What Does Personality Have to do With Sales Success?


We are in the era of inbound selling of “always be serving” instead of “always be selling,” the personality lever is much more critical than in the past, and as such sales leaders must recruit for personality. The way buyers buy has dramatically changed, and as a result, salespeople need to change aligned to buyers’ preferences.

In 2003, Herb Kelleher told Bloomberg Business Week said, “At Southwest, we will hire someone with less experience, less education and less expertise, than someone who has more of those things but has a bad attitude. We can teach people how to lead and how to provide customer service, however, we can’t change their DNA.”


Similarly, Bruce Nordstrom, ex-chairman of the department store Nordstrom, renowned for delivering excellent service, said, “We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.”

These successful leaders believe you can develop competencies with the right training, mentoring, coaching, support, and motivation. However, to get a personality and values match, you must hire the right individuals. In the words of one sales leader, “You can teach a turkey to climb a tree, it’s much easier to hire a squirrel.”

Janice B Gordon Personality in Sales pic source Pexel 2

The best sales recruiting process must focus on identifying modern success personality traits, such as resilience, team and service orientation, and creative problem-solving attributes. It’s easy for sale leaders to get distracted by competencies, like experience and knowledge of the industry and strong presentation skills, so their hirers hit the ground running and securing immediate results. However, it is the personality that delivers relationship beating consistent results. Without the right personality, the results show that it’s unlikely that a salesperson will be successful over the long term:

  • The average tenure of a salesperson is less than two years (Sales Readiness Group) and the average tenure of a sales manager is 19 months.
  • 47% of companies say it takes 10 or more months for new salespeople to become fully productive (CSO Insights).

Culture is the reason why people stay, and the reason why salespeople leave and within the company the culture, the sales leader must raise the profile of sales and salespeople. The collective personality of your salespeople is a vital and external indicator of the entire business culture (always be selling or always be serving). The culture reflects the business values and mission. It defines the company’s personality and shapes how the employees behave and communicate both internally and externally. Sales leaders have a responsibility to create a positive environment to keeps their sales teams motivated and engaged. Culture is not only pivotal in boosting productivity, but it’s also intrinsic to the company’s profitability and longevity.

‘A grandfather discovered that his grandson was going to be taken off life support and was desperate to reach him in time. The Southwest Airline operative who had taken the booking had informed the pilot. The pilot’s decision was unusual and costly, but Southwest Airlines stated there were proud of their employee. The pilot’s instincts were in line with the company ethos: “Fly Southwest Airlines because you want to be treated like a person.” Nothing to do with the pilots’ ability to fly a plane and everything to do with their personal values. Southwest hired the person, not the pilot.’

This story went viral and became synonymous with the Southwest brand winning them more customers. Southwest instil their culture by hiring people with these personality traits:

  • A warrior spirit: fearlessly take the initiative and caring about customers, which means the organisation must give the tools to deliver this value.
  • A servant’s heart: treat others with respect and put other people first always listening for their concerns and needs.
  • A fun-luving attitude: people with personality, who are proud to be part of the community culture and don’t take themselves too seriously.

What Can Sales Leaders Learn from Southwest?

To what extent are your salespeople characterful with core values that engage others? With a demonstrated a keen interest in the people they work with, openly sharing knowledge and experience and committed to solving problems? Like Southwest, sales leaders must identify the company’s values that are non-negotiable and recruit these values in the sales peoples?

Janice B Gordon Personality in Sales pic source Pexel 3

Why Personality Matters

The reason is that people buy from people they trust and feel comfortable with.  Product and price are secondary; the person behind the product is who the buyer is purchasing from.  If a salesperson is curiously focused on serving and able to stand in their customer shoes more effectively than a competitor, they will secure the deals more efficiently too.

Empathy is what enables the salesperson to elicit the problems and needs of the client, which moves the client towards buying the solution. Engagement and urgency drive the buyer towards the solution and an appreciation of the value-match offered. Empathy is the critical ability to understand how others feel to better match the buyer’s preferences and requirements. Without engaging, feedback from the client through empathy, sellers cannot sell well.

Sellers must be able to think in terms of what the other person is thinking in the client’s world view and position.  Salespeople need to be able to understand and communicate in their buyers’ terms, only then are they able to lead the buyer into arriving at their ideal solution.

study conducted by Charan Ranganath found that curious people can make it through the repetitive and mundane tasks than their less curious counterparts. The study showed how the more curious participants retained the “incidental — even boring information” better than the non-curious participants. Salespeople perform repetitive tasks, key amongst the essential task is the follow-up:

  • High-growth organisations report an average of 16 touch points per prospect, within 2-4 weeks. The optimal number of email messages is five, and six call attempts (source).
  • 50% of sales happen after the 5th. However, the average salesperson only makes two attempts to reach a prospect, and 44% of salespeople give up after one follow-up (source).
  • 92% of salespeople give up after no sales on the 4th call, while 60% of customers say yes after the fourth call (source).

The curious salesperson will also retain the information and more likely to remember the minor details that play a significant role in a buyer’s decision-making process.

According to James M Muir, Personality is the most influential factor is the salesperson; in fact, the salesperson is two to four times more important than any other single factor. Finding the right personality for your sales business isn’t a luxury: it’s essential.

A winning sales culture of having a serving rather than selling mindset takes time and effort to build, but worth the reward of a productive and loyal sales operation. Salespeople who know how to connect and engage, listen and build relationships with personality, is critical for the internal culture and the long term business success.

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