Hiring optimists is a good start and vital ingredient for sales success

It is always a good time to look at sales, and to identify and remove obstacles that hinder the achievement of sales targets. So this month in Incite we focus on a key influencer of the sales process, yes the sales executive.


It’s been said that if you want to hire good sales people “hire optimists”. To go further let’s view the right behaviour for sales people – and the wrong behaviour!


I refer to an interesting piece of research on improving sales people’s performance, most recently a commentary from HBR adding to earlier research from Cranfield University – there are links to the research report and HBR graphic on our blog at Celtar.ie.



Cranfield worked with data, provided by sales consultancy Silent Edge, analysing the performance of 800 sales professionals observed in live sales interactions.  The report identifies eight sets of behaviours in sales meetings.  By understanding these behaviours, managers could effect changes in their current sales force and recruit better team members in the future.


The bad news is that only three of the eight behavioural types, a mere 37% of the sales force, were effective.  However the good news is that behavioural tendencies can be managed over time encouraging sales people to adopt behaviours of the most effective types. The eight types represent behavioural tendencies, they say, and are not personality indicators.



The eight behavioural types are


The best

Experts – make selling seem effortless, outperform peers. Should mentor & help less effective staff, & share best practice in sales

9% of the sales people sample of 800


Closers – pull off some very big deals (in product more so than in service sales), can effectively counter customer objections. May be too smooth talking, and require strong motivation and rewards in place to retain them.



Consultants – listen well, good problem solvers, develop solutions to meet customers’ needs. Can be too one-dimensional, may miss opportunities to enrich customer interactions.




The rest

Storytellers – customer focused, love to provide case studies. But can talk through the sale, waste time at meetings. Need training to focus meetings with clear agendas & targets, & become more aware of their own behaviour.



Focusers – know their products very well, believe in them, but lack confidence and give too much detail on features, and may not listen to customers. So require training in listening skills and being aware of customers’ specific needs.



Narrators – know their products & market but have a dependency on scripts. Not able to respond well to challenging questions. Require training in questioning techniques, product training and awareness of specific needs of each customer.



Aggressors – have combative approach that some customers will dislike, enjoy negotiation & will score some big wins. Probably require self awareness training.



Socialisers – may impress customers with friendly chat but they usually don’t close too many deals. Have to have short-term targets and be closely managed so don’t sink back to old habits



One aspect not covered in the research is the key role of the sales manager in matching the “right” sales rep to the “right” client. Sales managers I have worked with (and some will be reading this Incite) have this skill in understanding which sales executive will work best with which client, meeting their needs and optimising sales for the business.

Interestingly only 9% of the 800 sales meetings attended during this research concluded in a sale.


Lynette Ryals, Professor of Strategic Sales and Account Management at Cranfield School of Management, co-authored the research with Dr Iain Davies, a lecturer at the University of Bath. 

“The most exciting part of our results is how the behaviours of these sales people are linked to their success” says Professor Ryals. “This is an important report for companies wanting to improve their sales performance.”

“The results of the research are ground-breaking,” claims Silent Edge’s CEO Russell Ward.  “For the first time organisations are able to identify what types of behaviours they have in their sales forces giving managers invaluable knowledge to develop their teams.”


And hiring optimists is a good start and vital ingredient for sales success, still.


(first issued Celtar’s Incite 2011)