The Chameleon Trait – a High Performance Indicator for the Best Salespeople

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Is the market that you are selling into changing? The most likely answer to this is yes. We are currently in a period of exponential change for many sectors.

There have been shifts from simple features and benefits selling to solutions selling, and the rise of the importance of the procurement professional has caused many products to become pigeon-holed and commoditised. Daniel Pink describes, in his excellent book “To Sell is Human”, that even where professional purchasers are not involved, buyers are now much more empowered with information that they can simply access online. The days when the sales person had the advantage of detail are largely over. Therefore changing market conditions may make you decide to look for skills that you have not looked for in the past.

One of the key features of this changing landscape is the requirement to sell to multiple stakeholders within most professional B2B settings. The number of sectors where one customer type is the at the top of the “food-chain”, and only she/he needs to be won over are dwindling in their number. When I was selling EP medical devices back in the early 1990s, the only real decision maker was the EP cardiologist, with some supporting affirmation from other medical professionals. Most of our effort was focussed on this customer type. Procurement was unheard of for this type of product. This is no longer the case. Salespeople require the ability to find solutions for a range of customer decision influencers. If your salesperson fails to understand the needs of any part of the buying chain he/she will most likely lose the deal.

The salesperson must therefore be supremely adaptable. You might have one customer in the chain who is highly affable, enjoys a bit of humour and is essentially “big picture” in their thinking. Other customer types may be highly detail orientated and the last thing they want to hear is the salesperson’s latest gag.

There has always been something of a myth regarding sales people, and this myth states that sales people should be very “outgoing”. Essentially, they should be extroverts, the “life-and-soul-of-the-party”/game-show host types. I even read an article on LinkedIn recently saying that “obviously you look for extroverts when hiring sales people”. Well you could, but it would not necessarily deliver the best outcomes.

The truth is that many of the most effective salespeople that I have interviewed and assessed are not extremely extrovert at all. Indeed, from a Myers-Briggs assessment perspective some may be classified as introverted.

It was discovered by Adam Grant of The Wharton School that the “ambivert” personality type (persons with a mix of extroversion and introversion in their personality) correlated with the highest performing sales people. Super-confident extrovert characteristics are therefore not a good predictor of high sales performance. People who are too extrovert are sometimes nervous of failure, and lacking in resilience. The best sales people therefore regularly have the ability to adjust their personality to suit those that they are selling to. This has perhaps always been the case. Good salespeople have had to adjust their approach dependent upon their audience in the past, but with today’s business world it really is the age of the Chameleon Trait.

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Author: Nigel Job, CEO & Founder Remtec Search and Selection Ltd

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