Sales and Marketing Sections

Are Great Salespeople Born or Made?

It’s the Latter, and It Comes Down to Attitude, Behavior, Technique


Jim Mumm

Jim Mumm

We’ve all heard the question; are great salespeople born or made?
It’s a great question because every business relies on sales; no sales means no company.
The only possible answer is that great salespeople are made. There are only three overarching determinates of success in any endeavor: attitude, behavior, and technique. And all three can be taught. Therefore, great salespeople must be made. Let me explain.
Let’s take the simple things first. Behavior consists of goals, plans, and actions. You probably remember that Yogi Berra said “you’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” Without goals, how can you tell if a salesperson got there? The best salespeople are those who set goals, and people can be taught to make goals.
Once goals are set, they can be achieved only by first developing a plan. There are thousands of books, classes, and software that can help us learn how to make plans.  Therefore, people can be taught to make plans. Finally, goals and a plan are great, but they must be followed up with actions. Except for our autonomic activities such as breathing, people simply cannot be born knowing what actions to take and how to take them.
People are born knowing very little about how to take any actions. We all learned what to do and how to act. Therefore, once again, people can be taught what actions to take and how to take them. Consequently, people can be taught how to set goals, make a plan, and take the actions to execute the plan. Nearly everything that can be taught can be studied, practiced, and improved upon. Therefore, people can be taught the behaviors necessary to make them great salespeople.
Next, let’s look at technique. Technique refers to the strategies, tactics, and personal presence used to implement behavior. The first two are easy. Strategies and tactics can and are routinely taught. Again, there are countless books, courses, and software designed to teach strategies and tactics. If we can’t teach these, we should close all the business and military schools.
Personal presence is a little harder to debunk. However, some descriptions include the first thing you notice about other people, the physical features: body, eyes, smile, voice, handshake, personality, mannerisms, attitude. Can’t each of these be learned? Of course they can be learned. Therefore, because strategies, tactics, and personal presence can all be taught, it just follows that technique too can be taught.
Finally we come to attitude. According to Wikipedia, attitude means “a person’s perspective toward a specified target and way of saying and doing things.” Webster’s defines attitude as “a mental position toward a fact or state.” In sales, I would argue that attitude consists of how you view the market you are in, how you view your company, and how you view yourself. Again, let’s take the easy stuff first: market and company. If a salesperson believes he or she is in a tough market, couldn’t a senior executive teach them how to leverage or exploit the company’s position in the market?
Every senior-level executive or business owner worth his salt can perform a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), or pay to have one performed, to demonstrate to the salesperson how their company is uniquely positioned to capture sales. A lot of executives don’t do this. But if they did, the salesperson could certainly be taught how to approach the market and articulate their company’s unique position within it to capture sales.
So that leaves us with the salesperson’s view of himself or herself. Isn’t this is the true essence of attitude? As difficult as it sounds to determine if one can be taught to have a better attitude or not, this is simple, too.
You merely need to remember the last time you went to the gym or worked out at home. You might have been tired or unenthusiastic, but once you put on your shoes and hit the treadmill, didn’t you instantly feel better? Didn’t your attitude instantly improve? Of course it did. If one can so easily manipulate one’s own attitude, wouldn’t it be simple to teach someone how to do this? Again, this is an easy answer — a resounding yes!
The bottom line is that there truly is one must-have characteristic of a salesperson: he or she must have a desire to continuously learn and grow. Anyone who has this desire can be an extremely effective and successful salesperson. Anyone with a desire to learn can be taught a sales system, and those who use a superior sales system will consistently outperform other salespeople.

Jim Mumm is CEO of Sandler Training in Chicopee and the author of Why Sales People Fail and What to do About It;

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