The Sales Recruiting Blog

Why Top Sales Producers Are So Unique

Why top sales producers are unique

A top sales producer is an “A Player” and usually represents the top 5-20% of any sales organization. The challenge, of course, is interviewing ten sales candidates and then being able to choose the top one or two.  This is a difficult task because when we interview ten people, they may all look good to us.

Consider some of these facts:

  • It is estimated that 60-70% of salespeople in the U.S. who are currently employed as salespeople, should not be in selling. They simply do not have the necessary “right Sales Success Profile” to be successful salespeople.
  • In the majority of sales organizations, the 20/80 rule exists – meaning that 20% of the sales force generates 80% of a company’s sales.
  • The majority of people do not have a good opinion of the average salesperson. Some typical adjectives we hear are that salespeople are “pushy,” “do not seem to care,” “are only after my money,” etc.

There have been many books, articles, and seminars presented over the years which reflect on the characteristics of top sales producers. One of the best presentations comes from a book, The Successful Salesperson by David Mayer and Herbert Greenberg. In this book, after many years of research, the authors found that the highest performing salespeople must have two basic qualities: empathy and ego drive.

  • Empathy – this is the natural ability for the salesperson to feel for the customer; to really understand the customer’s situation; to “feel their pain.” When a salesperson demonstrates empathy, the customer develops a sense of trust in the salesperson, the quality of communication increases, and the persuasion process is accentuated.
  • Ego drive – the second basic quality absolutely needed by a great salesperson is ego drive. Ego drive is the need to conquer, the need to win, the need to have personal conquests for self-fulfillment – not necessarily for the money.

The key, of course, is to have the proper balance of both of these characteristics as shown in this chart representing four different people in a sales force. It should be noted that possessing these two qualities transcends all industries from selling insurance to sophisticated software programs.  This point explains why “raw sales talent” will usually beat “industry experience.”

Salesperson Characteristics
High Ego Drive
High Empathy
An “A player” (top 5 to 20%) -- has the ego drive to overcome adversity and also possesses the empathy to build and maintain trust with prospects and customers
Low Ego Drive
High Empathy
Never gets out of the gate to prospect; her low ego drive does not give her the motivation to win new business. Her empathy skills are good, but are wasted because she does not see enough prospects (could be a good customer service representative).
High Ego Drive
Low Empathy
Unfortunately many poor impressions are created by this type of person because they want to drive and fulfill their ego but lack the sensitivity skills to deal with people (this person would be perceived as a “high pressure” salesperson).
Low Ego Drive
Low Empathy
This may be a very talented person but she is not cut out for sales because she lacks both ego drive and empathy.

In the book Top Grading, Bradford Smart studied people and their behaviors to determine how people can change. This is very significant in the hiring process because when hiring a salesperson you are really looking to hire three basic sets of skills:

  • Self-motivation and discipline
  • Good communication and customer skills
  • Product knowledge

The following chart diagrams a selection of skills to change and categorizes them into three groups:   1) Relatively Easy to Change, 2) Harder but Doable, 3) Very Difficult to Change

Relatively Easy to Change Harder But Doable Very Difficult to Change
  • Risk Taking
  • Leading Edge
  • Education
  • Experience
  • Organization/Planning
  • Self-Awareness
  • Communications—Oral
  • Communications—Written
  • First Impression
  • Customer Focus
  • Political Savvy
  • Selecting A Players
  • Removing C Players
  • Coaching/Training
  • Goal Setting
  • Empowerment
  • Performance Management
  • Running Meetings
  • Compatibility of Needs
  • Judgment
  • Strategic Skills
  • Pragmatism
  • “Track Record”
  • Initiative
  • Excellence Standards
  • Independence
  • Stress Management
  • Adaptability
  • Likeability
  • Team Player
  • Negotiation Skills
  • Persuasiveness
  • Team Builder
  • Change Leadership
  • Diversity
  • Conflict Management
  • Credible Vision
  • Balance in Life
  • Intelligence
  • Analysis Skills
  • Creativity
  • Conceptual Ability
  • Integrity
  • Assertiveness
  • Inspiring “Followership”
  • Energy
  • Enthusiasm
  • Ambition
  • Tenacity

Source:  Top Grading by Bradford Smart 

If we analyze the attributes in Column 3-Very Difficult to Change, we find 11 key skills that are critical for a salesperson to have in order to be a top performer (top 5-20%) or an “A Player.”

There are a number of reasons that true solutions salespeople are hard to find.  First, the solution salesperson has to really put the customer first and concentrate on their needs versus the salesperson’s need to make a sale.  Second, the solution salesperson needs to be a disciplined, analytical thinker in order to ask the right questions and then be able to provide workable solutions that meet the prospect’s needs and budget.  When a solution value salesperson provides the right solutions, the prospect will end up buying.  In addition, top sales producers are very tenacious.

What Top Salespeople Do…

Top salespeople, according to a study of 500 sales calls made in 24 industries, do the following:

  • They get the prospect involved in the conversation early, late, and often
  • They uncover the prospect’s needs before mentioning a product or service
  • They acknowledge and support the prospect’s comments twice as often as mediocre performers. They also ask 25% more open-ended questions
  • They turn around prospect’s negative attitudes. Successful sales calls contain almost 50% more objections than unsuccessful sales calls

As professional salespeople we are essentially “problem solvers.” The top sales producers don’t even “act” like salespeople because they are truly problem solvers and are able to form good solid relationships with their customers whereby they become “partners” and trusted advisors by solving problems as a team.

Do you need to hire a top 20% sales person?

We can help you find a top professional sales person or sales manager for your company and help you eliminate costly sales hiring mistakes. Contact us at, call 678-421-1950, or message us via our contact page.



Sales recruiting expert and author, Jack Scherer helps business leaders drive new sales via our unique Sales Assessment Test and Custom Sales Playbooks. You can read Jack's sales books here, or hire him for sales seminars and workshops.

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