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What determines a great and successful salesperson?

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In my years of recruiting for sales positions, I have come across many successful and driven sales professionals without a university degree. A university degree does not actually guarantee you a successful sales career. For instance, famous CEOs like Richard Branson and Bill Gates did not graduate yet they are now successful business owners who started their career in sales. I am not denying that a fair few of my clients will tell me that they would like a strong sales candidate who has a degree because there is an element of specialist knowledge required to do the job and at times it demonstrates qualities like discipline and motivation. So, how much does it matter?

Last week I started a poll on LinkedIn to ask what you thought. Here's how you voted: Only 3% voted that you need to have a good university degree. 33% voted that Experience and skills are important. 70% voted having the right attitude is the number one key factor in becoming a successful salesperson. I'm not surprised by the results to be honest, but it seems some of my candidates would be. Many are denying themselves opportunities when they assume a degree is required for certain roles, especially for Sales related careers. Like most other industries, transportation and logistics is currently confronting immense change; and like all change, this brings both risk and opportunity. New technology, new market entrants, new customer expectations, and new business models. Business Development Managers, Sales Managers, or even Key Account Managers need to constantly be competitive and in tune with the market trend and changes in the industry to meet the demands of client's requirements. In my experience working with most key stake holders and decision makers involved in hiring sales professionals, they are not heavily concerned about the university degree or education background mainly because it's about network selling. People buy from people they trust and are comfortable with, not based on their credentials. You need to understand the product and technicality to provide advice to customers, which is learnt through your day-to-day job. A university degree cannot teach this. Often, you need to be able to handle rejection, ask intelligent questions or perhaps questions that you're not comfortable with which can only be learnt from experience, not university degrees. Most importantly, hiring managers always look up to candidates with the right attitude, and personality. Skills and experience can always be obtained but if you don't have the right attitude and resilience, you'll never be a successful salesperson bringing in revenues to the business and earning big commissions. If you have a ferocious appetite to succeed, you are seen as self-motivated and a self-starter with clear ideas of what you want to achieve. It doesn't matter if you have a university degree or not. So, what does it take to be a successful salesperson? Some experts believe that a person's attitudes, personality, and approach to work are virtually the entire basis for professional success. Common sense dictates that a person's approach to work plays an important role in their performance on the job. By the nature of the work itself, successful salespeople possess a unique set of personality attributes that enable them to succeed. Mediocre sales performance cannot be disguised as a salesperson's success or failure is revealed immediately by the bottom-line results. It takes a special kind of individual to succeed in sales. There are five key qualities that are essential for success:

  • Empathy; understand and share the feelings of your clients.

  • Focus; be sure to have clear goals and give them your full attention.

  • Responsibility; take ownership of your successes and failures.

  • Optimism; have confidence in your future success, be resilient.

  • Ego-Drive; be self-motivated and competitive. Always put yourself in an entrepreneur's shoes. If you are running your own business, you'd never want to fail!

I've recruited many salespeople for my clients, and like any other recruiter, I have consistently monitored the progress of my candidates. Some of the most successful salespeople I know, from junior level all the way to senior management do not have an outstanding education background. In fact, one of my candidates (now my client) who has reached top senior management level in sales with one of the Top 4 Global Forwarders, started his career as a warehouse operator, learning all aspects of the job from ground level before shifting to commercial positions. A person's drive, resilience, and hunger for challenges and success are what stand out rather than their credentials. Whilst having a university degree is not a key factor of being a successful salesperson, it does still appear to be desirable. I have encountered plenty of sales candidates who are pursuing part time degrees or MBAs as they believe in continuous learning and improvement. And this reflects a lot in their attitude!

So, there you have it; a degree cannot teach you to be a great and successful salesperson, but it can give you the motivation to persevere. As a recruiter, I always remind myself that the best sales professionals do not focus purely on making a sale, they look to build long-term relationships.


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