WARNING: This post is a bit of a rant – if you are feeling a bit squeamish at this moment, you may want to read this post later!
I participate in the Question and Answer forum and in sales groups on LinkedIn with great regularity and enthusiasm. One question theme that comes up again and again is about sales and personality. So what is the right way to think about the idea that someone does or does not have a good personality for sales, and how might personality related factors impact their effectiveness as a sales person?
The answer to the second question is a little bit trickier, so let’s start there. Most people who believe that personality factors influence sales effectiveness seem to equate personality related factors with the ability to communicate well with prospects. As such, those who have the “right” kind of personality or the right personality factors are better able to connect (or bond) and communicate with their prospects. Personality based sales assessments, and the idea of the “natural born salesperson” cater to this (here it comes) MYTH!
So what is the reality here? Most communication experts will tell you that in most cases, the key component that causes communication to fail is on the listening side of the equation. Problems occur when people either don’t stop talking long enough to listen; interrupt the other person; or don’t jump in, but follow their own line of thinking internally as the other person continues to talk.
Active, effective listening is a SKILL that can be taught. If communication is most often derailed on the listening side of the equation, and listening can be taught (as opposed to being a personality trait that one either has or doesn’t have), then it just can’t be said that personality is the most important factor in business related, effective communication.
Sure it helps when the salesperson and the buyer can “connect” on some personal level, but to take that a step further and postulate that this ability to make a personal connection is among the key drivers of sales success – as many seem to believe – is a step too far! The idea that this kind of connection is an essential factor in sales or business communication is folklore. It is certainly nice, but not as critical as an unexamined speculation might lead you to believe.
This is not to say that people with extreme personality issues can be effective communicators, but as soon as you move away from the extremes, personality becomes a marginal factor in business communications. Period!
So what about the first part – that there are specific personalities that are good for sales and others that are bad for sales? At first glance, this also seems to make sense. Many people have a stereotypical image of salespeople in their mind, and it is not a long leap of logic to go from stereotype to personality type. In reality, anyone who has worked with more than a few successful salespeople over the course of their career has seen that a wide variety of people with very different personalities can succeed in sales, and those who seem to fit the stereotypical sales persona sometimes fail and sometimes succeed. It is hard to meet someone with a lot of experience with salespeople who makes a strong case for personality as a key driver of sales success, because they have seen that personality can vary against the metrics of success.
So does personality matter? Here is how to think about it. If you understand the bell shaped curve, then you can believe that many arguments that make sense on either end of the curve tend to fall apart in the middle.
This is the case with the myth of the sales personality. If personality could somehow be plotted on a bell shaped curve (I have no idea how you could actually do that, but imagine with me for a minute), then those people at the edges might have difficulty selling because of the extreme nature of their personalities.
However, for those in the “fat / tall” part of the bell-shaped curve, there are many other factors upon which their sales success depends, and the success they find in sales will vary based on these other factors. Sales success won’t necessarily correlate to the findings on our imaginary personality bell-shaped graph.
Salespeople are not born, and there is no correct sales personality. Professional selling is a skill, and a skill that can be taught. Psychopaths may struggle, but the average person with the desire to succeed and the commitment to do what it takes to get there is trainable, regardless of their non-extreme personality type.
To your success!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hi, I’m David Masover. With nearly three decades of B2B sales experience, I work as a private practice Sales Force Development Consultant. I help company leaders understand the root causes of sales issues that keep revenue from growing as fast as it could, and to fix those problems through work with reps, managers, systems, processes, strategies, and tools. You can learn more about me and my work and/or get in touch with me here at my web site www.davidmasover.com/contact/ or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/masover/