3 traits that reveal potential sales talent in your nonsales people

spottalentPay-off: Quickly spot potential sales talent for B2B/nonsales/technical/start ups/professional service sales

Investment: 4 minutes

How would you go about identifying potential sales talent in your nonsales people?

I’m increasingly asked to help businesses do this and it’s certainly a healthy question for businesses to ask:

“Who could and should be contributing to developing our business, and the businesses of our clients?”

But whilst the question is healthy, the typical knee-jerk responses it produces are not.

Don’t skid and crash at the start

It seems that most people assume that extroverts preferably with previous sales experience are the obvious place to start.

No – you could be about to hit black ice.

Why not extroverts?

Adam Grant’s research (University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management – his book ‘Give and Take’ is excellent and worth reading, and most of his work seems very useful for ‘non-sales’ people) shows that the top performing sales people are not extroverts, but ambiverts, those between the introverts and extroverts who are able to adapt and attune easily with a wider range of people.

Certainly in my own niche, helping non-sales, technical sales and professional services to improve their sales capabilities, it’s usually introverts and ambiverts that seem to outperform extroverts.


I’d suggest that they may be more credible in front of certain business buyers. By that I mean, perhaps they listen more, talk less, think before they speak, and appear less ‘salesy’.

Why not previous sales experience?

The question that jumps to my mind is “why are they no longer in a sales role?” What brought that career path to a halt? Was the fit not right? Did they jump? Did they get pushed? Or did they get bored and fancy something different? Did they get results, or did they just ride out the time in the role? Their reasons for moving out of sales may not mean that they aren’t sales material. But you’d want to find out first! Previous sales experience does not equal future sales success. It’s the traits and behaviours that they’ll need to succeed in your business in the current climate that you should focus on.

So, be careful assuming that those indicate potential talent to increase sales in your business. They may lead you down a frustrating and costly path.

The top 3 ‘nonsales’ traits to spot in potential future sales talent

In fact, there are clear traits and characteristics that research, assessments, and experience have confirmed are the winning traits for those making the more complex B2B sales.

And rather than detail them all here (more on that soon…) I thought you might find it useful to simplify by starting with what I believe are the top ‘foundational’ 3.

You can use these as a rule of thumb to quickly spot potential sales talent.

These people are:

1. Progressors.

They get stuff done. They’re do-ers. They’re conscientious. They’re proactive. They facilitate progress in others. They’re organised. They don’t procrastinate. They don’t point the finger. They drive forwards. They take the ball up the pitch, without dropping it, and they shoot and sometimes score.

If you’re considering internal non-sales people, you should know already if they drive forward and get stuff done.

2. Credible.

They’re credible (enough) in front of the right clients. They don’t have to be over charismatic and chatty. They just have to be believable and trusted enough that their advice is worth listening to. And to do that, they’ll have to show that their priority is to lead prospects to a valuable solution that fits. And so they seek to understand their clients and the ‘fit’ first. They listen. They dig. They explore. They test. Then they suggest ideas and options that make sense to the client, and make the client smile.

It shouldn’t be too hard to pick those who are likely to be credible (enough) in front of clients. Attitude, knowledge, maturity, trust and respect come into this.

3. Advocates.

They have belief in the cause. They believe in what their business, products or services do. They believe they do work that matters. They care (enough) about the people who face the challenges they help solve. They are proud to connect their solutions to the right people who need them. They want to make a difference. And their belief in the cause will have them collaborating with their prospects and challenging them to steer them towards the right solution.

Years back I came across the question, “if two warriors were fighting – one for the cash prize, the other for the cause, which one would you bet on winning?” Whenever I think of the power of intrinsic motivation, I think of this question.

You should be able to spot who has a strong belief in the cause, based on their behaviours rather than what they tell you. How close do they come to living and breathing what your business does? Invite them out and observe them socially to find out.

I suggest starting with these three. They provide a sound foundation to build upon. But there’s a bonus one worth sharing too:

Bonus: Growth mindset.

The remaining characteristics, capabilities, skills and behaviours are learnable (as are the above, but the above will be harder to shift!)

But they’re only learnable if the individual is ready to roll their sleeves up and learn them. They’ll need a growth mindset – a belief and mindset that they can and will learn these capabilities. They know that you can learn and grow as you progress, and they want to drive and preferably accelerate this journey to increase their results.

Those who demonstrate a strong desire to learn, grow, develop and improve are ideal.

Those who have a ‘fixed’ rather than a ‘growth’ mindset believe that their skills and traits are fixed; you’re either good at sales, or you’re not. They’re less likely to learn and grow. They may still add value if they are strong at the top three traits. But don’t expect them to morph into anything too different.

Those who demonstrate a lack of desire to learn and grow, or who spend more time sticking to the one thing they’re good at (and priding themselves just on that) may struggle to make the required shifts to sell effectively.

I hope this gives you a suitable starting point to consider potential talent (and you don’t just have to look at your nonsales people – how about going through your full time sales people and asking yourself how they fit these top 3?)

If you want more information on this, if you’d like to chat, and if you’re serious about pulling a team together with the right people and helping them develop sales capabilities fast, please get in touch. I’ll be happy to share more insights. And if you’re interested, I have an online assessment to help you explore the required traits of your potential sales people more thoroughly. Raise your hand if you’re interested.

PS If you know of anyone in the UK who might benefit from this, please share with them.

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