Are salespeople born or made? This is a question that comes up from time to time and, for some reason, has been coming up in my conversations a lot lately. It’s the old nature versus nurture. While most people are open-minded to both arguments, I’ve recently run into some people who are adamant about the subject, one in particular saying they are born, the other saying they are made. Here’s my two cents.
About ten years ago an acquaintance of mine was a guest host on a local radio station and asked me to come in and discuss sales and selling. After doing a brief introduction to the segment along with a short bio of me, he opened with, “So, I guess the consensus is pretty much that salespeople are born, huh?” He caught me completely off guard for two reasons, one, I’ve never had someone open a radio broadcast, podcast, or any other similar interview with that question, and two, and probably more significant, I don’t believe that at all. So, here I am on a radio show with my friend hosting and thousands of people listening and I’m hit with an assumptive statement about an industry I’d been involved with for almost three decades, that happened to contradict my beliefs. Yes, I’ve done three years of improv and I’m pretty creative, but there was more than a slight pause between his statement and the beginning of my response.
Since that radio interview, my opinion that salespeople are 100% developed has changed a bit. First, we all have our own distinct personalities that we are born with. If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about. Some are natural extroverts, others introverts, some with good attitudes, and some with bad, and for the most part, we seem to be born as ‘people’ people, in other words, we like and are able to relate to and connect with people easily, or ‘non-people’ people, in other words, we don’t naturally connect with people and tend to prefer to be on our own as opposed to around other people. While being introverted isn’t a particular problem, as a good number of salespeople are actually introverts, a lack of natural people skills can be a problem. It’s pretty simple, people skills are a factory setting in most people. If someone has zero people skills, or close to it, think Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, or engineers, the odds of them making it in sales as a profession are pretty much nil. Another birth factor seems to be intelligence and the ability to learn. If someone is of at least average intelligence, perhaps even a hair below, they can still make it in sales. If, however, they are below that hair, they are most likely going to struggle. Once someone has the factory-installed people skills and an average or above-average intelligence level, nature exits the building and the focus is now on nurture.
The vast majority of a salesperson’s skills will be acquired through study and learning. Are there some natural salespeople who just seem to be able to sell from day one? Yes. That said, they are the very rare exception to the rule. 99.9% of good and great salespeople get there by studying and honing their sales skills. I’m a perfect example of that. I’m an introvert by nature, have slightly above-average intelligence, and I have pretty good people skills. All of that considered, I had one of the slowest starts to my sales career imaginable. When I became a stockbroker, the average broker was opening their first account the second week. The first week all you did was cold called and got a bunch of leads. The second week, you picked a stock and called all those leads, about 100 of them, and pitched the stock. Obviously, you didn’t get to all 100 or so people but you got to a decent number such that pretty much everyone opened an account that week. Before I showed up, the record time for opening that first new account was four weeks. I shattered the record… it took me nine weeks to open my first new account. I almost literally made every mistake that someone could make. By making all those mistakes I learned and rarely did I make the same mistake twice. As a result, within two years my sales numbers ranked in the top 5% of roughly 3000 brokers. Eventually, I’d get into the top 1% and even to number one at one point. When I tell you all of that was learned, all of that was learned. I walked around with a tape recorder and asked all the top brokers for their presentations, answers to objections, and closes and I wrote them out and learned them verbatim. Once I started saying the same things, I got the same results. Then, once I had mastered them, I improved them to get even better, and then I outworked everyone else. That’s basically how I became a top sales rep in three industries, I went to the top people, found out how they ran their businesses, copied their sales skills, and then outworked everyone and made a ton of calls. Oh, I also learned everything else I could about sales and selling from every resource available.
So, overall, it helps to be born with the right personality for sales and the proper factory-installed equipment, which most people have because human beings are herd creatures so connecting with other people is built into almost everyone’s DNA. Other than that, the vast majority of sales success, 95 to 98% comes down to learning sales and selling. So, 3 to 5% can be attributed to what we’re born with, nature, and 95 to 98% can be attributed to what we make of ourselves, nurture.
#1 Sales Rep w 34+ years’ experience, Author of the 2010 sales book of the year: Sales Encyclopedia (Axiom Book Awards) – also the largest sales book on the planet (678 pages).
John Chapin is a motivational sales speaker, coach, and trainer. For his free eBook: 30 Ideas to Double Sales and monthly article, or to have him speak at your next event, go to www.completeselling.com. John has over 34 years of sales experience as a number one sales rep and is the author of the 2010 sales book of the year, Sales Encyclopedia (Axiom Book Awards). You can reprint provided you keep contact information in place.