Which Is More Important in Sales - Talent or Tenacity?

by Chris Young - The Rainmaker

Bob was my third and worst hire ever.

In 2000 I was responsible for building the sales team for an online learning start-up.

Bob was my third hire. He was a referral from a trusted and respected friend. Bob interviewed well, said all the right things, and had glowing references.

As we grew the business over the first six months, Bob did absolutely everything I asked of him and more. 

Everyone loved Bob.  Seek_Talent_and_Tenacity_in_every_sales_hire.jpg

There was just one problem. Bob could not sell online training software. He had the same sales training and far, far more coaching than the rest of the sales team. 

Bob had tenacity in spades but lacked talent. He was not credible with key decision-makers.

Unfortunately, I hired Bob before I discovered the power of multi-science sales personality testing. In fact, my failure in hiring Bob is one of the reasons why I began my quest to identify the best sales personality testing available to improve the sales hiring process.

I know you are wondering... If Bob had just hung on a little longer, would he have redeemed himself.The truth is if Bob continued to try to sell online training software for the next 100 years, he would never ever catch those that actually could.  

Tenacity folklore.

American history is rife with tenacity stories. What better example of tenacity than the very man who supposedly invented the light bulb after 10,000 attempts, Thomas Edison?

There is just one problem.

Edison did not invent the light bulb. Edison improved on the patent sold to him in 1879. Furthermore, Edison had a large staff to assist him.  

Alessandro Volta's "glowing wire" lead to incandescent lighting in 1800. There were many others including Humphrey Davy, Joseph Swan, Charles Francis Brush, and Canadian inventors, Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans.

Dig into popular American tenacity stories and you are less likely to find a real story of tenacity. Instead you are likely to find a story of talent and/or luck more than tenacity.


Tenacity or luck?

I often wonder what it would be like to go back in time knowing what I know now.

I would be the first to lock up:

  • Gas station real estate.
  • Car dealership rights.
  • Beer distributor rights.
  • Regional cell phone rights.
  • Rights to sell bottled water.
  • Real estate located on major exits.

I have engaged many an entrepreneur who seemingly worked diligently, but upon review it appears their success is far more due to luck than tenacity.

Unfortunately, luck often looks like tenacity.


Choose both Talent AND Tenacity.

When offered the "talent or tenacity" question, most people choose tenacity over talent and provide a myriad of reasons for doing so. I hear so many making sales hiring decisions go for tenacity when they should be going for talent AND tenacity.  

I choose both. Why put yourself into a position to have to choose one over the other.

If you are finding yourself forced to choose between two options (either / or choices), you are succumbing to the "Sucker's Choice".  Only suckers believe they have to choose tenacity over talent.

You can and must hire salespeople who have talent AND tenacity. You just need to decide. You must put forth the requisite recruiting effort to find sales candidates with talent and tenacity. 


The truth about talent.

Talent is generally defined as "innate ability, aptitude, above average ability". The truth is some elements of talent may be developed while others may not.

We define sales talent in two parts:

  • Talent soft code - The aggregation of selling skills and abilities acquired throughout or life and professional sales experiences. These areas may be developed.
  • Talent hard code - The innate part of sales talent would be "sales personality" - the combination of Behaviors, Motivators, Acumen, and Competencies. Much of "sales personality" is hard-coded or baked in at birth as well as throughout a person's life. 

We objectively measure sales personality using a multi-science sales assessment that measures Behaviors, Motivators, Acumen, and Skills.


Tenacity defined.

Tenacity or persistence is generally defined as, "stubborn, persistent, determined, relentless, and steadfast".

Anyone can do practically anything for a period of time. However, the longer the time duration, the more likely tenacity will end.

I believe there is a direct correlation between talent and tenacity.

If a salesperson does not have the talent to do the job well, tenacity may make up for the "talent gap" in the short-run but it will rarely do so in the long-run.

In the long-run it is rare that tenacity alone will overcome a lack of talent.

In situations where tenacity is believed to have eventually shaped success, it is more likely to have been luck or a misinterpretation.


Certain motivational factors may artificially-drive tenacity in the short-run.

Most everyone can become tenacious enough to overcome poor job fit for a short period of time. They simply need enough motivation.

Following are three situations where tenacity may be artificially-driven to overcome job mismatch in sales:

  1. Single income earner. A single income earner or single parent will often do whatever it takes to succeed in sales.
  2. Strong financial goal focus.  A salesperson who is committed to achieving a financial goal such as saving for a home, automobile, vacation, or college will often do whatever it takes to succeed in sales.
  3. Strong story.  A salesperson with a strong story who feels they have something to prove to others will often do whatever it takes to succeed in sales.

Be mindful of EEOC-compliant interview questions. Interview questions regarding marital status and children could land you in litigation trouble.

In instances where we see low job fit / high sales performance situations, Once a particular motivation is removed, sales performance almost always immediately suffers. The low job fit single income earner who receives a base compensation increase will often reduce their level of sales effort. Once a particular financial goal is met, the low job fit salesperson will often reduce their level of effort accordingly.

Therefore past sales success may not necessarily predict future sales success.


A strong story can create tenacity and overcome low job fit.

I have seen a strong story create the kind of tencity that can overcome low job fit on a long-term basis perhaps a dozen times in my career. But this is quite rare.

I always seek to identify any kind of favoritism, special circumstances, and unique territory gold mine situations to explain low job fit supporting top sales performance.  

I recall one particular instance of low job fit yet exceedingly high sales performance. The top performer's father passed away unexpectedly when they were ten years old. The top performer and his mother literally lived on the streets for several months.

That particular life experience created a fire in this top performer that gave him tenacity no amount of training will provide. This top performer resolved to outlive his father and to never put his family in the same financial situation. He chose sales as a career to do so.  


Hire salespeople who possess the Talent to sell in a given sales role AND the Tenacity to do so well.

Sales Personality Aptitude Test Sample Assessment