Just about everything in our world is changing, but there are still some fundamentals that remain constant. Now more than ever, the traits of a great salesperson come down to selling principles and behaviors rooted in ethics and integrity.

What are the traits of a great salesperson in 2021? Many sales leaders are grappling with this question as they navigate today’s rapidly evolving sales landscape while sticking to their selling principles.

Coming into the year, only 6% of Chief Sales Officers said they were extremely confident about their team’s ability to meet or exceed revenue goals. That doesn’t necessarily mean their salespeople aren’t talented or motivated. But it is a reflection of a new selling reality. Remote selling isn’t going anywhere. The buying process has gotten much more complex. Customer expectations are higher than ever. And organizations are now finding themselves competing head to head for talent as well as new business.

No wonder sales managers are worried about whether they have the teams in place to recapture lost ground and take advantage of a rebounding economy.

The irony is, even with all the dramatic disruption we’re experiencing, the traits of a great salesperson haven’t changed all that much. Neither have the core selling principles that drive their success. But many of these fundamentals aren’t being addressed through typical sales training and coaching efforts.

Best Practices of World Class Sales Organizations

Here’s something world class sales organization understand: Especially in B2B sales, establishing your competitive advantage is often less about your solutions and more about the day-to-day actions of your sales professionals.

One of the more striking findings from our research is that success, particularly for salespeople, has more to do with “who you are” than “what you know.” Although knowledge and skill will always be required for success, a salesperson’s attitudes, beliefs and values provide the catalyst for sustainable customer needs-focused behaviors. In our research, these are the key factors that distinguish the best from the rest.

While this has always been true, it’s perhaps never been truer than today. Whether it’s the media, politicians, leaders or businesses, we’re experiencing a crisis of trust across society. As Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer points out, people don’t know who to believe anymore.

This isn’t a new problem for salespeople. The unfortunate reality is that most people distrust salespeople. One typical study of buyers found that 44% percent believed salespeople are only serving their own agenda. These same buyers said they’d only classify 18% of the salespeople they’d met over the past year as trusted advisers whom they respect.

You can teach salespeople all the product knowledge and selling techniques in the world, but that’s not going to make buyers trust them. Trust, that building block of relationship sales, comes down to integrity. Maximizing talent, developing a customer-centric culture and achieving aggressive sales goals are all made possible through ethical, values-driven behaviors. When we talk about the traits of a great salesperson, that’s the foundation that supports everything else.

Let’s take a look at these selling principles and underlying beliefs that enable salespeople to build trust and develop valuable, lasting relationships with customers.

10 Selling Principles for Relationship Sales

Selling Principle 1: Selling is a mutual exchange of value.

Underlying Belief: Selling is a noble profession of creating value for others and, in return, being rewarded for it.

Sales professionals who perceive what they do as creating value for people and/or organizations have a positive attitude about selling that increases their customer-needs focus and drives their relationship sales approach. They recognize and expect to be rewarded for creating value for others and are energized by this belief.

Selling Principle 2: Selling is not something you do to people; it’s something you do for and with them.

Underlying Belief: Selling with integrity is identifying and satisfying customer needs and creating value for them—not trying to sell them something.

This selling principle resonates with customer-focused salespeople and increases their achievement drive because it aligns with their core values. It also empowers them to walk away from an opportunity if what they are offering won’t satisfy a customer’s wants or needs. It will not only increase their commitment to the needs of their customers, but also increase the likelihood that customers will be more committed to doing business with them. This can also have a dramatic impact on referrals, opportunities that have the highest closure rate.

Selling Principle 3: Developing trust and rapport precedes any selling activity.

Underlying Belief: Your first sale is you!

A potential customer must perceive that you have their best interests in mind before they will buy from you. Even (and especially) when you’re selling remotely, you must build rapport by adapting your communication style to your potential customer’s style. When you focus on understanding their wants and needs, you break through their natural psychological barriers. At that point you will begin to establish trust in the relationship.

Selling Principle 4: Understanding people’s wants or needs must always precede any attempts to offer a solution.

Underlying Belief: Asking the “right” questions to determine if the customer has wants or needs you can satisfy is the most important sales skill of all.

Many salespeople wrongly believe that the priority is to show excitement about what they are selling and assume that their “contagious enthusiasm” will lead to a sale. However, if they’re not asking the right questions early in the sales process, they will decrease their likelihood of making a sale. The ability to conduct a consultative interview that uncovers what is most important to a customer is the “master skill” of relationship sales. It’s a trait every great salesperson shares because it allows them to communicate the features and benefits of the products and services that will satisfy the customer’s needs, rather than focusing on what they think will satisfy the customer.

Selling Principle 5: Selling ‘techniques’ give way to values-driven selling principles.

Underlying Belief: People don’t want to be sold, but they do want to buy!

Salespeople who adopt a sales philosophy and process based on relationship selling and values-driven selling principles attract more customers. Rather than investing their time in techniques that attempt to persuade someone to buy something, they work at establishing loyal customer relationships based on creating value.

Selling Principle 6: Truth, respect and honesty provide the basis for long-term selling success.

Underlying Belief: People don’t care what you know until they know that you care!

The foundation of customer-centric relationships goes beyond products and services — it’s a mutual exchange of value. In fact, it is a by-product of how great salespeople deliver on their promises, creating more value than expected by consistently engaging in customer-focused behaviors.

Selling Principle 7: Values and ethics contribute more to sales success than techniques or strategies.

Underlying Belief: Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do!

Customers are naturally averse to any selling techniques or behaviors that they perceive as manipulative. As a result, they will be reluctant to buy from salespeople who engage in sales tactics that make them uncomfortable. If a customer perceives that a salesperson is communicating through self-interest, they will resist moving forward.

Selling Principle 8: Selling pressure is never exerted by the salesperson; it is exerted only by customers when they perceive they want or need the products or services recommended.

Underlying Belief: Persuasion Paradox—The more you try to convince someone of something, the more they pull away from you. By contrast, the more you try to understand someone’s wants or needs, the more attracted they are to buy from you.

Another trait of a great salesperson is that they keep their focus on the customer by building trust and rapport throughout the sales process. Customers will naturally become excited about doing business with a salesperson who effectively communicates how their wants and needs will be satisfied by a specific solution.

Selling Principle 9: Negotiating is never manipulation. It’s always a strategy to work out problems… when the customer wants to work them out.

Underlying Belief: Negotiation is not an adversarial process; it’s one of finding common ground and working out a “win-win” solution.

Most sales training programs on the topic of negotiation teach “techniques” that often feel unnatural to the salesperson and are perceived as manipulative by the customer. This dynamic creates tension that can undermine trust in the relationship.

When a sales process is guided by ethics and integrity, the negotiation phase is viewed as a positive indicator and an opportunity to work out any problems or concerns. Instead of creating tension that is transmitted to the customer, a great salesperson approaches negotiation with positive expectancy of a “win-win” outcome. It is a collaborative, problem-solving process where both parties feel valued and respected and an open dialogue is encouraged to seek resolution.

Selling Principle 10: Closing is a victory for both the salesperson and the customer.

Underlying Belief: When a customer agrees the product or service you offer can satisfy their wants or needs, simply asking for their business is a natural outcome.

Sales training often focuses the “close” phase of the sales process on techniques designed to get the customer to say “yes.” These dynamics create tension and undermine trust in the relationship. But when salespeople internalize all of the selling principles discussed here and have developed customer needs-focused behaviors, they will know when to ask for the business — and they will ask for it with confidence.

The Timeless Traits Of A Great Salesperson

Just about everything in our world is changing, but there are still some fundamentals that remain constant. Now more than ever, the traits of a great salesperson come down to selling principles and behaviors rooted in ethics and integrity. These are the salespeople who develop customer-centric skills, attitudes, beliefs and values and adopt a relationship sales approach. They are driven by purpose, and it shows.

Follow the best practices of world class sales organizations. When you work with your salespeople to help them develop and internalize these key selling principles and underlying beliefs, they will realize their potential, attract more customers, build long-term customer relationships and consistently achieve sales success. Those are timeless benefits that will give you the competitive edge in any environment.  

These 10 selling principles have been the foundation of Integrity Selling for decades. By viewing sales through the lens of mutual value, your salespeople will build new skills that enable them to deeply understand their customers and develop the kind of trusted relationships that will influence and advance buying decisions. Contact us to discuss how you can apply these within your own sales organizations. Your customers will thank you…

About the Author
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Mike Esterday

Partner and CEO

Over the past 40 years Mike Esterday has experienced a wide variety of success in sales, management and training. In...

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