If the recent Inc.com article “13 Traits of an Outstanding Salesperson” is anything to go by, finding a great new sales hire is akin to unearthing the holy grail or discovering life on another planet.

But while finding a good match for your company is undoubtedly challenging, there are certain telltale qualities to look out for and to develop in your current sales employees. You want a smooth-talker who can charm potential clients and close deals but who doesn’t venture too far into “snake” territory. You want someone who has a great understanding of your product and why it is important to specific targets but is able to explain it in language that normal humans understand. You want someone who can explain complicated technical functions clearly but who takes time to listen and learn, too.

So, what are the skills and tactics used by those A-players? Here are some proprietary insights from real-time analysis of over 100,000 sales calls:

1. A-players ask more open-ended questions.

Arguably, the most important interaction a sales rep will have with a potential client is during the discovery call. This is the time to work out whether the client is a good match for their company, highlight how their product or service could be useful to their specific needs, or red-flag a bad match and stealthily moonwalk their way out of the conversation to save the rep – and them – a bad experience based on incompatibility, pricing or differences in expectations.

Research has found that A-players ask four times as many open-ended questions as less talented sales professionals. Humans are psychologically wired to respond positively to someone else’s interest in their story. If you can get a person to open up, he or she will naturally think the conversation went well.

That said, while everyone likes a good chat, open-ended questions should have a clear direction toward introducing the product and making a sale. Efficient sales reps should let customers discover something for themselves in the process and help them think about their own company and any weak areas they have.

2. A-players know when to take their foot off the pedal.

Nothing turns potential customers off like being subjected to a seemingly endless sales pitch.

Consequently, research shows that the crème de la crème of the sales world talks 45 percent of the time, leaving room for questions and feedback from the prospect. On average, less talented sales staff talk for 88 percent of the time.

However, the amount of conversation can vary by industry. For example, in B2C sales, a representative is less interested in the consumer’s background, so it is OK for them to talk more. However, in B2B sales, reps need to discover a lot more information to provide the right information about their product. If a salesperson leaves room for the client to talk about their company, aims, needs, challenges and budget, they shouldn’t leave too much speaking time for themselves.

Marc Wayshak, founder of Sales Strategy Academy, suggests that 20 percent of the conversation might be a good ratio for a rep to talk. “It might feel uncomfortable at first to let silence rule,” he writes. “Still, try talking less in every selling situation – even if your prospect isn’t too chatty.”

3. A-players know the value of closing trial questions.

In sales, timing is everything. “Closing trial questions” act like a thermometer to show how interested a client is at any time, helping a rep gauge at different points throughout the call whether or not the prospect is on the same page and what parts of a product interest them or turn them off. These questions could be “If the decision were up to you, would this be a product you would use?” or something simple like asking, “What do you think?” after sharing a key feature or perk. On average, A-players ask five closing trial questions in a demo call, while less talented reps ask an average of zero to one.

By hearing “mini-agreements” – responses to questions such as “Do you think your company could use a tool like this?” or “Could this function improve production within your team?”, a salesperson is effectively setting up the customer for the bigger agreement. Instead of speaking for 40 minutes and then simply asking, “Are you ready to buy?”, these closing trial questions allow salespeople to gently ease consumers toward the big buy.

Sales reps are the face of your company. They decide whether customers come aboard and bring their friends with them or walk into the welcoming arms of your competitors. To date, there have been very few formal studies into what makes an excellent salesperson, but thousands of hours of sales call research have highlighted these three traits. Charm and charisma are undeniably important, but it may be patience and prodding for answers that will win reps the sale.

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