What do customers want of great sales people?
There is a continuing debate about what makes a great salesperson. Like all debates, there are differing perspectives. Having recently done some work on the subject, there is an interesting comparison and correlation between the sales and customer view of the debate.


Read any sales-related website or LinkedIn Sales Group and a frequent question that comes up in a variety of forms is “What makes a great salesperson”. People bang on about all sorts of things that today’s sales superstar has to do or think.

Interestingly, the perspective is almost always from the sales end of the relationship and rarely from the customer’s end. As ultimately it’s the customer who decides whether or not to buy and from who, their view is critical and therefore it’s a question that needs some careful thought.

The sales perspective

Some time ago I wrote an article in this blog called “Ten attributes of today’s great sales people”. Looking back at that article, to some degree I had fallen into the same trap.

At the time I highlighted the following as the attributes of today’s successful salespeople:

  • Natural curiosity and listening
  • Analytical
  • Genuine focus on the customer’s success
  • Detachment from the outcome
  • Gravitas and business sense
  • A give to get philosophy
  • Their sales process adds value
  • Insight to help clients
  • Belief in their organisation
  • Never stop learning

The customer perspective

I’ve recently been doing some work for a client that took me to some research carried out by the HR Chally Group. Their research identified seven attributes of a successful salesperson – from the customer’s perspective.

Those seven attributes were:

  • Personally manages my satisfaction
  • Understands our business
  • Is a customer advocate
  • Is knowledgeable of applications
  • Is easily accessible
  • Solves our problems
  • Is innovative in response to our needs

Do the perspectives match?

The interesting question then becomes how well the two sets of attributes match up, and are there any gaps that can be addressed to improve sales effectiveness?  Here’s my take on how the two views correlate:

Customer Perspective Sales Perspective
Personally manages my satisfaction Genuine focus on the customer’s success
Understands our business Natural curiosity and learning, Gravitas and business sense
Is a customer advocate Belief in their organisation
Is knowledgeable of applications Detachment from the outcome, Insight to help clients
Is easily accessible
Solves our problems A give to get philosophy, Analytical, Their sales process adds value
Is innovative in response to our needs Analytical, Their sales process adds value, Never stop learning

What can we learn?

Customer advocate

While customers want a “Customer advocate”, sales people believe they need to believe in their organisations. What customers are looking for is a sales person who not only believes in their own organisation, but understands how to navigate it and get things done for the customer. They’re looking for an inside ally to champion their cause and ensure their success.

Knowledgeable of applications

Customers want to work with salespeople who understand what their products and services do and how they’re used. They expect their sales people to be domain experts in the application of the products and services to solve problems.
Easily accessible: Spookily sales people tend to take this for granted, but to your customer it’s important to them they know that if they want to get hold of you, they can. Now.


I can line up three sales attributes against this, but none totally capture the spirit of the customer need. Customers want to deal with sales people who think about the customer’s business and how it could work better. Not just in a cookie-cutter sort of way, but from a position of knowing the customer’s business and how to solve specific problems or exploit opportunities

In summary

In the mind of your customer, you could be an external source of value they are in a sense retaining to accomplish a task or fix a problem they either cannot do themselves, or do not wish to do themselves.

In a sense, they see your company as an outsourced department of their company, and they see you as the manager of that department.

Can you step up to that challenge? The rewards of doing so are immense.

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