Are Great Salespeople Born or Made?

by Amber

Are Great Salespeople Born to Sell or Made to Sell?Having the right salespeople on your team is critical to increasing profits.  Some companies believe hiring someone with experience is the key to having the right salespeople.  Some companies, who are incredibly smart, hire based on common characteristics of salespeople.  While some companies haphazardly hire salespeople based on "good vibes." 

Tweet: Are you born for sales? #saleswolves #sales @therainmaker Are you born for sales? 

Companies who hire salespeople based on experience aren't always going to find great salespeople because every company has a different culture where a person may or may not mesh with the sales process.  People with experience may also have the "skills" to do the job but not necessarily the "attitude,"  and we know that "skills" can be taught while "attitude" or characteristics are extremely difficult to influence, change, or teach.

Great salespeople are born, not made.

Steve Martin, in his article "Are Top Salespeople Born or Made," claims that most sales people are born.  Trying to teach a person how to sell when they do not possess the attitude results in little chance for success.  Here are his findings:

Based upon my research, experience, and observations, I estimate over 70 percent of top salespeople are born with "natural" instincts that play a critical role in determining their sales success. Conversely, less than 30 percent of top salespeople are self-made — meaning, they have had to learn how to become top salespeople without the benefit of these natural abilities. In addition, for every 100 people who enter sales without natural sales traits, 40 percent will fail or quit, 40 percent will perform at near average, and only 20 percent will be above average (These figures vary by industry and the complexity of products sold).

Do I agree that great salespeople are born?  I recently had a baby - he is seven-months-old.  Although his handsome smile could probably sell snow to an Eskimo, I doubt he or any other baby is "born" with natural selling ability.  To answer the question, most likely great salespeople are not born, but some personalities or attitudes are a natural fit for sales.  However, personality develops throughout a person's life, mostly in the earliest years when the brain is still developing. Thus, they probably do have a certain personality or attitude, they just weren't "born" with it.

Martin is not completely off the mark though.  However, his generalizations are a bit extreme.  This is a big problem with data now days - people draw inaccurate conclusions.  What Martin found is not that salespeople have "natural" instincts, but he found that 70% of top salespeople are naturals at selling when they first begin a sales job.  Keep in mind, most salespeople begin sales jobs when they are probably in their 20's, possibly earlier or later. This means they have had about 20 years to develop their personality - to develop that "attitude for sales." They were not "born" with an instinctual selling attitude - it was developed.

Some salespeople may enter a selling job with the attitude for selling, but they certainly were not born with it or, at least, learned most of it throughout development.  For those salespeople that are "self-made," they are probably lacking the "attitude for sales" when they enter a sales job.  Since a lot of a person's personality is developed in early years, it is very difficult for "self-made" people to acquire this certain "attitude to sell" once their personality is well-defined.

My conclusion on all this is that salespeople are 'made', but they are not made quickly or in a short period of time.Tweet: You are not made for sales in a short period of time. #sales @therainmaker  It takes years of development to acquire that "certain something" for sales, and although it can be acquired once a person enters a sales job, it is extremely difficult to do so.

This leads me to an even more important question.  If top salespeople have a "certain something," what is that "something?"

Request a sample sales personality aptitude test

One essential is known as a "Utilitarian" attitude.  A study conducted by Target Training International found that 71% of U.S. salesperson participants had a Utilitarian attitude.

The person with a high Utilitarian attitude:

  • Wants to see a return on investment for his or her actions.
  • Uses resources wisely to accomplish results.
  • Wants to compete for resources - beat out the competition.
  • Wants to be paid based on performance.
  • May be considered a "workaholic."
  • Is easily stressed by little to no return on investment or wasted resources.
  • Mr. or Mrs. "Practical"

Teaching someone the Utilitarian attitude is futile, which makes it essential for companies to hire based on this attitude rather than try to make a person develop this attitude.  Companies can accurately select and hire the best salespeople based on this attitude and other essential factors.

Find out how to hire top salespeople in the "Sale's Managers Guide to Hiring Top Sales Performers."

For those salespeople who do not have the Utilitarian attitude, they are not hopeless.  Their chances for success in sales is often much smaller than those with the Utilitarian attitude.  Salespeople can dramatically improve performance by understanding their behavioral style and others.  Check out our powerful multi-science sales aptitude personality test.  You can read more about this in "Selling with Style . . .Behavioral Style" by Ashley Bowers.