Self-Awareness: Cultivating This Key Characteristic of Successful Salespeople
I’ve spent time around thousands of highly respected salespeople throughout my career and have the honor of training many more through my consulting business today. While they all have distinct personalities, I’ve noticed some traits that seem to be consistent across the other variations. Great sellers generally tend to be confident, persistent, collaborative, and resilient. With that said, research also indicates an expanding set of qualities needed for sales success in today’s fast-moving, highly competitive business environment.
Results from a 2022 study published in Harvard Business Review highlighted the emerging characteristics companies look for in sales-people. The study reviewed more than 20,000 job postings from 2019 to 2022 and identified that modern sellers need the ability to:
- Anticipate customers’ needs
- Collaborate effectively inside and outside the organization
- Efficiently utilize digital and virtual channels
- Evaluate and use complex data analytics
- Adapt quickly to change
This research confirms the trend to hire salespeople with attributes that elevate their influence in customer relationships. As an example, the article describes the hiring process for sales account executives (AEs) at Microsoft. Experience and motivation are now just baseline requirements. Instead, Microsoft searches for those who “sell their cloud services to digital native startup customers to ‘understand how startup businesses grow and mature their commercial models’ so AEs can get an agenda-setting seat at the buyer’s table.”
That concept—having a seat at the buyer’s table—captures the difference between successful salespeople today versus 20 years ago. It’s all about having characteristics and skills that move you from vendor to a trusted consultant and partner. Admittedly, that raises the bar for salespeople to adopt critical leadership skills that ensure they’re worthy of that seat at the table.
Particularly in the arena of complex enterprise sales, the idea of merging traditional sales skills with leadership competencies is extremely important. Of course, there are thousands of resources available to help improve your leadership skills. However, one umbrella characteristic is pivotal in transforming garden-variety salespeople into world-class sales partners: self-awareness. It’s a buzzword often mentioned but frequently glossed over. “Sure, self-awareness must be important because everybody talks about it. But it’s also a little vague. I mean, of course, I’m aware of myself. Right . . . ?”
Here’s the problem. According to research reported in Harvard Business Review by executive development firm Eurich Group, 95 percent of people claim to be self-aware when, in fact, only 10 to 15 percent genuinely display that quality. That’s quite a gap in perception, and it’s a discrepancy that can seriously undermine success.
A top example of how much most people lack self-awareness is found when they are asked how well they listen to others. Inevitably, they say something like: “Oh yes, I’m a great listener.” But if their bosses, colleagues, or partners are asked, it would probably be a different answer.
What does this reveal? Most of us tend to overestimate our abilities. We might think we’re self-aware, but reality may not match up.
In its simplest form, people with strong self-awareness understand who they really are internally and know what drives them. They have an accurate view of their own personalities, strengths, weaknesses, emotions, and responses.
They also have a keen awareness of external factors. They recognize how they’re being perceived by people around them and can accurately judge how their words and actions impact others.
This combo platter of internal and external awareness makes them truly self-aware and socially savvy. Plus, it fuels an appealing sense of charisma that walks the tightrope between confidence and humility. In sales, that’s a winning combination!
Written by Rana Salman. Excerpt from Sales Essentials: The Tools You Need at Every Stage to Close More Deals and Crush Your Quota by Rana Salman, pp. 27-29 (McGraw Hill, June 2023).
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