By John D. Visconti
In a previous article (see Fetch More Dollars: Selling Is Helping, BARKS from the Guild, June 2014, p.59), I discussed the negative association many trainers have with the words ‘selling’ and ‘salesperson.’ Additionally, I pointed out that a professional salesperson is in the business of helping people, not exploiting them. Hopefully, because you embraced these concepts and now possess a different perspective on what it means to be a salesperson, you will never experience beads of sweat forming on your brow should someone ask, “Are you now or have you ever been a salesperson?”
Another reason to embrace that being a professional salesperson, as opposed to being a con artist, is a noble endeavor is that you already share many traits of successful salespeople. That’s right, good trainers are very similar to good salespeople. One could say you are like two peas in a pod. A common stereotype held by many people labels successful salespeople as being extroverted, high spirited, outgoing individuals who fill the room by force of personality and irresistible charm. How accurate is this view? Not very.
A 2013 study Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal: The Ambivert Advantage conducted by Adam Grant of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania disproves the validity of commonly held beliefs about successful salespeople. In a nutshell, the study indicated that extroverts are likely to turn clients off with the excesses of their personalities. Additionally, extroverts tend to be poor listeners; consequently, they do not learn about the needs of their clients. Given that most people are not extroverts and like to purchase items/services from those who are similar to them, extroverts are at a decided disadvantage when it comes to selling because they are unlike the majority of potential customers. Finally, extroverts are inclined to be self-focused and do not ask enough questions when interacting with clients. As a salesperson, always remember that what you say is never as important as what you ask. Extroverts spend too much time saying and not enough time asking.
So exactly what traits do make for a successful salesperson?
Steve W. Martin, sales strategy teacher at the USC Marshall School of Business and author of the book Heavy Hitter Sales Linguistics: 101 Advanced Sales Call Strategies for Senior Salespeople (TILIS Publishers 2011), conducted an in-depth study to identify the traits of top performing salespeople. His findings were published by the Harvard Business Review in June of 2011.
What follows is a listing of key personality attributes of top salespeople.
• Modesty: 91 percent of top salespeople had medium to high levels of modesty.
• Conscientiousness: 85 percent of top salespeople scored high in levels of conscientiousness.
• Achievement orientation: 84 percent of the top performers tested scored very high in achievement orientation.
• Lack of discouragement: less than 10 percent of top salespeople were classified as having high levels of discouragement.
• Lack of gregariousness: overall, the top performers averaged 30 percent lower gregariousness than below average performers. Gregariousness was defined as the “preference for being with people.”
Notice the list has none of the aforementioned traits typically associated with successful salespeople: extroversion, charm, slickness etc. In fact, it is a list of some fairly mundane traits. More interestingly, a very clear parallel exists between the skill set of top performing sales reps and dog trainers. If you are actively training, you not only possess the above skills, but you are regularly utilizing them.
• Modesty: when you are training, are you boastful? Do you make yourself the center of attention? Are you pushy or egotistical?
• Conscientiousness: are you “winging it” during your training sessions, or do you have a plan? Are you reliable? Do you show up for your appointments on time? Do you feel a sense of responsibility to your clients?
• Achievement orientation: when you train, are you focused on your goals? Do you have a terminal behavior in mind when training a dog? Are you are measuring progress toward your goals and adjusting accordingly during the training process?
• Lack of discouragement: when a dog does not respond, do you give up? When the owner’s mechanics need work, do you help, or simply quit on him or her? Do you utilize splits and changes in criteria to achieve your training goals?
• Lack of gregariousness: one simple question – do you often prefer hanging out with the dog, rather than the owners?
You will notice the many similarities between the skill sets required to be effective in the disciplines of dog training and selling. I believe that good dog trainers have the potential to be extremely effective salespeople because of these shared skill sets. It is simply a matter of redirecting and refining those skills you utilize while training to achieve a different terminal behavior—the conversion of a prospect into a satisfied client.
The better news is that unlike charm, extroversion, and other traits typically seen as being necessary for successful selling, the traits noted above can be learned and improved upon. Just as with hard work and dedication you learned to become an effective dog trainer, you can do the same regarding selling. Successful salespeople are not born, they are made. Remember, just as there are no ‘Dog Whisperers’ there are no ‘Sales Whisperers.’ Once you embrace this and dedicate yourself to learning your sales craft, your drive for self-improvement will place you, your clients and their dogs, on the road to a less stressful, more fulfilling life
About the Author
John D. Visconti CPDT-KA is the owner of Rising Star Dog Training in Raleigh, North Carolina and author of ‘Pepper Becoming: The Journey of an Unwanted Shelter Dog and the Man Who Wanted Her.’