What Makes a Top Sales Performer? 4 Insights From Analyzing 1,000 Top Sales Performers

It’s well-known that top performers disproportionately contribute to company revenue – up to four times more compared to the average. When it comes to sales recruitment, it’s a puzzle we’re all trying to solve: What do top sales performers look like? What drives them? And how do you duplicate them?

At ldeal, we’ve collected resume, personality, salary, and cultural fit data on thousands of sales professionals to help employers find the best matches for their open sales roles. Using a data set of 130,326 data points, we’ve analyzed 1,000 salespeople identified by employers as top performers ranging from business development representatives to VPs of sales to understand what it takes to be a top performing sales professional. Here are four insights we learned from analyzing 1000 top sales performers.

  1. Motivation: Survey after survey show compensation is the No. 1 driver for sales professionals. Our data supports this finding: compared to the rest of the sales team, top sales performers are just as motivated by compensation. Top sales performers differ, however, in that they are more internally motivated to perform. That is, they find the act of selling more personally fulfilling compared to average sales performers. All things being equal, sales reps with a genuine passion for their job tend to outperform their peers.
  2. Selling Skills: Our analysis of selling skills found that the major difference with top performers is their ability to influence others. For a sales rep, it doesn’t matter how good he is at communicating the product’s value prop or how good she is at creating rapport with a prospect. The ability to persuade someone to take the next step in the sales process is what sets a top performer apart.
  3. Personality: Many sales experts have argued that selling is more complex than ever, which requires a different skill set such as strong analytical abilities. Our data on personality traits found this to be true: top sales performers are more analytical compared to other sales reps. We also found that top sales performers are more assertive compared to the average. Top sales performers seem to be able to successfully balance when to confidently move things forward while not appearing too pushy, which is the most common complaint about sales reps.
  4. Cultural Fit: Contrary to the ultra-competitive sales team stereotype, our analysis of cultural fit found that top performers prefer a more collaborative sales team culture. The “lone wolf” sales archetype may be on the wane because modern sales teams are more specialized into sales development, account management, and even customer success roles. In addition, a more complicated buying process means sales reps often need to get buy-in from multiple buyers. That’s a difficult process to navigate on their own.

The Takeaways

Our data on 1,000 top sales performers has found that they differ in terms of motivation, personality, selling skills, and cultural fit. These four factors are crucial to assess when recruiting salespeople who are statistically more likely to become top performers at your company. Keep in mind, however, that these are general findings across several different sales roles. The best way to recruit salespeople who are more likely to become a top performer is to assess your current sales team, create a top performer benchmark, and recruit salespeople that fit your benchmark.

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Ji-A Min is the head data scientist at Ideal, recruiting software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automate time-consuming tasks. Ideal’s AI can instantly screen new candidates, uncover strong past candidates for a new role, and initiate candidate contact - all within your ATS. Ji-A has a Master's in Industrial Organizational Psychology and her interests include data based recruitment, HR tech, and people analytics. Learn more at www.ideal.com.

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