Are Salespeople Born or Made? The Real Story

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 @ 10:10 AM

Several readers sent me the link to this article that discusses whether salespeople are born or made.  Prior to that article, many others have attempted to answer the same question in the past few years.  The common theme to each attempt is reliance on personality traits and, in Martin's case, Language Specialization, Modeling of Experiences, Political Accumen and Greed. Good grief Charlie Brown!

Before we look at the science - not surveys and personalities - let me explain - me.  I was both born and made to sell.

As someone who has studied the concept of life purpose, it is quite clear to me, and probably those who know me well, that I was born to do what I do.  Yet, I am certain that anyone who knew me as a child or young man would be astonished to learn that:

  • I am able to talk with people at all, never mind speak to audiences and consistently be rated as #1.  As a kid, I wasn't even able to give a book report in front of the class.
  • I have relationships with so many people.  As a kid, I never had more than 2 or 3 acquaintances.
  • I am a salesperson.  How can you sell if you don't talk with anyone?
  • I am a trusted advisor to so many companies.  Who would have known that the kid who didn't speak could get others to listen?
  • I have so much self-confidence.  I was afraid of my own shadow and any kid bigger than me. Since I was always the smallest in my class, that didn't exclude anyone!
  • That I ask such good questions.  I used to simply accept what was being said.  Now my questions are my trademark.
So while I may have been born or destined to do what I do, nothing came naturally. I had to learn everything about people, human behavior and sales in order to be successful at selling, and I practiced more than you could ever imagine.  When I finally became successful (in my mind that was around 1990 - 4 years AFTER I entered what was then the sales training space), it was only then that the never-ending stream of fresh, new, innovative concepts began to come so naturally.  I must have been born to do this!
Now let's look at the science.  The reality is that science can't tell us who was born to sell and who was made to sell!  
The data can tell us whether they chose to sell or whether sales was their only option.  The key word is option.  There were always options other than selling - it's just that ditch-digging, making burgers, or sweating in a manufacturing plant were options they didn't choose.  So in a way, whether they are aware of it or not, everyone in sales chose to be in sales.
The science does tell us whether or not they should be in sales. After salespeople have been assessed, we know whether they have the will and the DNA to sell.  Any gap in skills can always be taught as long as the will is there and the DNA supports selling.  Sometimes, the DNA isn't there but the will is so strong and the salesperson is so motivated to overcome the limits of their DNA.  Clearly, these individuals are made but since they also chose sales, were they also born or destined for it?  When the skills are there too that just makes the "making" part a bit easier!
The mistake that most observers make occurs when someone has an outgoing personality and they can speak intelligently about their product.  "Experts" conclude that the individual was born to sell.  For an indivdual so gifted, my conclusion is only that they were born with the gift of gab - not a trait of top performers - and that they can explain things well - not a trait limited to top performers.  Therein lies the problem with personality traits.  They are traits possessed by top performers but not limited to top performers.
So are salespeople born or made?  Yes.  If I can develop your salespeople and they become really good, they were made.  But if they were already in sales - had already chosen sales and had the will and the DNA for sales - then they were also born for it.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management functions, sales assessments, personality traits of successful salespeople

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for eight consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.

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