The short answer is, "Both."
The best salespeople are born AND made.
I have been in sales for 40 years. I have sold door-to-door as well as complex, long sales cycle solutions.
Throughout my career as a salesperson, VP of Sales and the last 17 years as a consultant, I have had the privilege of engaging many truly amazing Sales Wolves. We call the best salespeople, those who consistently sell in the top 20th percentile, "Sales Wolves".
Despite my extensive sales hiring experience, you would perhaps think I should have perfected the ability consistently identify top salespeople by merely shaking their hand and a brief interview, right?
It much more than a handshake and brief interview to consistently identify and hire Sales Wolves.
Consistently hiring the best salespeople requires a commitment to solid hiring process, a Job Benchmark, a hiring scorecard and a valid sales personality test to ensure only the Sales Wolves get hired.
I sentenced good people to hell.
I know from experience what happens when I hire from my gut. I make frequent poor sales hiring decisions.
During my first stint as a VP of Sales, I hired good people who I unknowingly sentenced to hell for the duration they reported to me. I hired people who had no business being in sales and then tried to hold them accountable for the results they could not deliver.
Unfortunately, I hired the wrong salesperson more often than the right one.
At the time I did not know better. I hired and managed salespeople by mimicking what others before me did.
I trusted my gut. I looked at the candidate's resume' and blindly believed prior sales experience and success would translate into future sales success. I interviewed candidates and chose those who could answer the "sell me this pen" question with the most effective, memorized response possible.
Now I know better.
Bad sales hires - I tried making silk out of a sow's ear.
When a new sales hire inevitably turned into a dud, I did everything possible to prove I was correct in my hiring decisions.
Oh how I did not want to be wrong!
I wasted profound amounts of time trying to help low job fit salespeople be what I thought I had hired.
I encouraged, trained and coached them. I met Prospects with them. I literally sold for them.
It was a frustrating time for me professionally.
For the record, the occasional fantastic sales hiring decisions were more due to luck than to skill.
Great salespeople are born.
Yes they are.
I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but I learn from my successes and failures.
I LOVE winning and HATE losing.
If I were forced to choose just one predictor of future sales potential, I would choose Behavioral Style. Of all the elements of a person's "sales personality" that we can objectively measure, nothing contributes more to the potential to perform in a particular sales role than Behavioral Style.
One's Behavioral Style is hardcoded at birth and changes little through life.
Great salespeople are born AND made.
Great salespeople are made - just not by you.
Great salespeople are made (or shaped) through their life experiences and circumstances.
Following are just a few examples of some of the more powerful life experiences and circumstances that may shape a person to succeed in sales (not all inclusive):
- The extent a person's upbringing was challenging or easy.
- Whether a person was raised by a single parent or both.
- Major life traumas - i.e.: the sudden death of a parent during childhood or divorce.
- Influencers such as the inspirational family member / friend / teacher / principle / neighbor / school teacher / pastor.
- The influential college advisor / professor.
- The boss that gave a big break.
- Whether or not a person graduated college.
- Socioeconomic status as an child / adult.
- The existence of a single income household status.
- The existence of real, compelling life goals.
- The existence of an ax to grind or something to prove to someone important in one's life.
- Winning the lottery.
Of course you cannot ask interview questions that identify the above.
There is good news. The previously-mentioned life experiences / circumstances shape the Motivators and may be measured objectively through sales personality testing.
You can't change people.
You either hire salespeople with the requisite Behaviors (born) and Motivators (made) or you do not.
WARNING - You will be unsuccessful trying to implant the Behavioral Style and Motivators necessary to be successful in sales. You will not be able to undo what God and years of life circumstances and conditioning have shaped.
Three sales hiring strategies smart companies implement.
- Correlate sales performance to sales personality to iteratively improve sales hiring outcomes.
- Implement a sales hiring scorecard to objectify and reduce human bias.
- Stop playing God - Never waste time trying to develop salespeople who do not have the capacity to be a Sales Wolf.
What other experts have to say.
Steve Martin, in his HBR article "Are Top Salespeople Born or Made," claims that most salespeople are born. Trying to teach a person how to sell when they do not possess the attitude results in little chance for success. Following are Martin's 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).
You demonstrate what you are interested in and committed to through the actions you take and do not take.
If you are truly committed to consistently improving your sales hiring outcomes, there is only one way to do so. You must use a valid sales personality test and then correlate with sales performance.
Call on us.