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Do Great Salespeople Make Great Managers?

That is an age-old question, isn’t it?  You can insert your favorite sports example here which typically involves a superstar/Hall of Fame-caliber athlete who fails as a coach because the game came too easy to him.  But does this analogy work in the sales arena also?

This Sales & Marketing Management article approaches the topic with aplomb. The pull quote (emphasis mine):

Sometimes great salespeople aren’t as good at coaching and managing other people – they’re excellent at being individual contributors, they’re great at building relationships with customers and working deals from start to finish, but they lack the patience or coaching ability or intangible interpersonal savvy to be responsible for other people’s performance.

Intangible interpersonal savvy is a long way to say empathy.  In assessing sales candidates for over a decade, some patterns become evident.  Top salespeople are typically “hunters.”  These hunters hopefully have some empathetic skills, but they are often used solely as tools to get to a close.  And in so doing, the hunters will usually dial down their empathy to achieve their goal of winning the deal.  This ability is what makes them so effective as a salesperson.  They drive themselves to succeed and use their empathy, when needed, to simply get a read on the prospect before closing.

Now place that profile into a sales leadership role.  This hunter may have some empathy, but they use it within a limited scope.  When it comes to coaching their team, they drive on them – pushing the salespeople based on the inner drive they possess as hunters.  Sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t.  I’ve even seen other hunters push back against this leadership.

The author of the article offers 3 strong ideas to assist in finding the right sales leader.  I like his summary from the first point:

Many of the best salespeople love to work alone – they pride themselves on being great individual performers and goal setters who hold themselves accountable for excellent results. However, sales management is not an individual job – it’s all about coaching and communicating and helping other people reach their goals as part of a larger team.

Sales leaders have to work through their team.  What often happens is that the hunter turned sales leader will accompany his or her team on sales calls and actually end up doing the close for them.  They insert their drive into the deal since that skill is more familiar to them than the coaching skill.  I evaluated an entire sales team once that had a hunter sales leader who behaved this way.  The sales team learned to simply get appointments, softly qualify them, then bring in the hunter sales leader to close the deal for them.  This is an unsustainable model as was eventually born out at this company.

One closing thought – you do not have to guess at this behavior – it can be assessed with our tools.  If you are interested, please contact us today to learn more.

Hiring What You Need To Know

Experience is a tricky component to successful sales hiring in that it is often overvalued.  Don’t get me wrong, it is important, but you never want to overvalue it.  The reason is that you can teach new salespeople about your product or service a lot easier than you can teach them how to sell.  A sports analogy (I know, often overused) – it is far easier to teach a football wide receiver what routes to run in your offense than it is to teach them how to run a 4.3 40 yard dash.  Some will simply never run a 4.3.  This is why talent is far more valuable to successful hiring.

This article discusses this point in clear terms:

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention experience, and that is for good reason. When you find a great talent who is passionate about what your organization is doing, experience doesn’t matter. Great people can decipher what they need to learn in order to be successful. Twenty five years in the same industry or with the same company is not necessarily a good thing. It’s much harder to unlearn what you know then learn what you need to know.

Agreed.  The author discusses talent in terms of attitude, competency and mindset in an intriguing manner.  As they say, read the entire thing.

Uncommon Sense

I’ve been swamped of late with sales candidate assessments for different customers and have encountered an important trait – common sense.  This is a broad topic, but we use it in a fairly defined manner – using common sense.  We actually measure this aptitude in one of our assessments which often leads to rather pointed discussions…especially when a candidate has a low score in this area.

But what of it?  Our definition utilizes speaks to common sense being more of a natural reflex as opposed to a logical thinking process.  I’m not talking about intuition but rather the practical thinking in regards to seeing the world.  Does that make sense?  The ability is clearly beneficial to successful selling.

Think of salesperson’s task – successfully convince a stranger to hand over their (or their company’s) money for your product or service solution.  Most times salespeople have to go to the client’s facility to meet with them.  Most times they have never met the prospect.  Most times they are not certain of all of the buying factors (need, budget, decision process, timing, etc.).  If you think about it, this is a tall order.

Now think of a salesperson with the ability to see things in a practical manner, to see the world clearly.  How intrinsically helpful is this ability?  A salesperson with this aptitude can move through a qualifying process quickly and accurately.  In essence, they are more efficient.

A salesperson lacking in this area has to incorporate more aids (record keeping, organizing tools, selling system reminders, etc.) to move through the same area.  It has been my experience that these salespeople will move slower in comparison to the aforementioned salespeople.  These salespeople will also miss some important qualifying points.  They will, essentially, take longer to cover the same ground.

I’m not sure this distinction is necessarily critical in the present market.  Most companies I talk to are thoroughly qualifying every lead – they are not overwhelmed with hot leads.  Yet, the economy will pick up and business will start to move into a faster pace when it does.  At that point, a less efficient, slower-moving salesperson may become a real liability.

If you are not assessing salespeople today, it is time to start.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Warning – psychology babble coming your way from Fast Company.  I encounter this effect often with clients:

That judgment is what’s called, in psychology, the Fundamental Attribution Error. Meaning that we tend to attribute people’s behavior to their core character rather than to their situation. So when somebody cuts you off in traffic, you think, “What a jerk!” You don’t think, “I wonder situation he’s in that’s causing him to drive so crazy.” Even though in those times when YOU have driven crazily, it was almost certainly because of the situation you were in—you were late for a job interview or a date.

May I make a suggestion?  The use of assessments introduces objective measurement into the situation which helps to limit fundamental attribution error.  Limiting subjectivity generally leads to better hiring especially with salespeople.

Salespeople – Born Or Made?

The nature vs. nurture debate is one for which I am most intrigued.  My Bachelor’s degree is in psychology and this topic was a popular debate topic in my courses.  Yesterday I came across this article from – Are entrepreneurs born or made?  As I look at the stats, I tend to interpret the result as saying entrepreneurs are made:

Shane and his fellow researchers compared the entrepreneurial activity of 870 pairs of identical twins — who share 100% of their genes — and 857 pairs of same-sex fraternal twins — who share 50% — to see how much of entrepreneurial behavior is genetic and how much is environmental.

The mathematics behind quantitative genetic modeling are rather complicated, but the upshot was fairly straightforward: Entrepreneurs, the researchers concluded, are about 40% born and 60% made.

The 40% is a significant number; one that ties into salespeople also.  The article contains an excellent example as to where it derives its significance:

But he doesn’t totally dismiss nature’s role. “For someone without aptitude, I don’t think those things can be taught,” he says. “I can’t make a librarian into a Broadway performer.”

I believe strong salespeople are nurtured and developed within the right sales environment.  Yet, there is a nature/born component to strong salespeople also – the 40% born and 60% made split seems accurate to me.  The critical factor in the “40% born” side is their aptitudes.  We describe aptitudes as intrinsic talents. These are talents that salespeople possess – they are not learned.  They can be refined, but they cannot be created.  Salespeople either have these intrinsic talents or they do not.

For instance, it is difficult, almost impossible, to make a successful salesperson out of someone who lacks the aptitude Handling Rejection.  Few territory reps are successful without having a strong Personal Accountability aptitude.  Hire a remote salesperson with low Initiative and you will have trouble.

One facet of our assessments is to measure a salesperson’s aptitudes in comparison to their present sales skills.  This comparison reveals areas where they may have underdeveloped sales skills today, but they possess the aptitude…it simply needs to be refined into a skill.

Talent Is Dreadfully Cheap

How about this quote from Stephen King’s Danse Macabre (h/t

… talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing. Talent is a dull knife that will cut nothing unless it is wielded with great force — a force so great that the knife is not really cutting at all but bludgeoning and breaking… Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle.

Defeatist Thoughts

Isn’t there an old sports axiom that states games are won or lost before you ever take the field?  Well, at least some form of that saying. lists a handful of self-defeating thoughts from the sales world (email newsletter – sorry, no link).

Here they are:

  • Defeatist (accepting, expecting, or being resigned to defeat)
  • Cynical (contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives)
  • Vindictive (seeking revenge)
  • Blame/ Fault (who cares? what are we going to do now?)
  • Wishful (do what you can to influence the deal and keep moving)
  • Self-pity (get over yourself… complain less… especially to yourself)
  • Worrisome (it won’t help, costs time, and can drag you down)
  • Jealous (want it? earn it)
  • Pre-argumentative (the imaginary argument you have to prepare yourself for the argument that may never happen)
  • Post-argumentative (the imaginary argument you have where you’re quicker than you were in the actual argument)
  • Procrastinatory (if you’re going to procrastinate, you might as well do something fun instead of thinking about how bad it is that you’re procrastinating… dummy)

I find that fourth one (blame/fault) to be especially common in sales…and quite detrimental.

Separation Clarity

Good article here from titled Reject Me, Please.  Handling rejection just may be the most important trait of any strong salesperson.  Rejection is the key differentiation between sales and all other positions.  Salespeople have to be able to handle this topic well.

Excellent sales people realize it’s about the products and service, and not them. They may have represented the product poorly and answered questions about the services ineptly, but nonetheless, the opposition is about what’s being sold, not the seller. This ability to distinguish between the purveyor and the purveyed I call Separation Clarity.

Well stated and I am now a fan of the phrase “separation clarity.”  I tend to tell salespeople that sales is what you do, it is not who you are – almost like an actor in a play.

Here is the reason why this separation is difficult for many:

Successful salespeople have support networks. They do not rely on random others’ feedback, or approval, or validation, or even communication. They know who they are and are bolstered by their loved ones, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances.
      Personally, I’ve seen very few top salespeople who don’t have great loves in their life, or close friends, or family of some kind. Thus, this is the Appropriate Love Factor. You don’t need your prospect, client, or buyer to love you.

Exactly.  Too often salespeople confuse rapport with relationship.  The need is to establish rapport with the prospect and earn their respect.  It is not wise to target a personal relationship with a prospect since that approach is what leads to the difficulty in handling rejection.

Notice I wrote “prospect.”  Close relationships can develop with customers over time, but that should not be the salesperson’s motivation.

Lack Of Attention To Detail

Derrick wrote a series on sales traits last year which transcends sales and applies to everyone.  I was catching up on my RSS reader from the Labor Day weekend and came across this perfect example to illustrate the lack of Attention to Detail.  According to this post from US News & World Report, employees of media agency Carat learned about a planned layoff by management through an email.  Because someone did not have an abundance of the attention to detail trait, an email meant strictly for management accidentally went out to everyone in the company.

This is why we stress the use of assessments to “x-ray” a person’s hidden abilities and talents, or lack thereof.  Unfortunately these weaknesses often come to the surface in situations similar to the aforementioned example.  I’m sure that the Carat executives would like to have known if this employee had a natural trait for attention to detail before handing this task off to them.

Persuasive Tips

Persuasion is a key ability of any successful salespeople.  Think of the worst car salesperson or door-to-door salesperson you have encountered and you will know why this ability is so critical to success.’s article – How persuasive are you? – interviews an individual who runs the Persuasion Institute who brought up this fine point:

Let’s take, for instance, how we handle objections, whether from a customer or some other audience, such as a boss we’re asking for a raise. Early on in life, we learn to perceive objections as opposition, so we get defensive. An unskilled persuader, often without realizing it, will show tension, uneasiness, or irritation when someone raises an objection, usually because the objection or concern stirs up the persuader’s own insecurities: “Aren’t I doing a good enough job explaining this? Didn’t I go over that already?” This way of thinking will only make matters worse.

By contrast, great persuaders who have learned new persuasion skills know how to welcome objections. Instead of seeing them as opposition, these persuaders see objections as a natural, and valuable, part of the process. They use their audience’s concerns as a way to open a dialogue, a chance to exchange ideas and discover new areas of common ground. Truly great persuaders may cut to the chase by addressing an objection before it’s even been voiced, just to get that communications ball rolling.

I say that is a fine point in that how salespeople handle rejection is key to their success.  We often discuss what traits are most important in sales and I think I would vote for handling rejection.  I think it is, in simple terms, the key differentiator between high-performance sales and mediocrity.

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