The New Salesman: The Characteristics of High Performing Sales Talent

by James Barton / September 16, 2020

By this point, we have all read Challenger and we all understand that great salespeople need to be able to bring challenge to add real value in today’s world of enterprise selling. However, I no longer believe that should be the central characteristic by which we judge sales talent.

To be clear, I am not stating that we don’t need to challenge or add value; effective, targeted challenge is still a valuable skill for anyone involved in sales. My hypothesis is that we need to look a layer down to identify some core characteristics that will make salespeople fit for purpose in the new decade.

First things, as ever, first; we know that sales is changing and we know that buyers are now buying differently. Countless research papers show just how far down the buyer’s cycle the buyer goes before even engaging with a salesperson, and that they need to be able to self-discover content that addresses their needs.

But as long as sales and marketing functions remain locked in their silos, circling around MQLs and SQLs, they will fail to properly meet the needs of the buyer. The function of the future is selling; not sales and marketing, just selling in all its simple splendour.

I might have a bee in my proverbial bonnet on that one, so I need to leave that for another blog, but the old thinking needs to die, and we need to move to a much more progressive way of thinking.

Finally, we need to realise that linear sales and buying processes we grew up with simply don’t exist anymore, and clinging to them only serves to limit the way we need to be thinking about sales. Thinking all buyers buy the same and want to be sold to in the same linear fashion is naïve at best, and I am surprised more people haven’t seen this before.

What we need is a map, not a process (another time and another blog to dig into that one).

So, with all this change, it is reasonable to take a step back and look at what characteristics a high-performance salesperson needs to have to succeed now and in the future.


We have done exactly that.

Our thinking has been based around our work with one of our partners in high performance sports psychology and our work with positive motivation theory (positive intelligence), and the results are truly fascinating.

Firstly, and this should come as no surprise, the evidence is in that our Positive Intelligence (PI) is foundational to everything we do and our success in sales. My colleague Chris Norton describes PI as the operating system that everything else we do sits on top of.

Like a house, if our foundations are broken, it doesn’t matter what you build on top, it will fall over as it is built with an unstable base.

PI is something I have been through myself, and I have to say it really does have the power to change the way you think and the results you get.

So, with PI serving as the foundation, we have further established that there are 5 key attributes that differentiate the elite salesperson from the novice.

These are:

  1. Agility: Our ability to process information and make decisions based on what is being received
  2. Control: Our ability to be impulsive or decisive when it comes to our routines
  3. Analytics: Our ability to look at a calculated risk from an instinctive or deliberate perspective
  4. Focus: Our ability to avoid distraction and focus on a single task
  5. Risk: Our attitude towards risk

Now, I think there is a blog on each of these to be written, and my intention is to do just that over the next few weeks. The information behind each one is going to surprise you as whilst some may be obvious, some of the others are a little counter-intuitive to say the least.

For now, I want to leave you to think about yourself and/or your sales team; as you think about these characteristics, where do you stand? Where does your sales team stand?

Keep your eye out for the next blog where I will look more into Positive Intelligence and how having a strong PI is greater than IQ, EQ, XQ or any other Q you can think of…

If you can’t wait for my next ramblings and want to speak sooner, please do reach out to me and I would be happy to chat about any and all of this.


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James Barton

James Barton

With over 20 years of experience in technology and sales, James is one of the leading voices in leveraging technology to create effective solutions.