Developing salespeople for your business

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By Sue Barrett

The question ‘are salespeople born or made?’ has been asked for decades and the debate rages on. Many will argue that they are born.

I disagree, in part. Essentially you can train anyone in anything if they really want to learn. They may not be brilliant at it but if they are determined they can usually make a good go of it. Which is why selling can be taught. But like any task there will be those people who are naturally suited to the task at hand and those who have to work a lot harder to get good results.

I often use the analogy of swimming, which is not an easy sport to learn. Almost everyone can learn to swim well if given good instruction and proper tuition. However, not everyone is predisposed to be the next Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps. Genetically wired for swimming greatness, these two outstanding performers are shining examples of talent and ambition meeting opportunity combined with excellent tuition and coaching.

Although many swimmers are not blessed with the swimming genes of Thorpe and Phelps, if they are determined to succeed and given the opportunity to receive excellent tuition and coaching they can draw upon their desire for accomplishment and achieve a standard of excellence in their chosen sport as well.

They may not ever become a household name but they may still to make it to the national swimming titles (which is no mean feat in Australian swimming) or an international event which still means they are in the top 1-3% of swimmers in the world. They too have achieved excellence.

For those who made it to the state titles or performed well at local competitions they too are still way ahead of those people who have not learned to swim properly. Wouldn’t it be great to have a spread of salespeople who were all competent and able to compete at a high standard?

This swimming analogy is akin to the state of the selling profession. Most people are not trained in how to sell in a competent and skillful manner. Instead, training salespeople in most companies has become the equivalent of throwing them in the deep end and expecting them to sink or swim, or in this case, sell.

The reason why the question ‘are salespeople born or made?’ persists and people keep claiming they are born instead of made is because the good ones, like everyone else, were often thrown in the deep yet, unlike their floundering or drowning colleagues, they managed to work out how to sell well, intuitively.

The value of sales training

Why leave good sales performance to chance? If you dig deeper beyond the myths and legends of sales superstars you will find very few people have been given proper training, coaching or advice as to how to sell well. Instead, businesses often rely on the sales superstars (those born to sell) to carry the load of their sales performance with no way of transferring or teaching their knowledge to others which is a high risk manoeuvre into today’s complex world.

For many years people have been searching for that one magic quality, the one key ingredient that distinguishes top performing salespeople from all others—a magic ingredient with which only the special are anointed. If you take my swimming analogy it was probably sheer bloody mindedness to just survive.

However here are some of those qualities that have been espoused as the one and only magic ingredient:

  • Not call-reluctant
  • Resilient
  • Extroverted
  • Persuasive
  • A good talker
  • Charming.

The trouble with taking a singular approach to defining high level sales performance is that it assumes there is a one-size-fits-all approach to sales, and only those people with that ‘special’ quality can sell. This is certainly not the case.

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