Psychology of a Successful Salesperson

14 May 21

What kind of person would sign up for a job where they are rejected over 90 percent of the time? And what's their secret for staying motivated?

Here’s a post one of my colleagues recently made on LinkedIn after a long day of prospecting:

“Today, I made 114 calls. The first 100 calls resulted in zero meetings. On call 102, I booked a meeting with a VP at a hypergrowth startup. Call 105 resulted in a meeting with one of the largest retailers in Canada. Don't quit too soon.”

Boom! This post went viral, generating thousands of likes, shares, and comments as other sales professionals shared their own war stories and words of encouragement. Clearly, my colleague hit a nerve with his fellow sales professionals. It’s easy to see why. In a profession where the rejection rate can often be 90 percent, staying motivated is critical to your long-term success.

So, what kind of person would sign up for a job where they are rejected over 90 percent of the time?

Happy Loser

In a 2006 article in the Harvard Business Review, psychologist and marketing guru G. Clotaire Rapaille was interviewed about the key personality traits that make a salesperson succeed in the face of formidable odds. Rapaille believes that salespeople are the same around the world, with the common denominator being the “Happy Loser.”

According to Rapaille, whether they know it or not, salespeople are addicted to the thrill of the chase. Rapaille’s insight is that the happy loser is someone who sees rejection as a challenge. Rejection doesn’t bring them down. On the contrary, research he conducted found that initial rejection only stimulates great salespeople into staying focused and not giving up.

Since you can’t be a salesperson without losing most of the time, the successful ones can stay happy – even when they lose. They don’t get depressed, lose hope, or develop low self-esteem.

Motivating Salespeople

Knowing that salespeople are attracted to the challenge, Rapaille advises managers to keep salespeople motivated by showing empathy that you understand how hard it is to lose. But don’t try to convince salespeople that they’ll always win – that’s unrealistic. It also makes the job less appealing since there is no thrill of the chase if you close 100% of the time.

It’s more important, Rapaille argues, to focus on the struggle. For example, for a sales manager conducting a coaching session with a rep, the manager could use prompts like these:

  • Tell me about some of the conversations you had today. How about some of the tougher ones? Allow the rep to discuss their most challenging sales conversations and then offer feedback.
  • Who said no and why? Show empathy for the tough losses, but try to help the rep find the good in the “no.”
  • Who were you able to bring back to the table? Celebrate the salesperson beating the odds and turning a negative situation into a positive one.

Sales is a tough profession, where rejection is the norm and staying positive is critical. Great salespeople are happy losers: They can get a rush from a day where they had 100 unfruitful calls before landing that one big meeting. As a manager, understanding the psychology of a successful salesperson will help you better motivate your team.


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