September 10, 2019


When hiring top salespeople, we want to find the “elite” among all prospects and suspects. It goes back to the Pareto Principle, where 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of your salespeople, so it makes sense to stack that 20 percent with the best of the best!

Based on the last studies we reviewed, there are approximately 1 million of these elite salespeople in the U.S, which comprise 4 percent of all salespeople. This 4 percent sells 96 percent of the country’s goods and services.

And what really comprises their characteristics? How can you tell an elite seller from a mediocre one when hiring top salespeople? Is it a fat W-2? A 700-Series BMW? Perfectly white teeth and a Rolex?

Of course, I am joking. These have nothing to do with it, although there is nothing wrong with driving a nice car and having a nice watch!

Let me break it down for you based on the experience we have procured here at ASHER over the past three decades helping companies like yours in hiring top salespeople.

The main characteristics of elite salespeople

1. They are product experts. They know the ins and outs of what they sell, as well as their competitors’ offering and their customers’ businesses as well.

2. They are born with “it,” a natural talent for selling. They have sold their entire lives even if they hadn’t realized it (parents, teachers, friends, etc.)

3. They have engaged in professional sales training and continue to hone their selling skills.

4. A motivational “fire” burns within them that leads them to sell continually and achieve high goals.

5. Sales processes help them get things done, so they welcome good ones.

6. Rather than spray and pray, they focus on a few top prospects and give them lots of attention (Account-Based Marketing comes naturally to them).

7. They have strong networks in their communities and tap into their connections to get inside information and introductions when pursuing business opportunities. They are master relationship builders.

8. Going in blind is not an option. They research their prospects thoroughly.

9. Actively listen, rather than endlessly self-promote.

10. Function more as business consultants and solutions providers than traditional salespeople.

11. Understand marketing and what to say to prospects.

12. They prefer to source their own business and do not depend on the marketing department to provide them leads.

13. Are excellent closers and know when to ask for the sale (Buyer’s Shift).

14. After the sale, they are interested in their buyers’ success and provide superior customer service.

15. Their business is mostly referral based due to their excellent performance and word-of-mouth.

16. In addition to sales, they are interested in self-improvement, whether that be mental or physical. They are continually improving.

17. They excel at emotional intelligence and instinctively adapt to their buyer’s emotions and personality to build rapport.

18. Fumbling is not part of their makeup. They simply perform at the highest level, because they know the basics so well and have practiced so many times.

19. Business seems to magically come to them, as it seems they are always building a pipeline of new prospects, on an airplane, on vacation or at the grocery store! In truth, this is charisma and the air of competence which most elite possess at work and at play.

20. Their deals close faster, which is why they can do so much more per quarter than other salespeople in their office.

Potential issues

Working with elite salespeople is generally pleasant, as they are good with relationships and that includes their employers. However, there are a few liabilities to watch out for:

  • They are constantly being recruited by other firms. You will likely have to adjust your compensation plan to make them happy enough to stay and eschew the large signing bonuses, corner offices, company cars, and other perks offered by competitors.
  • Some of them can adopt a diva complex or become lone wolves and consider themselves above company policies. This breeds resentment among other staff members in just about 100 percent of the cases where we have seen this crop up.
  • When they leave, they will take their accounts with them. Even if you have safeguards in place in the language of your hiring contract, you cannot prevent them from talking to their past customers forever.
  • Sometimes, they are just not a good fit for your culture, or for whatever reason just don’t work out. Sometimes, top salespeople leave a well-oiled machine and go off to a new job on their own. They stumble because they lack the team dynamic and support. This could leave you high and dry after paying for their signing bonuses, perks, and training. This is why hiring top salespeople must always involve a sales aptitude assessment to make sure they have what it takes and will be a good match for their new role.

Hiring top salespeople is one of the best investments a company can make. Do it right by testing them and using the other characteristics above to filter them in.