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What are the traits of very good salespeople?

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How many times have you heard someone say, "That person is a born salesperson"?

Many times I have followed that statement with a request for the person to expand on the comment.

What do you mean when you say, "a born salesperson"?

What do you consider to be the attributes a person might possess that would lead you to draw that conclusion?

Invariably the characteristics always seem to be that he or she is a good talker, has the "gift of gab," an outgoing personality, is charming, friendly, has a sense of humor, is engaging, quite persuasive and has personality plus.

While these traits are seen frequently in those who sell, would you consider them characteristics of a true sales professional?

While they could be, I have found that there are other characteristics that are far more important.

A charming, outgoing personality can be very magnetic but, as with any relationship, the luster can fade if there is nothing substantial behind it.

I find that people are looking for a salesperson who is honest, has integrity, is truthful, and, most importantly, cares about the needs of his or her clients and possesses a genuine desire to serve them.

Furthermore, the attributes of trustworthiness and integrity are what separate true sales professionals from the sea of mediocre charlatans masquerading as salespeople, with whom most of us have had the misfortune of dealing.

In-depth research of the top 3 percent of outstanding sales professionals throughout the country has shown that these top performers share two common characteristics - the ability to establish rapport with their customers and the consistent creation of an atmosphere of trust in all their sales relationships.

These vitally important traits serve more than simply to endear these sales professionals to their prospects - they know these methods are the best way to secure repeat business and ensure that every sale wears well.

I find many times sales executives are confused by, or even unaware of, the difference between customers simply buying a product or service and a salesperson actually selling.

Just because a customer has parted with his or her money in exchange for a product or service does not mean that a sale has occurred.

For example, a prospect walks into a retail establishment to buy a blouse and the salesperson successfully finds the type of blouse, determines the occasion for which it is intended and how it will fit in with the prospect's current wardrobe. Then she writes up the order. Despite the fact that this may seem to be an act of selling on the salesperson's part, it really isn't. This scenario is merely an example of a salesperson filling a customer's order.

By contrast, the salesperson, in addition to selecting the correct blouse for her customer, may ask a few questions about the customer's current wardrobe needs and learns that her client has just landed a new job.

This reveals that the customer's real need is for professional clothing that will make a positive impression in her new workplace. The salesperson then proceeds to show the customer a new line of high-end designer suits and coordinating accessories the store has recently received - and the customer walks out with not only the intended blouse but also a suit, matching shoes, a handbag and scarf.

This is the act of selling.

It is not just filling an order but, instead, establishing rapport, gaining trust, determining a need and then meeting that need.

It is my belief that a salesperson's sole purpose is to be of service to the customer.

Along that line, as a salesperson, you should only make promises you can keep - and you should keep every promise you make.

As I have said many times, a professional salesperson makes a sales call for only one reason - to be of service to the customer. If your product or service is not the right thing for the customer then you have no right to sell it. However, if it is something that will benefit the customer and meet his or her needs, then the professional salesperson has a responsibility to sell it.

I've heard sales executives frequently complain that their salespeople often will say and do anything to get the sale and make their quota.

Unfortunately, the salesperson's over-promising and under-delivering create multiple problems, untold friction and significant internal dissension between sales personnel and the support personnel who are responsible for carrying out the salesperson's unrealistic commitments.

My philosophy is that every employee is either selling or unselling for the company, every hour of the day, regardless of his or her position.

It is crucial that the sales organization understands its responsibility to its customers and co-workers.

If any employee is unable - due to an impossible timeline, lack of resources or product availability - to follow through on promises made by a salesperson, that employee will be unselling the company.

To prevent this, salespeople should not overcommit when it comes to promises about what the company can offer.

If the company can't deliver, the sale will fall apart, as will the relationship with the customer.

More importantly, the company's reputation can suffer irreparable damage. In these times of stiff marketplace competition, smart companies know that their solid reputation may be the only thing keeping them ahead of their competition.

It is the responsibility of the sales organization to balance its desire to serve the customer and make the sale with the realities of what the company, whether it is boundless in wealth and resources or modest and greatly limited, is able to offer.

Only when this balance exists can the salesperson effectively communicate with, deliver for and serve the customer in a way that is consistent with his or her promises.

In order to get happy, satisfied customers who continue to return for a lifetime, who refer their friends and colleagues and who offer the kind of word-of-mouth advertising money simply cannot buy, learn to understand the difference between filling an order and actually making a sale.

When you've established trust and rapport, are well-versed in what your firm has to offer and sincere in your desire to serve your customers, you will find that it is easy to promise a lot - and always deliver more.

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Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.

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