Successful Salespeople: Who You Are vs. What You Do


We’re always interested in hearing fresh perspectives on how to achieve sales goals. To this end, we found a relevant blog posting at the HBR Blog Network on Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. While author Heidi Grant Halvorson’s list isn’t specifically about sales tactics/skills, it’s certainly relevant to those of us in business development.

Perhaps the most compelling things about this list are that successful people 1) embrace change and perceive it as a positive thing, and 2) are motivated to effect changes in their behavior. Both self-awareness and self-control are major attributes of successful people. Grant Halvorson calls these collective qualities “willpower muscle,” and insight into their value is threaded throughout the nine things that successful people do differently. Here’s the rundown, with a sales twist:

1. Successful Salespeople are Specific: Promises to lose weight or go to bed early are way too nebulous. Clear goals are unequivocal: “I’m going to lose 5 pounds in the next month by doing XYZ,” or “Lights off by 10:15 pm on weeknights.” In sales parlance: “I’m going to make a minimum of 5 phone calls a day to new prospects,” and “I’ll submit at least 4 RFPs per month.”

2. Successful Salespeople are Decisive: The Latin poet Horace was onto something with Carpe Diem. The idea here is to quit making excuses and putting off things that are important to achieving your goals. So commit to making those calls at specific times of the day and week, then take a clue from Nike: Just Do It.

3. Successful Salespeople Know What Still Needs to Be Done: They’re good at monitoring their progress, then fine-tuning their behavior and strategy to make sure their follow-through is effective and timely.

4. Successful Salespeople are Realistic Optimists: They believe in their ability to get things done, but they also know they’ll face challenges – which they anticipate and are prepared to deal with.

5. Successful Salespeople Focus on Self-Improvement, Not on Being Good: Thinking you’re good at something doesn’t make it so, and Grant Halvorson points to decades of research that back this up. Embracing improvement and change helps successful salespeople develop new aptitudes that contribute to their success.

6. Successful Salespeople Have Grit: Determination predicts accomplishment. Not feeling very gritty? You can decide to change that: see traits described above and below.

7. Successful Salespeople Have Self-Control: They’re good at practicing discipline and are aware that the habits of balance strengthen their ability to successfully address challenges – and therefore, to succeed.

8. Successful Salespeople Pace Themselves: They know their limits and avoid becoming overtaxed. They don’t make reaching the goal more difficult than it already is.

9. Successful Salespeople Center on What They Will Do, Not on What They Won’t Do: As Grant Halvorson points out, “Research on thought suppression (e.g., ‘Don’t think about white bears!’) has shown that trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind. The same holds true when it comes to behavior – by trying not to engage in a bad habit, our habits get strengthened rather than broken.” She suggests asking yourself what you will do instead, then focusing on the positive action.

Step 1 is awareness: take stock of what you’re doing right and where you can improve, then move to Step 2 and put your willpower muscle to work. It’s less about who you are, and more about what you do. Click here to read the blog posting.