The common notion is that anyone who is outgoing, warm, and friendly would make a good competitive sales person. We hear this all the time: “If you’re really good with people, you should be in sales!” Unfortunately, if you hire based solely on extroversion and people skills, you will find out what our data has revealed: this is not predictive of success in competitive sales people.

Don’t get caught in the trap of selecting sales people based on style over substance. So how can you predict and select those candidates who will become highly productive, successful members of your sales team?

Using our 35+ years of historical data and predictive analytics, we are able to accurately predict both performance and retention of competitive sales people. The data reveals the top three characteristics that predict performance:

1 Self Management

This is, without a doubt, the most important attribute for success. Self managers are people who are driven and able to direct their own activities on a regular basis.

Because competitive sales often relies on the sales person to initiate the sales process, it requires self managers who will go after the opportunities and complete the tasks needed to close the sale. Self managers are enterprising and goal-oriented.

On a day-to-day basis without being prompted, self managers will:

• Set goals and objectives

• Select activities to get to those objectives

• Commit to the activities

• Do the activities

• Evaluate their performance

• Seek out additional resources when required.

As you can see, self managers commit to focusing their daily effort on the tasks that they need to do to reach specific goals. Typically, they do this without thinking about it — it’s just what they do. And it is what makes them more successful than their peers who do not have this crucial characteristic.

2 Achievement Orientation

A person’s achievement orientation is the second-most predictive characteristic for success in competitive sales. Achievement orientation is the motivational component of the sales person’s personality, which affects their drive, energy, and ambition.

People who have a high level of achievement orientation are very high energy people with a high sense of urgency, who direct their energy into the activities they undertake. With their energy and urgency, high achievement orientation individuals are typically more effective closer.

They also tend to have a balanced motivational structure in which they are motivated by both money/challenge and people service/recognition. This is ideal because they are most likely to find win-win situations without sacrificing the needs of clients or the sale.If your competitive sales environment calls for sales people who can close and get results quickly, you want to select someone with a high achievement orientation.

3 Independence/Coachability

This characteristic is less predictive of success in competitive selling, but most predictive of retention. If you find a high achieving self

manager, they will quickly become invaluable to your team… and you will want to retain them.A sales person’s position on the scale from independence to coach-ability dictates what type of environment they need to thrive.

It’s important to select sales people who fit with your specific company culture and environment. The number one reason competitive sales people leave their positions is because the manager or company’s coaching style does not fit with their level of independence.

High independence sales people don’t want to get feedback and don’t want to give feedback. Conversely, highly coach-able sales people want daily feedback.Many competitive selling environments are suited to people with middle to high independence.

These individuals are coach-able, responding well to leaders who are good coaches and facilitators; but, they don’t like to be micromanaged or controlled, instead preferring to create their own system and freedoms.


It doesn’t matter whether you hire sales people who are extremely sociable or factual and analytical. That is simply a matter of style; sales people with either approach can be very successful.Instead, select people who are self managers with a high achievement orientation and a mid to high level of independence (depending on your company’s environment).

Once you find a candidate with these critical characteristics, your final check is to make sure they have a good attitude. Although a good attitude doesn’t predict good performance, a bad attitude does predict poor performance.

Validated data reveals the true characteristics for success — and knowing what to look for when selecting competitive sales people will make a big difference in building a high performance culture within your company.

JOHN MARSHALL is the president and founder of The Self Management Group, and has a doctorate in psychology from York University. For over three decades, SMG has used advanced statistical methods and principles to become a leader in applied research and using predictive analytics to assist organisations in attracting, selecting, and developing top performers.

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