The Trap of a "Perfect" Sales Rep Profile

Brian Williams, PhD

Picture a high-performing sales rep. What do you see? Is he a charming and charismatic? Is she aggressive? Does he challenge? Does she consult?

Most sales leaders have a strong view about what “good looks like” when it comes to sales rep. They’ve formed a profile of the ideal salesperson, often matching how they see themselves. Confirmation bias runs rampant even in today’s data-rich sales organizations. 

We should ask ourselves, how many of these qualities accurately depict high performance today? Consider these common myths:

Myth 1: The perfect rep is extremely outgoing and extroverted

Truth: Yes, many reps tend to be extroverted. But some great salespeople aren’t always the most outgoing in the room. That said, a good rep should be enthusiastic about their product/service and helping customers. 

Myth 2: The perfect rep is aggressive

Truth: Some great reps aren’t pushy at all. They view themselves as facilitators of the buying process. Today’s buyers need partners they can trust to solve complex issues. Good reps understand the importance of building trust and partnership along the buying journey.

Myth 3: The best sales rep is driven by money

Truth: Few people will turn down more money. But too many sales leaders believe the myth that reps are simply “coin-operated machines”, motivated purely by cash. Incenting high performance is more complex and nuanced. 

Myth 4: Great reps are born, not made

Truth: The current selling environment is unlike any we’ve seen before. Every future rep needs solid onboarding and strong grounding in business acumen. Continuous learning to better understand new buyer types and complex products is a must. The best sales organizations invest in sales enablement to train and support the field in these areas.

Setting these myths aside, research by Brevet reinforces nearly 30 years of academic work around high performance. There are in fact a defined set of behaviors practiced by the best sales professionals. But likely, these aren’t the qualities most associate with the “ideal rep profile.” No matter their innate personality traits, executing these behaviors separates top performers from the pack.

Situational Awareness

Sales opportunities involve a mix of factors – buyer roles, competitors, concepts around the problem and solution, and so on. The best reps enter new deals eyes wide open, focusing on the situational variables at work. They avoid assuming or jumping to conclusions without targeted discovery. 

Pattern Matching

High-performing sales professionals match information about the situation to a select set of deal patterns. Psychologists call these patterns “scripts”, and they help people quickly make sense of complex situations. Research demonstrates that the cognitive scripts of the best salespeople are larger and more detailed. Top performers filter the situational factors into a set of deal scenario patterns.

Executing the Right Sales Action for the Situation

Pattern-matching helps the best reps run the right sales play and at the right time. Their cognitive scripts serve as shorthand to guide action. They map the situational factors to the most effective strategies – what to do, say, and show, etc. Sometimes the best sales play is to disrupt the prospect’s thinking. Other times it is communicating solution ROI. And in most deals, it means running a series of different plays along the sales journey. Timing the appropriate sales action is critical.

The good news is that these behaviors can be scaled to the entire sales organization. This process extracts the insights of your best salespeople so everyone benefits. It also allows more effective sales coaching. Solid sales enablement brings everything together.

Don’t fall into the trap of searching for outdated traits in your sales candidates. And look beyond any single quality that may have made you successful in a past selling role. The key is building the adaptive sales organization that yields better results beyond any single rep.

A different profile is required in modern selling. If you’re hiring a new rep or reevaluating your entire team, consider the qualities that drive true performance. Contact us to access our exclusive research into the adaptive behaviors of the best reps. Plus, learn insights into how to leverage this insight in building a lasting sales performance culture.

 

Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.