Sales · Saas

What skills distinguish an entry-level salesperson from the top 10%?


July 15th, 2015

Sales is an extremely important job and arguably the most important skill in any profession. As a startup founder, I feel as though I am also a sales person many times throughout the day. But I wonder what differentiates someone like me, who has not spent years honing my sales ability, from someone who IS an expert in the trade?

Rob Weedn

July 15th, 2015

All of these answers are valuable and provide insight. 

Above all, it is the experience, talent, homework, empathy and adaptability to (1) gain immediate credibility by adding value to the customer in some insightful/helpful way, (2) very quickly assess the customer's situation, needs, pains and potential for using the product/service being sold, (3) dynamically position the product/service/solution into the customer's mind, operational and organization model, while responding to alternative solutions including status quo / do nothing, (4) uncover objections and hidden barriers across stakeholders, especially including unknown stakeholders, (5) assess the value to the customer and position the pricing within the value proposition / ROI model, and (6) identify and lock-in the business drivers and compelling event so that the sales happens fast, but for customer's reasons/benefit.... and in more complex and big deal circumstances (7) identify the client's organizational gaps to achieving the value / ROI, and map in services or 3rd party resources and solutions that complete the puzzle.  

It will take an entry-level sales person at least 2-5 years and 10-15 large deals to experience all of these aspects, see them happen with different stakeholders in different accounts, and build the human algorithms to deal with this complexity in a fluid, rapid and dynamic manner.  And this makes the top 10% in a given company.  

Then, you will need to assess if the Top Sales Rep can actually take those skills across companies, products and industries to apply them to your problem.  

Demelza Campbell Tech Workforce Program Manager/Recruiter at DOJ

July 15th, 2015

I think the ability to form an authentic relationship vs. one based simply on the transaction is what separates the wheat from the chaff (sp?). 

A person focused more on the bigger picture and how a more long term approach could benefit your business vs. the sales and what discounts may have been given (to the detriment of the brand/value) to make a quick win.

Finally, an expert in any area (sales, HR, etc.) is still willing to learn from people that may seem less experienced, just as much as they are willing to learn from those that seem more experienced.  They are not so much of an expert that they are unwilling to see things from a different perspective.

Derek Schueren Co-Founder, Recommind Inc

July 15th, 2015

All these responses give us insight into what makes a great salesperson and I agree with all. That said, if you had to boil it down to one thing, a great salesperson builds trust. Trust across all levels and all sides. A great salesperson:

   * Builds trust w the customer by showing that s/he cares more about helping the client than a sale
   * Builds trust w his/her own company by showing s/he knows how to run a sale
   * Builds trust w his/her team by leveraging his/her people as needed in a sale
   * Builds trust w the prospect's team by addressing each person's needs and wants across all constituencies (e.g. IT, Procurement, etc)
   * Builds trust w the prospect by illustrating a mastery of his/her product/solution.
   * Builds trust w him/herself that gives him/her the confidence to know s/he is doing the right thing for the prospect and for his/herself.

Ultimately I have found everything comes down to trust. More than a salesperson who has connections, a salesperson who has experience, a salesperson who is very smart, I will take a salesperson who engenders trust over all the rest. 

Richard Janezic Growth and Digital Strategy, Sales, and Services; Transformations in Tech, Healthcare, Life Sciences

July 15th, 2015


Many good, solid responses to your obvious question. Is your real question, "What does it take for me to become a top 10% ranked sales professional", or "What should I be looking for when I hire a sales professional (and I want a top 10%er)?"

Several elements for your consideration:
If your intention is to make you a better salesperson-
-The power of a founder counts for A LOT for credibility, and ability to do a deal
-To Dan's points, buyer and value clarity; understanding who buys, how, and why; the evidence they need to proceed
-To Alistair's point, qualification - your ability to quickly and accurately assess prospect readiness and fit is critical

If your intention is to hire a strong sales professional so that you can focus on building your company, validate your business model, and then hire to scale ( that is, if you're building a company v a lifestyle biz)
-As soon as possible, (if you have strong PFM and clearly definable and accepted value props) understand the dimensions of complexity, consistency, competition and cycle. Those are the drivers that establish the type of talent you'll need (dilgence, intellect, poise, grit, curiousity, athleticism, etc).
-If you have a high consistency in prospects, hire for diligence and execution (Dan's points)
-If you have a high variability in prospects, hire for agility and curiousity (Richard's point), and as soon as possible, ID your segments so you can scale by hiring for prospect/segment consistency

Melissa Rich Passionate, Mission Driven, Strategy, Growth & Impact Leader - Founder, CEO, President, Executive Management

July 16th, 2015

I believe that as a founder, it will always be hard to find a hired salesperson as committed or as credible as you.  Although I often felt as though I was NOT a salesperson, I exuded passion for my product/business and therefore I could source and close business.  My company was "my baby".   I now realize that I am indeed capable of selling.  Where I fell short was understanding what it would take to get OTHERs to be able to sell my vision.  That said, great salespeople are out there.  I believe its important to find someone that you feel is committed to your business/product etc AND most important, a good cultural fit for your organization.  Keep in mind that there are sales people and there are sales managers.  As you scale, you will need both. 

Ramki Sundararaman Commercial /Integration Lead - Video Engineering - Communications & Technology at Cognizant Technology Solutions

July 15th, 2015

Ability to align the business meeds with the need of the customer is the most important skill of a salesperson. Most times the entry level sales Person would go for the trees but lose the forest in the sales cycle. Ramki sundararaman

Nick Brake Experience in academic/science sector, Start-up Director and microfinance charity volunteer.

July 16th, 2015

Ability to start looking at their sales role as though it were their own business: developing their own leads/growing their own lead base, thinking about how best to market themselves and acting on it when you empower them, proactively developing/identifying new business opportunities/sectors, understanding how to leverage other departments in the business to drive sales, willingness to share best practice with other sales staff, always looking for ways to improve themselves/product/sales material etc.

Of course if you just want a closer and are prepared to feed them leads, you will probably accept that a lot of those things above may not  be present but the revenue they are producing/closing justifies accepting this.

Michael Hawley Owner Founder at Appends Consulting Limited

July 15th, 2015

In my experience I look for 3 things in great sales people:
1. Evidence of great relationships and networks facilitated by exceptional interpersonal skills
2. Mastery - unrivalled knowledge of their subject area and market
3. Commercial acumen - view the business as their own and are motivated by honourable competition

The best sales people are focussed on their outcomes and needs and will be quite selfish in their behaviours -  as such as a CEO you will struggle to be a great sales person as you need to maintain a wider perspective at the expense of constructive tension. 

I would focus on migration of relationships from your sales people to you selectively and ensuring you keep close to your market and voice of customer to attach meaningful context to the endless demands of great sales people.

That's my penny for my thoughts...

3. Commercial 

Mary VanLeer Helping Companies Translate Business Goals and Ideas to Operational Excellence

July 15th, 2015

Honesty and transparency. Being an advocate for the customer/user.  Traditionally, when a sales person walked into my office, I hid under the desk.  They only came in because a customer either had a problem or wanted to drive us to enhance the product.  The best sales people were willing to take a bullet for the company no matter how bad the situation.  However, they were honest to the customer and to the organization.  They were a strong advocate for the needs of the customer and typically it ended up being  the needs of the business. They were able to influence consensus and create an agreed to balance.  

Michael Markarian Founder at Mount Dream

July 15th, 2015