Attributes of High Performers in Sales

Tony Hughes


I recently caught-up with Bernadette McClelland, CEO of 3 Red Folders, and I asked her what she thought were the key attributes of high performing salespeople. Bernadette is someone I respect and here is an edited transcript of her response.

I've worked with hundreds of sales professionals in intimate groups or one-on-one, from senior leaders to new sales trainees, and there are probably just a handful of attributes they share that make some stand out more than others.

I mean, you can see a pattern of behavior and discipline that oozes out of the successful ones. And success doesn't just mean those who hit the highest targets. You can be a high performer but due to situational conditions you may not hit #1 on the league table, or bring in the most dollars.

In fact, I worked with and have seen salespeople who are high performers on paper, but it was due to being at the right place at the right time, or else they've been given the prime accounts with low hanging fruit. Put them in a different environment and the question begs, 'would they still be high performers?' It would be interesting to line up some of those guys and girls from the 80's and I'd be curious to see how they would cope in today's uncertain reality.

Maybe they would, maybe not!

So, in my mind and based on my own experiences, I believe these are just three of the leading attributes I would expect to see in a high performing salesperson in any team, outside of the common attributes such as work ethic, relationships, passion etc, and they are:


Each of these fit into my High Performing Model, being Strategy (Business), the Story (Behaviour) and the Science (Brain) behind a sales professional's responsibilities.

If we take the umbrella of STRATEGY then we really need to understand WHY we're following a sales process and also realize the impact when we don't. Because if we don't follow some kind of process then we lose the plot. And the impact can be measured in our speed to market, our levels of productivity and the lost opportunities.

So 'sticking to a process' is a really important factor. However, salespeople by their very nature are usually so fluid, intuitive and don't tend to listen or follow rules at the best of times, because processes are viewed as limiting, too slow or cause them to have to listen, which also goes against the grain of most. I get it! But it makes life so much easier when you do.

Examples of sticking to a process include:

  • Following a line of questioning and taking that questioning somewhere - like qualifying or clarifying
  • Measuring pipeline velocity so you can track where you are and compete against yourself as to how quickly you can get your deal to completion
  • Completing your CRM updates so there is a paper trail of next steps for others
  • Helping the business (and others) in forecasting accuracy
  • Knowing exactly where you are and so does everyone else allowing consistency, productivity, and results

Remember the new ABCs of selling - Always Be Contributing! And process helps you do that so effortlessly and easily.

And second is the umbrella of STATE. How you show up is so very important. How you sound, how you walk, how you present your offering whether that be in an initial meeting or a boardroom, is critical.

Remember the law of consistency states that you will never be the person you aspire to be no matter what mask you put on until you see yourself that way. So, how do you see yourself when you are in moments of executive delivery:

  • Are you really intimidated, or full of self-doubt, or unsure of what to say? If you are it will show up in your physiology, your language, your tone and your energy
  • How confident are you in what you are saying and are you able to articulate your message in less than 10 words?
  • Are you truly present and in the now within the conversation or are you drifting off and wondering what to say next?
  • Can you close off one part of a conversation and begin another in an elegant and respectful manner?

Interesting points, don't you think?

Thirdly, is the umbrella of SCIENCE and this holds many facets, one of which is looking at a salespersons relationship with money. Good old moolah - the rise and fall of many businesses and personal relationships. When you have a healthy relationship with money you see it for what it is - an exchange of value. But so many emotions get tied to money and it causes salespeople to discount or shy away from closing. Most people think it's a fear of rejection but in my opinion, I don't believe that to be the case. I believe it's what they believe money to mean.

We know that psychology is linked to people's beliefs about money but the interesting thing from a true science perspective (neuroscience being the science of the brain) is that if we are in a negotiating scenario, that situation activates a part of the brain responsible for anxiety and pain and even hunger. And this part of our brain (anterior insular) is closely linked to our digestive system which means that any gut feeling we have, is real. So, strengthening our skillset is one area we can work on but the other area is to change our pattern of thinking and our rituals. How we do that is to look backward on my model to our state management and strategy.

These aren't your usual attributes, Tony, but I believe we need to look more and more into what makes us tick from all three - strategy (business), story (behavior) and the science (brain). There is so much we can learn from all three and an area I am investing time and resources into because when I introduce all three to teams and leaders, it's where the biggest bang for your buck occurs and where true shifts happen.


What do you think? Please comment.

Bernadette McClelland is a Sales Kick-Off and Keynote Speaker and Sales Performance Strategist. Her agency, 3 Red Folders helps businesses attract and retain the clients they REALLY want, by amplifying the human potential responsible for increasing the business potential.

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Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published on LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award-winning blog. Also, visit Tony's keynote speaker website at or his sales methodology website at


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