How to Identify Exceptional Salespeople

Insight into the Rarely Understood

Here I am, sitting in front of a man who vaguely resembles the guy on the front of the Count Chocula Cereal Box. He begins to speak softly at first, “Are you ready to make more money in one year than your peers make in five?” His volume increases as he continues without pause, “Do you see these keys?” He throws a set of Jaguar keys at me. “Do you see this watch?”  He points at the gold Rolex on his left wrist. “These can be yours too!” The rest of the memory somewhat escapes me, but I always remember the moment I entered sales as a profession.

Over the past 10 years, I have learned more than I can express in these several hundred words.  To summarize, I can tell you sales professionals are not born; they are forged through rigorous training, repetition, and experience. I have seen sales professionals succeed and fail. I have seen sales professionals develop as well as degrade. What I hope to provide are some indicators for identifying exceptional sales professionals. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but hopefully will provide some insight into the rarely understood and often underappreciated sales professional. 


Pedigree is Important

The hard truth is that small businesses rarely have the ability to effectively train and support new salespeople. Training for salespeople is an expensive process that requires metrics, oversight, benchmarks, and methods gleaned over decades. The companies typically considered the best trainers for new salespeople are Fortune 500 service and commodity companies. Companies typically credited with phenomenal sales are those like Cintas, Enterprise, ADP, and Ricoh. These companies do a phenomenal job at identifying, developing, and continually educating their salesforce. It is not by chance these companies consistently perform quarter after quarter.


Education is Not

Many very effective sales professionals struggled through college or simply never attended. In my experience, the most phenomenal sales professionals I know never graduated from college. The best sales professionals have strong work ethic and the ability to overcome rejections and objections. The before mentioned traits are not necessarily tied to academic performance. Moreover, athletic performance and social interaction are likely better indicators than academia. Athletes and social butterflies know what it is to work as a team, penetrate organizations, and influence others to a desired action.


Failure is Unavoidable

When I began in sales, something called a “brag book” was important. To define, a “brag book” is typically a notebook containing every personal and professional achievement and ranking of the interviewee. The concept always escaped me, but I did as recruiters coached and created one.  Over the past 10 years, this practice has faded (thankfully) and I believe I know why: no salesperson is perfect or exceeding expectations at all times. Just like every profession, salespeople have lulls in performance. In my opinion, a true test of perseverance is the corrective measures the salesperson has developed and taken to overcome obstacles. Perseverance is more important than any individual award.    


They Don’t Need You

At the end of the day, business owners need salespeople, and salespeople need a paycheck. If you are reading this article, you may have struggled at some point in hiring a new sales professional. It is not an easy hire. They are typically wordsmithing, charismatic, and (on face value) without fault. Please remember it is their profession to appear this way to their customer; you are being sold every time you enter a sales interview. Good salespeople can make a sale and find a new employer much sooner and easier than you can source a new capable salesperson, and they know it. 


They Ask for the Business

This will be short and direct. If a salesperson does not feel comfortable asking for next steps or the close, do not hire them. This is 90 percent of their job. Individuals who are drawn to sales are a special breed of people. They are able to endure repeated rejection, overcome difficult obstacles, and are driven by their individual achievements.

Personally, I have been fortunate in my career, and have been given the opportunity to build the salesforce at CERTON Engineering. Building a salesforce is ch1503.Justin Bragan-7990-BWallenging and I hope these perspectives have been helpful. A final note: sometime in the near future, a sales representative from an office supply company, a copier provider, a payroll company, or a hygiene service company will cold call your office. Consider accepting this cold call and meeting the salesperson. You may uncover your future sales leader.


Justin Bragan is the director of sales at CERTON, an industry leader in safety-critical systems, software, and electronic hardware certification. Visit to learn more.

This article appears in the May 2015 issue of SpaceCoast Business.
Did you like what you read here? 
Subscribe to SpaceCoast Business