Good salespeople are not about aggression and ruthlessness. Truly great salespeople have unique qualities that endear them to customers and their companies alike. What makes salespeople great?

I read of a great story about putting salespeople to experience the very products they sell in a bootcamp. One salesperson came out of the experience very enthusiastic about the product – a microwave oven, having found ways to use the product to create food that he liked. That salesperson could thereafter recount his personal experiences to every contact he met, and persuade them to buy his products, simply because he was genuine and really knew what his products could do and mean to another human being.

All too often, salespeople are measured by mere numbers (of sales). Often, such targeted numbers are created by some leaders who may not even have been in the field at all. Some leaders may have lost touch with the field altogether having been away from hands-on field work for years or decades, and the field is an entirely different one today. Up till a decade ago, many things evolve in a glacial pace. But the last few years have seen colossal and quantum leap changes to every facet of our lives. Having lost touch with the field just from the last few years, would render a person completely detached from every facet of reality in the world. Therefore, unless the leaders understand the field from a truly hands-on perspective, their own concoctions of targets and performances indicators are simply wishes. Leaders have to be as authentic and realistic as the demands they impose on salespeople. Better yet, leaders can brave the field with their salespeople, side by side, or lead them into the battle for performance.

As a human resource development (HRD) practitioner since the 1980s, I have also seen the various methods and ideas behind sales training programs. I have seen quite many sales training programs targeted at either merely providing facts, specifications, and selling points of products, or are geared towards creating a euphoric feeling in the salespeople and hope that such temporarily induced euphoria can be carried out in the field, and wishfully forever. However, the reality is that many sales training programs will not produce better salespeople, and may dissuade many people from wanting to develop a sales career altogether. A great development program should be one to sieve out the right people for the right jobs, and then to inspire them to explore, learn, experiment, ask questions, develop solutions for every challenge, face the challenges head on, perhaps fail occasionally, and allow them to pick up the pieces and start again. Humans, especially salespeople, are best inspired, and given every opportunity to invoke their curiosity to learn and solve problems on their own. Therefore, the best development programs inspire and engage learners to draw out their own qualities to the maximum.

Most importantly, allow salespeople to immerse in the products and experience them first-hand as customers and users. If you are selling a computer, have the salesperson use the computer in every way possible. If you are selling a kitchen appliance, have the salesperson use it at home or at work, daily if possible. If you are selling a software solution, whether enterprise or consumer, have the salesperson use it and explore every feature and discover every possible benefit. Nothing beats using a product for real, and experiencing the product for all its advantages and disadvantages. The salesperson will then be able to share his experience with prospects and customers with an authentic and persuasive delivery. This will allow the salesperson to be genuine with the customers, and the customers will appreciate the honesty, the realities, and be emotively engaged to make more preferential decisions.

The best way to groom salespeople for greatness, is to lead by example, and to immerse in your business in the field for real. Business, as with war, is a reality that must be engaged and experienced first-hand, for real, and over time. No business can be managed in a vacuum, on a computer screen, or through a simulation. Battles in business are real, get hands-on, get real.