Living the Balanced Life
For example, a study done at a major insurance company showed a whopping difference in sales production between people who scored in the high range of a sales-specific "personality" test that emphasizes character traits and those who scored in the low to mediocre range. High scorers on the SalesMax test developed by Bigby, Havis & Associates reported an average production of $7,123,043 a year, while those in the mediocre range averaged $3,224,114 a year, and those in the low range averaged only $2,755,492 a year.
The most interesting part of the SalesMax study is this—research supporting the validation of the test cannot find a correlation between sales earnings and sales knowledge or skill. What does correlate robustly, however, are personality traits such as resilience, follow-through and optimism, which are also commonly referred to as character traits. And, when you look at all of the character traits that are linked with success in sales in this research, you ultimately end up looking at the portrait of a very "balanced" person—people who are aggressive, yes, but who also are diligent, responsible and thoughtful as well.
Based on a review of this research and other leading studies on sales performance, I am convinced that the only way to maintain the kind of "balanced personality" that ensures continued success in sales is to lead a "balanced life." As one CEO of a leading telecommunications company (who is also a ferocious sales person) told me recently:
"At this point on my life, I’m not looking to make more money and be more successful. I’m trying to find some balance so I don’t explode."
The "DaVinci Code" and Holy Grail of Sales Excellence
People often ask if there is a "DaVinci Code" for predicting excellence in sales people as defined by earnings. Some have said that the search for the greatest single trait of sales excellence is as futile as the search for the Holy Grail.
Actually, it’s not. If you carefully examine all of the leading research that’s been done on the personality traits or character traits of the highest grossing sales people (who all have excellent business minds) you will find one trait that is common to all:
It is a trait that I call "balanced optimism."
All other predictable traits that appear in great sales people are dependent upon the resilient energy and commitment that optimism provides. Great sales people (those who make the most money) are able to weather the brutal discouragements that come in the sales life because their brains are wired differently. Drawing on brain wave research I helped to conduct at Harvard, we can say that people with a high degree of "positive affect" or "optimism" have more electricity flowing through the areas of the brain that control approach-related or "pro-active" style behavior. Because of this excess of "positive" energy, these relentlessly pro-active optimists are able to see nothing but opportunity, even in situations where other people may see only tragedy or defeat.
The Case for "Balanced" Optimism
But optimism alone does make a great sales person. Great salespeople also possess a business streak that combines good judgment along with that optimism, and this combination of aggression and optimism along with good judgment, or solid analytical reasoning, is actually rare (and that why truly great salespeople are so hard to find, although certain assessment tests are very useful in helping you to spot them.)
Now here’s the really tricky part—almost every great sales person will admit that "balanced optimism" is a key trait, but they will also say it is difficult to maintain, given that good selling is so physically grueling and so hard on the mind and body.
Tips from a "Sales Animal" on Maintaining Balanced Optimism
"It’s critical that you pay attention to your outside life," says Lisa Parker, a senior saleperson at Headway Corporate Resources. "If you’re not successful in your personal life, you will fail at your business life. Little things will become huge, you’ll lose your sense of perspective, you’ll start doing everything wrong. You will gradually lose your optimism and that balanced business thinking if you begin to chronically ignore your personal life. Sometimes the hardest thing to do as sales people is to leave the office, stop thinking about deals, go home to your husband, wife, or significant other and think about nothing but having a good time. But you have to force yourself to do it. It’s the very thing that will feed you that positive feel-good energy that you have to have when you’re out on your next call."
Our Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Headway, Teresa Spangler, is the former head of sales for Red Hat Software. We asked her once what her philosophy was on keeping or firing sales people and this is what she said:
"I have always expected my sales people to have one thing—and that is 100 percent belief in our company and our product 100 percent of the time. If you don’t have 100 percent belief in who we are and what we’re doing, 100 percent of the time, I don’t want you anywhere around me."
Lisa says she agrees.
"That’s excellent, and I would add a couple of things to that," she said. "There are four core values I think all great sales people must have. These are things I would hire for, if I were trying to hire another me:
- 100 percent belief in yourself.
- 100 percent :) belief in your manager.
- 100 percent belief in your company.
- 100 percent belief in your product.
Those are the core values you must keep alive. That’s what you’re trying to protect. That’s why your life has to remain in balance. Because that’s where the money comes from."
About the Author
David Snyder is the author of How to Mind Read Your Customers, which was listed first in best books of the year by Sales and Marketing Management in 2001. He is CEO of Snyder, Inc. and Business Development Counsel for Headway. He is also Headway’s senior consultant in national sales recruitment and selection. He holds a graduate degree in psychology from Harvard and specializes in the psychology of sales performance.