By the time this article is published, I will be celebrating my one-year anniversary at Hartland Music. For most of my career, I’ve been on the wholesale side of the industry. With this change, I’ve had to re-learn many aspects of selling. Fortunately, I’ve had great teachers in Ellen and Larry McDonald. It’s been an exciting year!

There are many ways to approach retail selling—especially in relation to big-ticket items—and Hartland Music believes in a low-pressure environment. This works well with my personal style. I always strive to be perceived as a caring consultant who, with thorough qualification, guides customers to instruments that are right for their families and themselves.

The other day, at the store, Larry made an interesting comment regarding Ellen’s achievements. “There aren’t many $1 million retail salespeople in our industry,” he said. That made me think. When I was in wholesale, quotas of that amount or greater were common, simply by virtue of selling larger quantities to dealers across multiple states. However, hitting that amount on the retail floor is quite a challenge. The recipe is completely different. Every relationship is built, and every sale is made, one at a time.

Ellen and Larry are great mentors. The combination of a positive attitude, a friendly personality and a dedicated work ethic has contributed to their professional success. The icing on the cake is their high level of common sense.

What does it take to be a successful salesperson? Although the percentages can be debated, I believe that approximately 50 percent of people engaged in selling are simply in the wrong profession. Roughly 20 percent have the essential skills, but they should be selling something other than what they’re currently selling. Another 20 percent have the potential to be highly successful in some cases, but they are only marginal performers in their present sales positions. That leaves 10 percent who are the top performers.

Although there are certainly more, there are six key qualities I’ve identified that are essential for success in a sales career. Here’s the list:

1. Optimism

The power of positive thinking should never be overlooked. We have all heard stories of terminally ill people who profess their belief in a positive mental attitude and how it helped to heal them. They filled their minds only with positive thoughts, and that permeated every aspect of their lives.

Optimism begins with the conscious choice to think about what it is that we think about. We choose whether to focus on our limitations, our shortcomings and our mistakes. We can choose, instead, to focus on our gifts, our personal power, our knowledge, our expertise and all that we’ve already accomplished.

Salespeople who maintain an optimistic attitude do not let rejection destroy their overall view of themselves. Instead, they use it as a tool to turn bad situations around and to work toward making things better by continually using different approaches.

2. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It is not to be confused with sympathy, which infers that you have a sense of loyalty to someone. Understanding feelings is the basis of building trust and a rapport. This is accomplished through the art of listening. People like to be understood and to feel the emotional effects of empathy.

It is crucial not to be perceived as judgmental or confrontational. Rather, look for opportunities to prove that you truly understand someone, and that you’re an ally in finding a proper solution to his or her situation.

3. Accountability

Salespeople with a strong sense of accountability usually prove to be self-starters and people who need little supervision. Their built-in system of checks and balances builds their integrity and drives their daily activities. This keeps them on track to reach their goals. They know how to get things done and, when obstacles arise, they use negatives as tools to correct the situation to get back on track.

4. Focus

Being focused is critical to your success. It’s so easy to get distracted. In fact, how many of you right now have your phone on your desk so you can watch for messages, e-mails or postings? Focused salespeople have a built-in sense of urgency and demand more out of themselves. They recognize what needs to be done to achieve their goals and finish the daunting tasks at hand.

When focus is combined with empathy, it produces amazing results! You’ll be able to listen more effectively and identify with your customers’ wants and desires, even while keeping a keen eye on the goals you have in place both personally and professionally. The result is a toolbox of effective solutions for your customers.

5. Determination

Determination is directly affected by the first attribute, optimism, which enables determination by motivating you to continue to persevere without feeling discouraged. It is the spark that helps you build empathy with your customers.

Once you have this in place, you’ll build trust and a rapport. Determination drives accountability, enabling you to establish integrity, while also developing your ability to keep things on track and stay true to your beliefs. It goes hand-in-hand with focus, and it’s the catalyst that motivates you to persevere until you finally find a way to succeed.

6. Relationships

The most effective salespeople are willing to invest in networking within their community to build relationships. They know the difference between a contact and a contract: It’s the “R,” which stands for “Relationship.”

So many stores have the words “music center” in their names. Start living up to that name by opening your doors to those who can help you create more music makers. It doesn’t matter if they’re beginners, adults, hobbyists or professionals; they all have families and friends who want to see and hear them play. That means more bodies in your store and, ultimately, more sales opportunities.

A life in sales tends to be a high-profile position. The results, both good and bad, can readily be seen by looking at bottom-line results. People will take more notice of your failures. Perhaps it’s easier to focus on the negatives. It takes a special kind of person to succeed in sales. So…are you special?

David Hall is Retail Sales Manager and Webmaster for Hartland Music, Inc., and the Waukesha County Conservatory of Music, a full-line, 15,000-square-foot, freestanding facility with more than 2,500 students per week. Contact him at

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