Chapter 2.2 Personal Qualities of a Successful Salesperson

I have a poor memory and so I use acronyms to remember lists. The acronym I use to remember the qualities that a successful salesperson exemplifies is SHEAF.

The SHEAF qualities are:-

  •  Sincerity
  • Helpfulness
  • Enthusiasm
  • Attentiveness
  • Friendliness

Let us look at each of these qualities:


To be sincere, to be trustworthy is core to building confidence in potential customers. Remember I am not recommending false sincerity, you have to be sincere. You have to want to be in that room with that person, communicating about his needs for whatever you are talking about. In a sales context you have to want to listen, be interested in, understand, and make suggestions around the way he or his company does or achieves whatever your product or service does. Sounds simple, what this really challenges is your mental strength to deal with your own mood swings.

The example is a sportsperson who has to master his physical conditioning and his mental preparation to achieve peak performance when he has to play, so you have to be in the zone when you are with a customer. It may have taken weeks to get this appointment, you have to make the most of it today, now, however you are feeling before the meeting. Let me tell you a personal story to illustrate this point. Believe it or not, when I was a young sales guy in London 30 years ago, I occasionally drank too much in the evenings, and had an active social life, that meant I often felt awful in the morning on the way to work.

At the train station by my office, there was a very long escalator from the underground platform to the street level exit; as I rode the escalator, I would repeat to myself the mantra “sincere, helpful, enthusiastic, attentive, and friendly” and make an effort to straighten my posture. By the time I reached the top of the escalator I was ready for work. You cannot think about these words without them having a positive effect on your mood.

 One final serious point, to be sincere you have to tell the truth. Never lie to a customer, lying in a business context is a weak behaviour, you always have other options. If a customer finds out you have lied to him, you will never do business with them again. A customer can understand that a salesperson, or a consultant can get something wrong, he can ever forgive that you represent your product and service without giving alternative options but he will not forgive a deliberate lie. Dealing with difficult issues with sincerity and truthfulness is a critical success factor and one of the skills we will talk about in a future chapter. For now just remember sincerity is everything, and truthfulness is an essential part of this personal quality.


Hopefully this is self-evident, going into a meeting, and during a meeting, you are trying to find ways in which your company and its products help the potential customer. I find this quality really easy, if you have a major problem with being helpful, you should join the tax department.

In fact I find this a really easy way to stop meetings that are a mutual waste of time. If the customer has needs, or problems that your product or service does not provide a solution for, I find it easy and easily accepted by the customer to say “I do not think that my companies product can help you with these issues”, as long as you have listened attentively, and summarized the sort of issues your companies products do address; cutting short the meeting actually builds credibility for future meetings that your solution is relevant for. You have established a reputation with that customer as someone who does not waste his time, or try to sell the wrong solution to him.


Enthusiasm is the really powerful quality. You know from your social life that it makes all actions easier if you are enthusiastic about doing them. Likewise there is an enormous difference between presenting a proposal in a flat emotional tone and using the same words infusing them with some enthusiasm. Yes, you do need to change; no you do not have to behave like a clown on caffeine tablets.

Everybody has their own range of emotional expression, just try every time you are in front of a customer and you are contributing something positive to the conversation, consciously to up your enthusiasm level by 5%. Soon you will be more comfortable and have moved your enthusiasm quotient in the right direction. I have to tell you that no other quality has the power of enthusiasm, if you can communicate 10% more enthusiastically, you will be more than 20% more effective and persuasive in your communication.


This quality is actually easier for consultants than sales people, but there is no better way of showing respect for a customer than listening attentively to what he is saying. The trap is always for your mind to start thinking about what you are going to say next, and lose focus on what the customer is saying. Worse, if you start thinking about your reply as he is speaking you can be tempted to interrupt him.

Constantly interrupting somebody is a sure way of not being invited back again. It is far better, and in fact the customer reacts positively if you listen attentively and give yourself a few seconds to frame your response. Signs of intelligence, of engaging the brain before opening the mouth are welcomed by customers.


Again this should be obvious. The only issue is appropriateness. In a first meeting you cannot behave as if he is a long lost brother, but from first impressions a smile and a helpful manner relaxes the customer so that a productive conversation can ensue. As the meeting progresses and subsequent meeting happen, it truly can be a pleasure to spend time with customers.

Typically we meet middle to senior level managers, who are graduates and experienced in the world. They really can be interesting people to spend time with. You should show a friendly attitude towards them. Although being unfriendly is clearly counter productive, there is another range of behaviours that we are all prone to use too much. We have all seen salespeople and consultants who take a lecturing attitude in meetings; even if you disagree strongly with a particular direction being taken, you have the emotional skills to respond from a context of friendliness.

Suggesting alternatives in a friendly and positive way is far more likely to have a positive outcome than arguing, or talking down to another human being. Again a small pause to frame the response in the right way is better than responding quickly and harshly. If salespeople and consultants are prone to lecturing, senior managers or ex- officers from the Army, Air force or Navy are prone to taking an overly domineering, or commanding approach to interactions.

The difference between internal meetings where there is a “chain of command” and external sales meetings with potential customers is that the customer always wants to be in command, and you have to sell yourself as a contributor while forming a relationship. There is no need to be subservient, just do not play any dominance games; gain credibility and earn your right to be at the table. Telling people what to do, just does not work, even if you are right. Be friendly.

So in summary, before every meeting, until it is an ingrained set of behaviours, repeat to yourself the mantra “Sincere; Helpful; Enthusiastic; Attentive; Friendly”. You will be amazed at the results.


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