The 16 qualities of a great sales professional (Part 1).

Arthur Miller's play, "Death of a Salesman," shares a slice of life that is rich and poignant. Its richness lies in the fact that it freezes for all time the image of Willy Loman.

Willy is a classic peddler. He's a traveling man with only a shoeshine, a smile and a friend in every town. He's forever optimistic in front of family, friends and associates - certain that big sales will be landed, new territories conquered and greater commissions earned. And once these are accomplished, he'll be a great man in the eyes of his proud family, admiring peers and thankful customers.

Unfortunately, Willy Loman is also a tragic character. His psychic and physical energies are focused on creating the wrong goals, performing the wrong activities and achieving the wrong results.

Willy Loman's life is filled with anxiety and frustration. He is jealous of others' success and confused as to why he isn't basking in the sales glory. Willy wrongly assumes that success in selling can only be realized by whom you know, not what you know; and by who you cheat, not whom you serve.

Get off the business treadmill

However, Willy is right about one thing, that "selling" is extremely competitive. The demands are great and the pressures high. Salespeople often confide in me, saying: "My job has never been tougher," "The marketplace is changing" or "I feel like I'm on a treadmill and there's no off button."

Have you ever felt the same way? I thought so!

On a daily basis you must be prepared to confront the challenges of meeting deadlines, completing paperwork, prospecting, selling, serving, marketing, negotiating and even dealing with rejection.

Is the list of challenges endless? Perhaps. But, guess what? So are the opportunities to penetrate new accounts, serve more customers and make more money.

To be a successful sales professional, to be a "great one," new skills are required. Customers are more demanding and less forgiving. Professionalism, quality and value are the norm and the expectation, not the exception.

Qualities of a great sales pro

So what are the qualities of a great sales professional? The following are by no means all-inclusive, yet they are essential.

1. Commitment. You must be a focused, strategic thinker with an unwavering commitment to serving others. Today's buyers or decision-makers don't simply want a product or a service but instead expect you to be a partner, consultant and a strategic adviser. For each decision-maker, you must be a professional or personal growth specialist. This is the foundation for your success.

"The very best salespeople plug in to a customer's organization and become an integral virtual resource," says Tim Arenberg, president of Columbia Pipe & Supply (Chicago). "They are extensions of, not intrusions into, a customer's business. There's no longer room for feature-dumpers or order-takers on a milk run. The great ones are opportunity creators who are always incrementally advancing an objective."

2. Results orientation. Results! That's the name of the game in business. You cannot be driven by commissions, quotas or contests. Instead, your primary focus must always be on what your products and services can do for your customers.

Customers want to maximize gain, minimize loss or do both. And, they want to do it with products and services of high perceived value. As a top achiever, you know two crucial elements about value: First, you must always deliver more in perceived value than you take in actual cash value; and second, you know that - in the absence of a value barometer - your relationship is reduced to a price eliminator.

Joel Becker, chairman and CEO of Torrington Supply (Waterbury, Conn.) told me: "Great sales pros get things done. They have a strong work ethic. They work long hours. They don't complain. They are self-motivated."

3. Flexibility. David Thomas, dean of Cornell Business School once said, "The No. 1 characteristic of students who later became company leaders is the ability to withstand uncertainty."

Change is assured. Therefore, if you want, need or demand more from your life, business, staff, customers or prospects, you may have to change. The old way may no longer be appropriate or even work. Your past achievements may not be an accurate measurement of your future performance or successes. Clinging to the old way for too long, just because "it has always been done that way," may thwart your implementation of new ideas, opportunities and solutions.

Ernie Coutermarsh, vice president/industrial sales for F.W. Webb (Burlington, Mass.), feels that in a changing environment "you have to win the war of being selected as a vendor, and it goes far beyond product placement."

"One must pro-actively educate a customer on services, value and differentiation," he says. "A salesperson must be a catalyst who engages all the relevant resources within a company that benefit a customer."

Ask yourself these questions: Do you choose to innovate? Do you choose to imitate? Or, do you choose to vegetate?

If you choose the last, you might as well do what a distribution client of mine suggests - to simply abdicate!

4. Passion. You must have a missionary zeal, a relentless pursuit to satisfy your customers. There's a fire in your gut, a passion in your belly and a sense of excitement in your sinew.

Your passion has nothing to do with phony smiles, clever phrases and hanging banners with slogans. It means the ability and desire to compete profitably now and throughout the 21st century. Passion is burning the midnight oil, going the extra mile and doing the unexpected. Passion is your positive attitude in a world of negativity. It's an unwillingness to accept second best or "it's good enough."

Passion confidently pits you against your toughest competitor - you. Passion converts suspects into prospects, prospects into customers and customers into friends for a lifetime.

Earle Cohen, president and CEO of Kelly Pipe & Supply (Las Vegas), feels that passion is easier to have when salespeople "understand their importance to their company and to their customers."

"They operate with an organized plan and a sense of direction that always focuses on the customer first, and money second," he says.

5. T.E.A.M. work. You must be a "T.E.A.M." player, meaning:

You have trust at all levels of your relationships.

E: You are empathetic to others' needs, concerns and motivators.

"Great sales pros have the ability to identify with a customer and understand what makes 'em tick," says Gary Cartright, president of Piping & Equipment (Houston). "It's a knack, it's a feeling that allows one to be perceptive and touch another human being."

A: You appreciate all individuals' personal contributions to your overall success.

"A single salesperson is a lonely soldier," Ernie Coutermarsh says. "You can't be a superstar by yourself!"

M: You manage conflict. You know "conflict" is OK. It's healthy because if two or more people are always in agreement, then at least one of them is not necessary! You manage the conflict to minimize any emotional war games. You discuss a problem and review possible solutions. Then you solve it!

"Great salespeople are great problem-solvers," Tim Arenberg says. "They are customer advocates who think strategically, have a game plan, and continually define and redefine expectations."

6. Goals. You must be a goal-seeking being. You should always be in pursuit of something. And you should give yourself every opportunity to succeed. However, if your goals are unrealistic, you'll be frustrated. If they are too easy, you'll have a diminished sense of success, a ho-hum feeling of accomplishment. However, if they "stretch" you beyond your perceived limitations, it brings euphoria!

"Great salespeople move mountains to achieve their goals," Joel Becker says. "The word 'can't' is not in their vocabulary."

7. Monitor progress. Continually check how you are doing. Airplane pilots adjust their flight pattern. Coaches call time-outs. You too must review your sales figures, forecasts and pipeline to see if change is needed. If it is, do it! If it's not, see if you can improve it. The old adage was, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The new adage should be, "If it ain't broke, test alternatives and try to make it better!"

8. Empower yourself. "Empower" is more than a buzzword. Instead, it is really an overt expression of faith in your ability to take action and make good things happen. Webster says empower means "to authorize or to license." In other words, it means giving yourself the opportunity to take action, to learn and to succeed.

Empowerment is characterized by trust. Especially trust in yourself that you possess the attitude and aptitude to "do it." You can make a decision on the spot without looking to others. You have a strong sense of self-worth. You possess a high self-esteem and a big ego.

That's healthy. That's OK. It's essential!

"Ego is very important to a salesperson," Gary Cartright says. "One with a strong ego isn't dejected by rejection. Ego helps one drive to succeed and generate more business."

In Part 2, we'll look at eight more qualities that are crucial to be a sales superstar, such as breakthrough thinking, integrity and persistence. I'll continue to positively push, pull and propel you to have more sales, more success, more fun, more happiness and more results!