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July 26, 2019

“The Five Things All Great Salespeople Do” according to Harvard Business Review

This article originally appeared on

The best salespeople take pride in their work. They separate themselves from the rest of the pack regardless of circumstance. How do they do it?

I’ve spent 16 years in technology sales. I’ve noticed that great sales professionals in tech and beyond share some habits and characteristics. I’ve distilled my observations into five recommendations for success.

Here’s what I advise:


Elite salespeople approach their goals with a total-ownership mindset. Anything that happens to them, whether or not it was their doing, is controlled by them. It may not be their fault, but it is their responsibility. Psychologists call this the internal locus of control. That’s a fancy way of saying you think the power lies inside you instead of outside. And having an internal locus of control correlates with success at work, higher income and greater health. Take your current situation — your accounts, your role, your earnings — and ask yourself: How did I get here? Did I build the right relationships? Did I put in the extra work? Did I speak up? Did I blame others for my failures but take credit for my successes? You must own everything.


“MacGyver” was a popular show when I was in fifth grade. The premise was that the lead character was put in an impossible situation with few to no tools, weapons or resources, with very little time, and had to get out of the situation using only his wits and whatever was in his pocket or lying around nearby. Every week, he figured it out. The best salespeople I have seen are like MacGyver, sans the life-or-death scenarios. Resourcefulness is as much a mindset as it is a skill. As an exercise, seek out or fully embrace the next ridiculous or impossible situation you find yourself in and then put your phone down, close your computer and apply your energy to finding alternative routes to your desired destination.


Sales is less about selling and more about leading, which requires high levels of confidence, which in turn requires knowledge and experience. Gaining industry knowledge and a strong point of view about the products you’re selling should be your top priority.


Regardless of where you are in your career, there is someone else you can help. The best salespeople regularly pass their knowledge on to less tenured or less experienced salespeople with no expectation of anything in return. The act itself becomes a catalyst for building self-confidence. And others take notice as well. Shawn Achor, author of “Big Potential,” found that “work altruists” are 40% more likely to receive a promotion.


I’ve often been amazed when I’ve encountered salespeople who were slow in getting back to their clients or customers and delayed delivering contracts or materials needed to make a decision. Most elite salespeople have a sense of urgency.

Look at the top salespeople in your own company and see if they possess most if not all of these characteristics. I bet they do. And I also bet they’d be willing to share their strategies with you.

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