Revenue / Sales / Teams


Winning sales skills

Author CJ Todd, University of San Francisco

Posted: November 4, 2015

Tagged: revenue / sales / teams

Business is about building relationships. This concept has been proven by the recently changing trends within the practice of sales. Companies have evolved from the transactional approach to a relational model that focuses on the customer and their needs. Williams and Attaway (1996) found that professional salespeople can positively affect an organization’s performance by utilizing a customer-oriented approach. Research has been conducted to understand what the primary skills are that make an effective salesperson in today’s sales environment. Data suggest that the most important of these skills are the ability to build buyer-seller relationships, confidence, and the ability to adapt. All three attributes must work cohesively in order to bond with the customer and drive sales.

In order to build a genuine relationship with a buyer, salespeople must have worthy listening skills. Marshall, Goebel and Moncrief (2003) asked sales managers and sales executives throughout the U.S. to rank 60 skills from 1 to 7, 1 being least important to the success of salespeople and 7 being most important. They found the sales skill most essential to building a relationship with the customer is effective listening. Consistent with the relational model, listening to the customer can give salespeople a better understanding of buyers’ problems and concerns. Understanding a pain point – and how the product or service can alleviate that pain point – could be the difference between closing a sale or hanging up the phone empty handed.

Although relational – or consultative – sales relies on a strong relationship between buyer and seller, closing is still at the bottom line of every sales interaction. Marshall et al. (2003) find confidence to be a necessary skill of an effective salesperson. The study found tenacity – sticking with a task – to be the fourth most important skill to success in sales. Marshall et al. (2003) explain, “the ever-increasing drive toward meeting goals and attaining desired results” in today’s sales organizations is a main reason for people’s persistence (pg. 250). But there may be a better explanation for tenacity within an effective salesforce.

Holmes (2008) explains that dominance – interpreted as confidence – is the number one thing he looks for when seeking to hire a sales superstar. He says, “Only a person with an extra dose of strong ego and a psychological need to take control of every situation barrels into a client eight times after the client has said no” (pg. 82). A confident salesperson does not become discouraged after hearing “no” and is more likely to follow up and close a sale. It is important that salespeople have a balance between relationship building skills and dominance/confidence in order to effectively drive sales.

One example of this effective balance was the University of North Carolina football team integrating Tar Heel fans and North Carolina community members into their sales plan (Popp, 2015). UNC’s director of fan development, Brian Chacos, wanted to reach out to over 1,000 potential ticket buyers on National Signing Day but had a staff of only two sales executives. Chacos invited 50 recruited volunteers to act as unofficial UNC salespeople. They helped the Tar Heel football team produce more that $53,000 in ticket sales revenue in 2015.

Chacos leveraged the passion of existing UNC fans and members of the community to create a strong, organic relationship between the sellers and the buyers. The volunteers were not driven by quotas or commission, but by genuine passion for the product (Popp, 2015). The salespeople were confident because they believed in what they were selling, which allowed them to connect with the customers on a very personal level. There was a significant level of trust between the two parties that resulted in nearly twice the revenue of the previous year.

UNC and Chacos also embodied the ability to be adaptive in their sales approach. Without a large sales team, Chacos had to be creative in his efforts to reach a large number of potential ticket buyers. Marshall et al. (2003) found that the ability to adapt sales style from situation to situation was the third-most important skill necessary for effective salespeople to have. By taking a risk on enlisting an untrained salesforce, Chacos effectively adapted to meet the demand of a high call volume and reaped the rewards.

Throughout the research on the current state of sales in the U.S., there is a heavy emphasis on recruiting effective salespeople. In general, ideal candidates should be able to create a strong buyer-seller relationship while being decisive and confident in their sales approach. In the case of UNC, the passionate fans and community members that Chacos recruited were effective at building relationships with potential ticket buyers and were confident in the product they were selling. The UNC National Signing Day sales campaign also exemplified the effectiveness of the ability to adapt sales styles when the situation calls for an innovative approach. From this example, one thing is clear: it takes a balance of confidence and empathy to be an effective salesperson.



Holmes, C. (2007). The ultimate sales machine: Turbocharge your business with relentless focus on 12 key strategies. New York: Portfolio.

Marshall, G. W., Goebel, D. J., & Moncrief, W. C. (2003). Hiring for success at the buyer–seller interface. Journal of Business Research, 56, 247-255.

Popp, N. (2015). How one event uses fan base’s passion to recruit ticket buyers. SportsBusiness Journal, 18(4). Retrieved from

Williams, M. H., & Attaway, J. S. (1996). Exploring salespersons’ customer orientation as a mediator organizational culture’s influence on buyer-seller relationships. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 16(4), 33-52.

About CJ Todd, University of San Francisco

CJ is currently a graduate student at the University of San Francisco’s Sport Management Program. He graduated from UC Merced with a B.A. in World History with a focus in sports and society. While at UC Merced, CJ was a founding member of the club baseball team and later served as head coach for two seasons. Currently, he is working for a San Francisco based start-up called StokeShare as a marketing coordinator. This article is an edited version of a paper CJ prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Business Development & Sales class at the University of San Francisco.

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