The 10 Key Traits of Successful Salespeople


Throughout my career as a sales manager, I always found it fascinating that certain sales reps always managed to close big deals.

Many of them were already working with large accounts, although some of these accounts were said to already be dead or worth only a few upgrade deals at best. But for sure no $1 million opportunities.

So how did these salespeople transform lifeless deals into million dollar opportunities? What makes these salespeople so effective at closing large deals and others not?

Here are the 10 key traits of successful salespeople:

  1. They Think Big
  2. They Qualify Hard
  3. They Challenge Their Clients
  4. They Drive Deals Proactively and Begin with The End in Mind
  5. They Collaborate Extensively (Internally & Externally)
  6. They Stay in Control of The Message and Activities
  7. They See Themselves as Equals with Their Clients
  8. They Ask for The Deal
  9. They Plan for The Worst
  10. They Live in Their Account
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1. They Think BIG

I once asked a successful sales rep how he managed to close so many large deals. His answer was: I look for big deals, therefore I focus on them.

Is that really all there is to it? Think big and you’ll close big deals? While it may not be the only ingredient, it’s definitely an important starting point.

If you program yourself to close small deals, that’s what you’ll be looking for. But if you start focusing on larger deals, you will most likely try to grow your opportunities and go deeper and wider into your account.

Every year, I have all my sales reps set a $1 million opportunity as a goal and have them map out a plan to make it happen.

And guess what? Many of them end up doing exactly that.

Try it out for yourself:

  1. Make a list of all your accounts where you could close a $1 million deal
  2. Pin that list to your desk so you can see it at all times
  3. Create a plan to close at least one of them and see what happens.

Thinking BIG will help you close big deals.

2. They Qualify Hard

Great salespeople know that their biggest enemy is time wasted on the wrong things. That’s why they qualify hard to make sure that a deal is worth their time.

No matter how promising an opportunity might seem, the best salespeople don’t allow themselves to get too excited before qualifying certain criteria. They move slow in the beginning and allow the client to request the next steps. That way they can be sure that the pain is strong enough for the client to take action.

During this discovery phase, they can be very direct and assertive with their clients while remaining respectful and open about the process. However, they won’t move forward with a deal without getting the answers to the following questions:

  • What is the pain?
  • What is the consequence of doing nothing?
  • Is there somebody who can and will drive this (AKA: a Champion)?
  • Where is the client in the buying process?
  • Is the client evaluating other solutions or thinking about creating their own solution? You might have competition.

If the answers to these questions are missing, they know to move on to the next opportunity.

    3. They Challenge Their Clients

    Clients hate the passive sales rep who waits for them to provide all the answers without providing any additional value. In fact, clients actively keep these guys at a distance.

    But, they love a sales rep who understands and even educates them.

    In fact, 97% of B2B clients surveyed stated that the top driver that led to closed deals was a sales rep’s ability to offer unique and valuable perspectives.

    That’s why successful salespeople constantly think about the state of their client’s business, and come to meetings prepared with competitive case studies, industry trends, and a deep understanding of their client’s operations.

    These sales reps challenge their clients to see their own business in a new light and discover opportunities that had been previously overlooked.

    By providing unique insights, great salespeople develop strong allies and champions within the account who enable and support them to reach their goal.

    4. They Drive Deals Proactively and Begin with The End in Mind

    If you want to get somewhere, you don’t just start driving and hope you’ll somehow get there. You make a plan, follow it, and adjust as necessary along the way.

    For salespeople, having a sales process or sales methodology acts as that roadmap, letting them plot the customer journey towards a decision. In fact, having a structured process let’s you grow your revenue by an additional 18%.

    Whether it’s MEDDICC, TAS, Strategic Selling or even a custom methodology, a reliable and effective sales process establishes clear criteria and defined milestones that let great salespeople stay in control of their deals. (See The 9 Best Sales Methodologies for Closing Complex Deals).

    Once they know the target close date and the milestones they need to hit to get there, they work backwards and create a detailed close plan. That way, they can work proactively instead of reactively and be alerted when things go off track.

    5. They Collaborate Extensively, Both Internally and Externally

    Big deals are never closed alone. Great salespeople know this. 

    So in order to drive large opportunities, they always make sure to:

    • Act like great coaches
    • Sell the opportunity inside the company
    • Involve executives
    • Motivate their teammates to grow and go the extra mile.

    They motivate their company to close the deals together with them and team up with their allies and supporters at the client’s and discover their personal interest in a deal. Then, they help them achieve their goals and develop them to become champions.

    Together with their champions, they plot the steps along the route to the final decision making and signing of the contract.

    6. They Stay in Control of The Message and Activities

    Every large deal is going to have many decision makers, business users and executives that need to be convinced. It’s impossible for one salesperson to cover every single person involved on his or her own, let alone be invited to the internal meetings where real decisions are going to be made.

    So in order to compensate, they create custom messaging for each account, centered on The 3 WHYs:

    • Why do anything?
    • Why us?
    • Why now?

    They tailor this messaging to match the different levels of the power base and then make sure that it gets distributed internally.

    Together with their Champions and C-level executives within their own organization, successful sales reps take advantage of a multi-level selling approach to get that messaging out.

    7. They See Themselves as Equals with Their Clients (and Think ‘Quid Pro Quo’)

    A sales trainer once painted the picture of the average sales rep as a dog involved in a game of catch with his master: running for the ball and happily bringing it back – without ever asking for anything in return.

    This kind of ‘master/slave’ relationship with clients holds many reps back, and getting past it is essential to successfully driving deals.

    As one experienced colleague put it,

    “I explain to the client that we both run our businesses and mine is to close deals for my company. I’m happy to support him in his decision process, but at the same time, I owe my company a clarification on how we are doing on our business.”

    This kind of mindset keeps you and the client on the same level – As equals. It not only gives you the confidence to step out of a deal that isn’t going anywhere, it actually grows your client’s respect for you.

    Once you make it clear that you’re not here just to please them, they’ll know that if they want something from you, they’ll have to provide something in return.

    8. They Ask for The Deal

    Great salespeople don’t simply serve the customer’s decision-making process. They become a vital part of it.

    Great sales reps create a lot of value with their unique business expertise and build additional confidence and trust by bridging key people and executives from their own organization to the clients’.

    It’s hard work, but it earns them the right to meet the Economic Buyer.

    Even in deals with multiple decision makers, the Economic Buyer is the one whose final approval (official or not) is required to sign off on a deal.

    By meeting with the Economic Buyer early on, great salespeople are able to cross check whether her/she supports the project or not, what his/her criteria for success looks like and what the timeline and concrete steps for a closed deal are.

    Once the Economic Buyer has been met, the right next steps become crystal clear, and the route to the budget and final approval opens up.

    9. They Plan for The Worst

    Great salespeople know that complex deals aren’t won just like that. There’s a lot of work, people to coordinate and convince, and an endless amount of tasks and to-dos.

    That’s why the best of the best not only think about how to win the deal, they master the plan to not lose it.

    They become almost paranoid about what could go wrong. They test their allies, neutralize their enemies and make 100% sure that they are informed when things go wrong.

    Because they’ve prepared extensively for the worst, they can proactively take corrective action if and when things go wrong. (And believe me, things do go wrong. Often.)

    10. They Live in Their Account

    Last but not least, great salespeople have an incredible amount of contact with their client.

    They have such a high level of activity within their account – checking in with the tech guys, making sure legal has everything that it needs – that some clients even offer these guys their own office while working together on a deal.

    The best reps I’ve known have had up to 15 meetings per week with their clients. And customers who are eager to solve their pain report a huge benefit in being able to work so closely with them.

    Just by being there, answering questions as they come up and participating in decision meetings, these guys create a level of trust and security that most other sales reps miss out on.

    In fact, after a huge deal had closed, the CIO of a large Swiss Bank said to me:

    “Rizan, your guys knew my organization probably better than I did. They understood our pain points from every angle, notified me when people were resistant to change and together we found solutions to overcome these hurdles. Without your guys, it would have been much harder to restructure my organization.


    If there’s only three things that you take away from this list, I’d choose the following:

    • Great salespeople know when to go for a deal and when to walk away (they qualify hard)
    • They seek to truly understand their clients’ needs (and use that knowledge to challenge their clients)
    • They drive deals proactively (and stay in control throughout the client’s buying process.)

    Personally, I often went over all these points in account reviews with my core reps; to help them recognize their strengths and where they needed improvement. Because as a sales manager, it’s important to understand just how your high-fliers manage to close deals that seem impossible to everyone else.

    That way, you can coach the rest of your reps to fly just as high.

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