Companies strive to hire the best salespeople possible. In my line of work advising Sales, people are always asking me how to identify these top salespeople. Often, recruiters and hiring managers over-index on prior sales and resume experience. Although past experience is relevant and important, prior sales tenure is not the only or strongest predictor of sales success.

I have worked with thousands, literally thousands, of salespeople in my career. The best salespeople have varying backgrounds and experiences. Some have spent years, even decades, selling. Others are new to the sales profession. Some are extroverts, while others are extreme introverts.

Good salespeople come with all different stripes.

Although backgrounds, resumes, and prior experiences vary, the best salespeople have common traits. The greatest salespeople I’ve encountered have these universal characteristics.

Top 20 Characteristics of a Great Salesperson

  1. Compelling Storyteller

While many salespeople are more than effective communicators. They also are compelling storytellers. They don’t just share facts and pitches. They share personal stories, customer stories, company stories. They are vulnerable. They speak with their own voice. They emotionally connect. When they speak, people are drawn in, listen, and pay attention.

  • Good Listener

Many salespeople may appear to be listening, while they are actually processing in their minds what they will say when the other person stops talking. Great salespeople, on the other hand, are good listeners. Active listeners. Engaged listeners. They have eye contact. They pay attention. They understand both the content as well as the intent of what others say.

  • Hard Worker

Some people may argue quality over quantity, but much of sales success is determined by the law of averages. Sales success is highly correlated to hard work. You know the old saying, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” The best salespeople work hard to find ample lucky opportunities.

  • Challenger

The best salespeople are challengers. They respectfully challenge the status quo. They are thought leaders who teach and lead others to think and do differently.

  • Risk Taker

Great salespeople take risks. They step outside their comfort zones on a regular basis. This makes sense, as only true risk takers would be willing to have a significant portion of their compensation at risk. Who else would sign up for a gig where your performance is reset back to zero every year, quarter, month, week, or even day?

  • Empathetic

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is woven into the way top salespeople operate and behave. They are able to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, fully understanding the other side’s perspective and point of view.

  • Passionate

Great salespeople have fire in the belly. They are passionate individuals with strong conviction. This passion provides fuel and motivation. When you are around these individuals, you can feel their passion. It is contagious.

  • Goal-oriented

The best salespeople are goal-oriented. They set goals all the time. Big goals, little goals – it doesn’t matter.  Activities, calls, meetings, customers, bookings… And let’s not forget the obvious. Salespeople are always chasing their biggest goal – quota.

  • Competitive

Salespeople not only love achieving their goals, they love the competition associated with these goals. The best salespeople are intensely competitive. They compete for everything. They like to land the first deal, the biggest sale, even that contest or SPIFF. The thrill of the race is part of the fun. They love to compete, and they certainly love to win. This is one reason why competitive athletes make such great salespeople.

  1. Confident but not Cocky

The ego continuum can be tricky. Salespeople should be confident, but not cocky. Good ones are authentic and comfortable in their own skin. While they have a strong sense of self, their egos are in check. They prop others up and give credit where it’s due. They are not the beat the chest types. Words to describe them include assertive and confident, but never arrogant or narcissistic. If you see signs of big ego, run the other way.

  1. Initiative

The best salespeople show high initiative. They know how to motivate themselves. They are the ones who raise their hands even when not asked. Top salespeople operate as CEOs of their own territory. They are builders and self-starters who consistently take initative.

  1. Team Players

Although great salespeople can be independent and self-sufficient, they are outstanding team players. They realize that the collective team can accomplish more together than a bunch of individuals acting alone. They are supportive, respectful, and positively contribute to the strength of the team.

  1. Tenacious

They have sheer determination. Perseverance. They never give up. Top salespeople never quit. When the going gets tough, they keep on going.

  1. Accountable

The best salespeople are accountable. They know the meaning of extreme ownership. They take full responsibility for their actions and results.

  1. Resilient

Salespeople face failure day in and day out. The sales profession is filled with way more no’s than yesses. Dealing with no’s all day long can be frustrating, stressful, and exhausting. The best salespeople are able to bounce back. A salesperson without resiliency won’t last long.

  1. Growth Mindset

When you are knocked down a lot and asked to continually get back up, it’s best to learn from your mistakes. The best salespeople are eager to learn. They love self-improvement. They are always looking to get better. A growth mindset is key.

  1. High EQ

Emotional Quotient is critical in any job that requires effective communication and connection. Top salespeople have high emotional intelligence and superior interpersonal skills. They have situational awareness. They can read the room. IQ alone won’t cut it.

  1. Positive Attitude

It’s hard to find a top salesperson who is a glass is half empty type. Great salespeople are glass is half full.

  1. Belief

The difference between a good salesperson and a great salesperson is often belief. Mind over matter. Rockstar salespeople believe in the opportunity, in the company, and, most important, in themselves. They visualize winning. They think big and believe big which helps them go big.

  • Big Heart

The greatest salespeople care about others. They truly want to help. They have good moral compasses and strength of character. The best salespeople, and the ones you want for your team, are full of heart.

Initially published on LinkedIn: Characteristics of a Great Salesperson


  • Kelly Breslin Wright

    Board Director at Fastly, Lucid, Amperity, and Even. Instructor, UW Foster. Former EVP Sales, Tableau.

    Kelly is a Board Director at Fastly (NYSE : FSLY), Lucid, Amperity, and Even. She teaches Go-To-Market Strategy at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. She also advises companies and is active in multiple organizations focused on promoting women on corporate boards. Kelly recently retired from her operational role at Tableau Software after 12 years. She joined Tableau as the company's tenth employee and first salesperson and helped grow Tableau into a multi-billion dollar public company as a key member of the executive team. She grew Tableau's worldwide sales and field operations from zero to $850m in revenue and managed over half of the global team as the company grew to 3400 employees. Kelly speaks and writes regularly on topics including sales, culture, high performance teams, operational excellence, diversity, scaling, and women in leadership.