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Sales Pros - Born or Made?

I think all HR pros should recruit.  It's part of the future DNA of the HR pro.  Talent agent, salesperson, etc., all rolled up into one.  Recruit or die.  If you don't want to recruit on any level, you're probably an administrator.  Why wouldn't you want to be involved with bringing talent into the organization?

So, the first openings I've picked up at DAXKO (me serving as the primary recruiter) are as follows - VP ofGggrfilm Sales and Account Executive.  We're a software company, so I'm looking for peeps who have sold software or at least been involved in some type of technology sale with a fair amount of complexity.  Hit me in the comments, email or twitter if you've got a lead for me.

But, I digress.  Chasing openings on the sales front has made me think about the candidate flow that I have seen over the past week, and more importantly made me think of an age old question - are sales pros (good ones) born or made? 

When I think sales, I immediately think of Glengarry Glen Ross - it's just the natural thing to do.  When I think born or made, I think of Eddie Murphy in trading places.  With those images in mind, I went out to see what people were saying recently about great sales pros being born or made, and found the following nugget of wisdom from sales training guru Dave Kahle over at the Marketing Minute:

"Are successful salespeople made or born? It is the eternal question: the sales manager's version of nature versus nurture.

Since I spend most of my time teaching salespeople how to become better at their jobs, I'm 100 percent in the "made" camp.  A good salesperson acts in the right way. His or her behavior is ultimately what determines his degree of success.

Thus, I believe that anyone can be taught the principles, processes and practices of effective sales. I like to characterize it like this: On a 1 – 10 scale, I can take 7s and make them into 10s. I can take 4s and make them into 7s. I can take 1s and make them into 4s. But I can't take 1s and make them into 10s.

But, from one person's perspective, here are my observations of the essential character traits of a successful salesperson.

1. They truly want to be successful.

2. "The ability and propensity to learn."

3.  Successful salespeople deal successfully with adversity.

4. "the ability to focus."

Click through to the article for more detail regarding Dave's thoughts on the character traits.  What I got from Dave's article is the following - he believes that Sales Pros are usually made, not born.  He feels he can coach anyone to the next level, which is really a demonstrated skill I should be looking for in our VP of sales.  That being said, he's not going all the way - he's looking for character traits that are actually behavioral characteristics that a candidate either has or doesn't have.

My take - you should believe the candidate can be coached to maximize their effectiveness, but from a behavioral interviewing standpoint, you've got to look for anchors that have made them successful.  Are those behaviors they were born with?  Maybe not, but if they don't have the behavioral history you're looking for, you're probably going to pass since you don't feel like you have the time/ability to teach someone to focus, deal with adversity, etc.

Enough with the heavy talk.  Here's some Trading Places to get you into the born/made thought process.


Tim Sackett


I agree with you that there are certain foundational behavioral characteristics that great Sales Pros share, one being that they bounce back from rejection well - which isn't something you can be trained in. You either have in your make up to let it role off your back, or you end up selling aluminum siding over the phone (or better yet Vegetarian beef Salesmen ala Woody Harrelson in 7 Pounds).

If the person has the right make up, you can train them to sell anything.

Doug Davidoff

The answer to the question is an emphatic "Yes!" They are born and made.

It's like asking the question are professional baseball players born or made. The answer is that they have certain talents that are wired that give them the opportunity to be successful - then they work like hell to make themselves.

The idea that "anyone can succeed in sales" is every bit as misguided as the myth of "the natural born salespeople." BTW, this is true of every professional function in the world - we all have certain unique abilities that match better with some situations than others; then the great ones are the ones that work.

Deb Owen

I think it's a mixture of the two. There are traits that lend themselves more naturally to sales, as with most fields. Someone who is truly inherently shy and finds it difficult to talk to people, for example, might learn a sales process and even have some measure of success with the process. But they'll never be really good at it.

And people smell that kind of thing a mile away. I once knew a guy who decided to go into sales because 'that's where the money was'.....but he was a technical guy who didn't really like dealing with people all that much. He learned the process. But he couldn't really manage to connect with people. His venture into sales didn't really work out all that well.

All the best!

Mr. Chow

I believe sales people have certain characteristics that are inherent to them which would makes them natural in sales. The only thing that separates sales people, in my opinion, is the drive to sell more and more and more.... My girlfriend's family are born into sales, yet what separated the father's achievements from his daughters is that no sales figures to him is enough.

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I immediately think of Glengarry Glen Ross - it's just the natural thing to do. When I think born or made, I think of Eddie Murphy in trading places. With those images in mind,

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