeople strongly agreed that salespeople at their company are measured against their quota and held accountable compared to only 23% of underperforming salespeople.”


Publish Date: August 23, 2016 5:00 AM

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