Are Top Salespeople Born or Made?

by Jacques Werth, Founder of High Probability Selling.  © 2005

That's the question that was posed by a writer for a major trade publication.  He also asked me if salespeople should adapt their sales approach to the personality types of their customers.  Here's how I answered him...

  1. Selling is a skill, comparable to accounting or engineering.  Specific actions, properly applied in a proscribed order, produce the best results.  Given enough motivation, almost any skill can be learned without formal training.  Two of General Motors's top engineers never took an engineering course.  Michael Dell didn't major in computers and dropped out of college.
  2. Similar aptitude patterns are seen in highly successful salespeople, trial lawyers and teachers.  Salespeople who lack the right aptitudes and attitudes can substantially improve their sales skills, if they are willing to change their behaviors.  The changes they need to make are simple, yet it requires a lot of self-discipline to make those changes.
  3. The type of training that is most likely to produce dramatic improvement is based upon the latest understanding of how the human mind works.  It eliminates persuasion in favor of committed agreements.
  4. The theory that salespeople can assess a customer's personality type, and then adapt their selling techniques accordingly, has been widely promoted.  However, we have never seen a salesperson that can demonstrate that skill.

No one (or customer) has a static personality.  We all change continuously, reacting to stimuli as we receive them.  It's hard enough to figure out anyone's personality type  It's extremely difficult to analyze and react to it moment-to-moment.  I believe that only trained, experienced psychologists are likely to be able to make practical use of that theory.

So, Are Top Salespeople Born or Made?

We studied the top 1% of salespeople across 23 different industries.  Some are self-made, learning what works best through intuition and experience.  Many were trained, learned several selling systems, and eventually settled on the selling system that produces outstanding results.  The ironic thing is that most of the top salespeople are doing the same things, and what they are doing is radically different from the other 99% of salespeople.  Our conclusion is that top salespeople are clearly made.