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Behavior Characteristics of a Salesperson

Contributing Author

Mr. Chris Derry

Sales Executive-in-Residence
Western Kentucky University

We are conducting continuing research at the Gordon Ford College of Business at Western Kentucky University on the configuration of motivation and behavior characteristics in outside (hunter) salespeople that yield the best results for their firms. It has been widely acknowledged that top 20% salespeople exhibit four dominant behaviors in their work (using William Marston, “Emotions of Normal People”):

1. Independence – having a strong sense of getting things done their way (High D/Low C).
2. Sense of urgency - getting things accomplished as fast as possible (High D/Low S).
3. Contact-ability – deriving considerable energy from meeting and greeting people wherever and whenever possible (High I/ Low S).
4. Displayed self-confidence – believing they can sell anyone to their way of thinking (High I/ Low C).

However, nothing in the behaviors noted describes whether such top producers will actually do the hard work of selling professionally. Will they make things happen, will they get up early and stay late, will they travel to remote locations pursuing a sale or will they push themselves to do what they know they need to do when they should do it?

To answer the question of whether they will conduct these activities (using Eduard Spranger, “Types of Men”) we have found two motivators that must shine brightly:

1.     Utilitarian – the drive to fulfill a “return-on-investment” desire that eventually leads to making a lot of money.

2.     Individualistic – the drive to fulfill one’s destiny by taking charge of one’s life and surroundings, and pushing persistently toward success.

When these factors are present in a salesperson, sales managers should refrain from over-coaching or meddling with them in the field. They should be considered (not treated) as “Ferrari’s” who should be kept “on the road” and handled with care when their intensity and competitiveness takes them “off-road” and into trouble.

When behaviors are used in selection without assessing the underlying motivation of a sales candidate, a considerable degree of chaos can occur in an organization. Human Resources blames sales management and vice versa. However, when behaviors and motivation are jointly considered in selection, HR can point the fickle finger at sales management with much more confidence.

Also, when such high-potential salespeople occasionally fail in an organization, it is usually the fault of sales management, who should receive the brunt of the criticism. When you “obtain” a Ferrari, and you damage its performance capacity, you should have to pay.

Chris Derry
Sales Executive-in-Residence
Western Kentucky University

Mr. Derry brings over 30 years of experience in selling, beginning in his father’s drug store, then as a financial advisor for a leading financial services firm, founder and president of a sales coaching firm, regional director for three asset management firms, founder and president of a public policy think tank, and co-founder of a Louisville-based asset management firm. He joined the faculty at WKU in the Fall of 2009.

Western Kentucky University

Gordon Ford College of Business


Come learn more about the Western Kentucky University’s Center for Professional Selling. Our Sales Program is one of thirteen Fully Certified Sales Programs in the United States as a member of the University Sales Center Alliance. This certification is conducted by both business (Professional Society for Sales & Marketing Training) and academic (USCA) elements. The WKU Center for Professional Selling is the only certified program in the State of Kentucky in addition to the regional states of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, and West Virginia.

This Center was formed by WKU in July 2007 with two specific goals:

  1. Education Focus:  Enhance the perception of the sales profession while preparing students for a career in sales.  Development of appropriate curriculum to include a Major and Minor in Sales.
  2. Business Focus: Strengthen the relationship between WKU and Corporations.  Develop partnerships with corporations to provide real-world classroom activities in addition to internship or full-time employment opportunities.   Go HERE to learn more about this outstanding program.


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