A career in sales can be one of the most financially, professionally and emotionally rewarding experience, and it often provides the opportunity to control one’s destiny. Selling offers the freedom to make ones own schedule, working whenever you choose. And if you’re a self-starter, you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it. However, if you don’t build the right skills, you can fail miserably.

Over the last 30 years in my sales career, I have learned that eight habits and factors — attitude, confidence, persistence, appearance, organization, motivation, goal oriented and listening — can help make virtually anyone a success in sales.

Early in my sales career, I was struck by the following quote by Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” I think of this quote every day in my personal and professional life.

Sales is a process: sometimes a very quick one and some times a long, drawn out one. Understanding this, and learning how to adapt to various situations, can help one to become the best in the field.


“Customer service is an attitude and not a department” is not just a slogan. It’s a statement all sales people should live by. Customers are the lifeblood of any business and without them a company cannot exist. Over my tenure I’ve also learned that a smile and the right attitude can go a long way to handling a difficult situation. Thus, its important for sales people to always have a positive attitude and ask many open-ended questions that prompt the customer to explain what they need and really want. Questions such as “what can I do to help?” and “how can I better serve you?” help obtain the information salespeople need.

The successful salesperson does the little things that others often overlook.

Employees at every level are the face of the company, and if you are in sales, this is something to remember every time you are in front of a customer. Remember: treat people the way you would like to treated. This is something simple to live by and very easy to do.

One of the traits of a successful salesperson is the ability to network within your industry. Many of the contacts you establish by building relationships with corporate colleagues, trade association members, and individuals in your local community can be valuable in your sales career.

Keep a positive attitude and never burn a bridge with a competitor, boss or colleague. You may run into that person again at another point in your career. Building long-term relationships with a positive attitude is the foundation to success in sales.


Always be confident and have faith in yourself. Remember: you control your destiny. Confidence develops with experience or having been in similar situation many times before. Surprising to many, those with confidence often are individuals that are gracious and say “thank you” when dealing with employees and with customers.

When it comes to respect, treat others how you would like to be treated. Everyone appreciates a kind word that is truly genuine; never be overconfident since arrogance typically is a sign of insecurity.


In sales, nothing can take the place of persistence. The bottom line: never give up. Virtually everyone who has accomplished great things in their life owe a great deal to persistence. For example, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb — after 10,000 attempts. Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, was broke at the age of 65 facing bankruptcy and tried to sell his chicken recipe over 1,000 times. He eventually sold his business to a group of investors for $2 million in 1964.


Always look professional, and wear proper business attire. Classic clothing is a good investment for your professional business wardrobe since it never goes out of style. And remember: you only have 10 to 15 seconds to make the right impression. The right impression can make the difference between closing or losing a sale. It’s often a good idea to dress better than what the occasion calls for and look professional at all times.


Organization is one of the most important aspects to a successful career in sales. One must be able to prioritize and arrange complicated schedules, and have the right balance in your personal and professional life. As a result, every week it’s important to set aside planning time to optimize your schedule.

For new sales representatives, as well as those starting out in virtually any career, it’s important to have a mentor that provides guidance, support and insight. I would never have achieved the level of success in my career without having a mentor to guide me through the sales process. A mentor may be your boss, parent, sibling or someone in your industry that you trust and respect.

Importantly, as you advance in your career you should consider becoming a mentor to someone who is just starting out in sales. Inspiring and guiding others to rise to the challenge can be a very rewarding experience.


In sales, typically there is no one micromanaging your moves — making sure you establish appointments and arrive on time, and respond to phone calls and e-mails in a timely manner. As a result, it’s important for fledgling sales people to be self starters and self reliant.

Goal Oriented

Every sales person should set career and personal goals, and review them on a quarterly basis. Set “SMART” goals that are realistic and attainable.

S: Simple — target a simple skill for improvement

M: Measurable — easy to define results

A: Attainable — to inspire you to reach them.

R: Realistic — something that you can accomplish

T: Trackable — able to determine progress toward goals

Goal setting is vital to one’s success. But if the goal is not achieved, don’t become discouraged. In turn, re-evaluate and adjust if necessary. There always are times when you will not reach your goals — just never give-up or stop trying.


There are several signs that indicate when a prospect is ready to buy. Being a good listener is the best and only way to read them. You have two ears and one mouth — so listen twice as much as you speak. Silence really is golden. It understandably is not always easy to sit quietly and listen to the buyer. This very important skill is developed over time.

Great salespeople are great listeners. They are able to understand what the customer needs and can create a way to deliver what the customer wants on time and within budget. Listening is the only way to define the opportunity, allowing the sales agent the ability to assess what is required, then empowering him or her to craft the solution that fits.

The Right Balance

Salespeople who possess the right traits and skill set, with the right amount of guidance, mentoring and training can become great salespeople. There is no secret to success. It is a combination of hard work, persistence, skill, timing and luck. The important thing to remember is this: the salesperson can do whatever he or she decides. He or she has the power to make the right or wrong calls.

The difference between an average salesperson and a highly successful one is this: the successful salesperson does the little things that others often overlook or simply don't do. If you are told something cannot be done, show them how and why it can. Always rise to the challenge.


Michael DeLaura
About The Author Michael DeLaura
Michael DeLaura is a contributing writer for various publications. With more than 30 years of sales experience, he also is an Exterior Cladding Specialist at Sto Corp., a leading German manufacturer of construction materials with offices in the United States and worldwide.


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