Gitomer: The non-secret formula that makes a great salesperson

Hire for attitude and train the skills

Learn more about:

Why are salespeople great?

What makes salespeople successful?

What characteristics make up a sales superstar?

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Wouldn’t you like to know the answer to these questions?

So would every salesperson.

So would every sales leader.

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So would every person who hires a salesperson.

By understanding what criteria sales managers and business owners look for in a salesperson, you may be able to determine how those characteristics fit into your own personal success formula.

Everybody tells me they want to hire a great salesperson. They go through the expensive gyrations of outsourcing, in-sourcing, testing, interviewing and finally, hiring. Then they train with some intensive orientation and a week or two of product sales skills, investing all the while in their hopeful rookie. Yet the turnover rate of salespeople is pegged at 74 percent in the first year.  So evidently, there’s a gap between who you think is great and who is actually great.

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I’ve been collecting great salesperson characteristics from many different sales managers and entrepreneurs.  They’ll all give me “hiring” criteria and characteristics.   But what they really mean is, “I need this person to have these skills in order to succeed in my company.”

Question: Do you hire for skills and fire for attitude? Why don’t you hire for attitude and train the skill?  I have encountered hundreds of salespeople who claim to be great. Many of them are cynical and broke. The ones who really are great don’t have to brag about it. They carry their own water, chop their own wood, mind their own business and don’t have to talk about how great they are, because they have a positive attitude, a positive customer base, a positive success record and a positive bank account to prove it. Their results do the talking.

It’s funny that every person who has ever bragged to me about what a great salesman or saleswoman he or she is has never bragged to me about what a great person he or she is. And if I’m doing the hiring, I’m going to start with a great person, not a great salesperson.

The lesson here is that attitude and work ethic are more important than sales skill. If they have a great attitude and a solid work ethic, they will accept learning new skills as a way of life and a path to success. If a person’s attitude is lacking, that person falls into the category of “you can’t teach an old (sales) dog new tricks.”

And then there’s the character of the person. If you have a great salesperson with a rotten character, what do you do? You fire them, that’s what you do.

Here’s an easy, unscientific answer to uncover the skill set, criteria and characteristics of a great salesperson. Go back and list the best 10 salespeople you have ever known. Don’t forget to include yourself. Leave some space to list their characteristics. Maybe make a spreadsheet listing their names across the top of the page. Then compile your list of great characteristics down the side, and begin checking boxes for each salesperson.

When you begin to chart the characteristics of great salespeople you have known or hired, you’ll find that several of their characteristics are the same. Especially those of deep belief, ability to build relationships, ability to self-start and ability to maintain a positive attitude.

You’ll also discover that every sales superstar you’ve ever known had individual characteristics or strengths that made him or her rise above the others. Maybe it was the fact she was a single mom. Maybe it was the fact he had overcome some tragedy. Or maybe it was just personal determination. Maybe it was their athleticism and their willingness to be coached that created the discipline for them to succeed.

It’s important that you list every one of these elements so that you’re able to develop a full set of criteria. This will allow you to measure that criteria against yourself and your coworkers. It will also aid you in the selection process as you seek another sales star.

Here’s an idea: Why not list all the criteria and create a self-evaluation test? Ask people (yourself included) to rate themselves in each of the sales characteristics. This will give them, and you, insight as to strengths and weaknesses so they (you) will know where to grow.

I’ve developed 13.5 characteristics compiled from salespeople and sales managers over the years. They will appear right here – next week.

Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of 12 best-selling books, including “The Sales Bible,” “The Little Red Book of Selling” and “The Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude.” His real-world ideas and content are also available as online courses at For information about training and seminars, visit or, or email Jeffrey personally at

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