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Personality for Sales, and How to Improve Yours

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
12 min read

Even if you’re not a “natural,” you may just have to dig a little deeper to understand our personality for sales, and how we can make small but significant improvements to the way you sell.

In this episode, I’ll share:

  1. How we can make changes to improve our sales methods
  2. How & why entrepreneurs are successful, and what you can learn from them
  3. The personality traits of top salespeople
  4. What you can do, even if you’re not a “natural”

Practicing self-awareness can have tremendous benefits in your selling. Take the time to understand your personality, and how you can incorporate your traits and characteristics to lead to a better, refined sales method. We can always improve, and always work towards a better tomorrow for ourselves and our clients.

A common narrative in entrepreneurship is a path towards success, but how do they reach it? There are two qualities of entrepreneurs that allow them to set the bar high for themselves: the belief in themselves and their work, and their resilience through any challenge. How can we implement these characteristics to advance our sales approach?

Believing in yourself and the power of persistence will put you on track to elevate your selling. Beyond these habits of entrepreneurs, there are seven personality traits of top salespeople to take note of. Putting these traits in action will allow us to listen to them more carefully and make sure they feel understood throughout the entire sale.

Mentioned in this episode:

Free Solo
The Strange Brain of Alex Hannold
The Seven Personality Traits of Top Salespeople

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

Personality for Sales, and How to Improve Yours:

Full Transcript

Alex Honnold is one of the world’s most accomplished rock climbers. The movie Free Solo documents his quest to climb El Capitan. It’s a 3,000 foot granite wall in Yosemite Valley in California, and believed to be one of the most difficult climbs in the world. Honnold didn’t just climbed El Capitan, he climbed the free rider line scaling all 3,000 feet in under four hours. That’s not the big news. The big news is, he did it without ropes or any protective equipment whatsoever.

There were several points in the climb when there were no visible toe or footholds, only divots, or textures in the rock. One mistake and Alex surely would have fallen to his death. And there were times during the climb when life and death was separated only by a centimeter imperfection in the rock that allowed Alex to hold on. Alex doesn’t describe himself as a thrill seeker. In fact, hearing him talk about the climb in the movie and in interviews elsewhere left me with the impression that he believed he was taking a calculated risk in his attempt to scale El Capitan.

Now, in the movie, they show him going through a notebook full of notes documenting every segment of the climb, move by move. This helped him stay calm and measured throughout the climb. Similar to the way you would see a downhill skier choreographing their moves at the top of the mountain before they go down the hill. But for all of this preparation and planning, Alex is clearly and obviously different than the rest of us. I personally could not fathom any amount of preparation that would prepare me for the mental challenge of it, let alone the physical demands. So how does he do it?

There’s a scene in the movie when Alex takes a trip to the hospital for a functional MRI, a brain scan. His doctor, Dr. Joseph, the one overseeing the test turns to the MRI technician and says, “Can you go down to his amygdala?” The amygdala controls how we experience fear so understanding Alex’s may hold the key to explaining his ability to master the mental part of climbing. While the MRI machine did its work, Alex has shown a series of photos and his brain activity was recorded. These photos were gruesome an unsettling and shown to him in order to elicit a reaction. As he’s looking at the photos, Dr. Joseph said, “Maybe he’s amygdala is not firing. He’s having no internal reactions to these stimuli.” Then the doctor performed another test in order to see if she could elicit some sort of response from his brain and concluded, “Nowhere at a decent threshold was there amygdala activation.”

It turns out that Honnold’s brain made him especially equipped to be a world class climber. He just doesn’t experience much fear. And the threshold at which he experiences fear is much, much higher. It turns out our brains and our personalities matter in our professions. In this episode, I’ll tell you how your brain and your personality affect your selling and what you can do about it.

They’re inborn differences between us. Some personalities are better suited for selling, some personalities are better suited for painting, some personalities are better suited for pretty much any profession versus another. Given the differences in our professions, our personalities will certainly affect how we perform. If you’re in sales, you’d be well served to know your own personality. And if you’re a sales manager, or the owner of your own company, knowing your team members and what makes them tick, and how to help them succeed turns out to be a pretty critical challenge. And if you’re the owner of your own company and the primary seller, of course, you must know thy self.

And so the key to understanding yourself and therefore getting better at selling is first to understand what makes different people better at selling than others. Entrepreneurs on average, tend to be pretty natural sales people for two reasons. They believe in what they’re doing in the face of tremendous risk. They’ve gone ahead with their business anyway, because they believe in themselves and their business and they don’t feel as much shame, they don’t feel as much need to please. They’re okay with facing defeat, and they’re not overly self-conscious.

Secondly, they’re resilient. In the face of repeated rejection, they persist, giving them more attempts to succeed and accelerating their learning along the way. The more you fail, the more likely you are to arrive, even if it’s purely through trial and error. That answers that are more likely to bring you to success in the future. That’s just the way it goes. So what makes for a great salesperson from the perspective of a personality? There isn’t a ton of research in this area. But I did find a wonderful article called Seven Personality Traits of Top Salespeople, right out of Harvard Business Review, and he lists these personality traits.

Number one, modesty. Number two, conscientiousness. Number three, achievement orientation. Number four, curiosity. Number five, lack of gregariousness. Number six, lack of discouragement, and number seven, lack of self-consciousness. I’m not going to go through every single one of those traits. But I do want to highlight four of the traits that I believe you can influence. Now, before I highlight those for you, you may be thinking, “Wait a second, if there are innate differences between us, what’s the point of understanding myself, if I’m no good at sales and I don’t have those seven traits?”

Well, I can answer that in two ways. One is, you’re right. If you don’t have the right personality, you’re never going to be the best sales person in the world. So let’s go back to our example of Alex Honnold. Not only does he have the perfect personality, low threshold for fear in order to free climb a 3,000 foot solid granite face with no ropes and no safety equipment. That just boggles the mind to me. So he has the personality. He’s also put in 25 years of climbing, and he’s 33 at the time of this recording. In addition to that, he trains well, and his body type and shape and strength make him especially well-suited for his job, for his free climbs. All of that came together to create this amazing climber. So there’s our innate personality and then there’s also luck involved and then there’s also the dedication and the work ethic. There’s all of these things that come together, this Confluence is what makes us great at things.

That’s number one is, if you’re not already predisposed to being the best, could you be the best? The answer is probably not. But that’s okay. Because the next point I want to make is that you could certainly be better than you are right now. Now, in neuroscience, there’s this idea called neuro plasticity. And all it means is that the brain has the ability to change throughout life. It’s able to reorganize itself by forming new connections between neurons, making slight alterations to your behavior, your patterns of thought, and even your personality. So know this going in, you can make changes and be better at selling a promise. So now, I want to go over the four different personality traits of the seven that I listed that I believe you can really impact with some simple, simple exercises.

The number one thing I want to talk about is curiosity. Now, this is really big for me, because I believe our prerequisite to making a sale is really to understand. If we’re in a consultative selling environment, we need to understand the other person and they need to feel understood by us. And in fact, 82% of top sales people scored extremely high on curiosity levels, and that correlates closely to an active presence during calls. So what does that mean for us? That means being present and listening and asking follow up questions will help us deepen our own curiosity, will help our prospect understand that we’re curious and of course, will help us better understand our client, because that’s really the result of us being curious and demonstrating that curiosity.

One way that you can improve your curiosity is through listening exercises, as well as exercises to develop interest and find things in common with others. So one thing that you could definitely do is if you ever take a lift or an Uber, or you’re standing in line at the supermarket, or just some public place where you bump into other people is to ask them questions. And rather than ever turning the conversation back to you continue to ask follow up questions. And what I think you’ll find is that more often than not, there will be something interesting about the other person, and you will have something in common with them, even though at first glance, it seems nearly impossible. So that’s number one, curiosity.

Number two, and this is a really, really interesting one and surprising to a lot of people is top performers average 30% lower gregariousness than below average performers. Meaning the old stereotype of the bubbly salesperson who’s everybody’s best friend in today’s modern selling environment just doesn’t perform that well. Overly friendly sales people tend to be too close to their customers, and have difficulty in establishing dominance. And by dominance, what is meant is having control over the situation. At the very least, you should be peers, and at best you should be displaying control so that the client knows that you know what you’re doing. You see, part of the challenge here is in a consultative sale, you will be giving advice to your client. And in order for them to listen to that advice, they have to hold you in high esteem.

Now, dominance doesn’t mean you’re going to win and they’re going to lose. What it does mean is that your recommendations and advice should be followed, because your client understands that you know what you’re doing. And, if you’re too gregarious, you will tend towards a position of wanting to please the other person. Now, there have been studies on introversion versus extraversion and sales. And what it’s found is, it doesn’t matter too much, even though we can see in the data that higher performers tend to be a little less gregarious. What the findings really show is that people on either extreme, extremely extroverted or extremely introverted, tend not to do very well. Those extremes can be a negative that’s difficult or even impossible to overcome.

If you find that you’re very gregarious, and you want to tone it down a little bit, or you want to maybe not see your clients as people that you want to please, I recommend taking a close look at what exactly you want to get out of your client relationships. Now, for me, it’s always service. I want to help them be better off by the end of our engagement, or by the time that they buy something from me. And sometimes I know in order to be in service to my clients, I cannot please them, I have to give them some bad news or I have to tell them something that might be a little bit uncomfortable. So think about that. What is motivating you and honor that thing knowing that if it is to serve, and I sure hope it is, pleasing them and having a super friendly relationship doesn’t always serve that goal.

Now, the third thing I wanted to talk about is lack of discouragement. That means you remain competitive, even in the face of defeat and even after you experienced defeat. Now, this isn’t surprising at all. The way I would describe this is not lack of discouragement. I would describe it as resilience. I think this is one of the most critical elements that any entrepreneur, any sales person, any marketer should have. When you’re in the face of losing money, of upsetting your peers, of upsetting your clients, you’re going to have to bounce back, that’s just the way it goes. That’s just how these professions work. And what’s also not very surprising is that in studies of sales people, it’s been found that a very high percentage of them played competitive sports, even at the high school level or above.

If you didn’t play competitive sports, no big deal. There’s still hope, right? What I would suggest is doing something competitive on a regular basis. I personally believe strongly in having some physical challenge in your life. Now, I know this is not a fitness podcast, I’m not going to sing all the benefits fitness except in the context of selling and except in the context of resilience. And that is this. If you are training for something or if you are regularly competing somewhere, you’re not going to win every time. Now, you can compete with yourself and you can compete with other people. So I really like individual competition. I really like weightlifting. I really like running. I don’t run to make friends. And I don’t ever run with other people. I prefer to run alone. In fact, I always run alone.

But the competition comes here. I’m trying to be better than I was before. And I know the only way I can do that even if I have a crappy week of running or even if I have a crappy week of weightlifting, I know that the only way to get better is to do it again next week, is to ask myself and reflect, why do I think this is happening? What’s going on? What are the things that are I can control to make this better? I can’t blame anybody else here. And so my resilience, the lack of discouragement here is probably somewhat an eight for me. But I can tell you, there have been many times in my life when I was easily discouraged and rejected and gave up. It’s not an easy thing to change. However, some amount of personal competition and some amount of personal challenge will help you improve in this area, I promise. So that’s number three. Lack of discouragement or resilience.

And finally, achievement orientation. This is the last thing I want to get to. What achievement orientation means is that you are fixated on achieving your goals. You want to accomplish things. You want things to go well. And how they find this correlates to sales often is really good sales people will work to understand the politics and inner machinations of their clients so that they can have a better strategy and plan to navigate accounts for the sale. Because here’s the thing, different stakeholders will have different pains, goals and values, PGV, pains, goals and values. And in order to fully understand those things, we need to really come up strategically with ways of figuring out how decisions work within our accounts, even if it’s just with an individual. But definitely, if there are multiple stakeholders, we need to figure out how do the politics work there? Who’s really in charge officially? Who’s in charge unofficially? Who has an outsourced impact?

It really bothers me when people call executive assistants gatekeepers. First of all, a great executive assistant is one of the most important people in any organization. Second of all, a great executive assistant often makes more than sales people. So there’s that too. So it’s absolutely silly to call them a gate keeper. And third, a great executive assistant is in many ways a partner to the executive. And so if you are oriented towards achievement, you’re going to want to know more about the executive assistant and their relationship with their executive or their boss.

Having simple exercises or requirements, especially in more complicated sales, where you map out the stakeholders, where you map out how decisions are made, where you map out who needs to be involved in the sale and at what point. Those things will help you adopt the behaviors that high achievers have, thereby increase your orientation for achievement. It’s a pretty simple exercise, but it will go a long way to improving your outcomes I promise.

That’s all I have for you today. But I did want to thank you for listening. And I want to ask you, if you got something out of today’s episode, please do just tell someone, share it with them, email it, share it on social, whatever you want to do, however, you want to share it. Just tell someone about this podcast. It helps me spread the word, it helps me reach more people and it helps us get the word out together. Thanks so much for listening. Once again, my name is Liston and I hope you have a fantastic day. Bye.

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