Friday, February 12, 2010

Are salespeople made or born?

Well, yes we were all born - but are future salespeople born with natural sales talent?
I asked this question to over 60 Realtors and their answers surprised me. Over 64% of them felt that salespeople were "born." It's as if they felt that you either had sales ability or you didn't. Wow!

In his book, Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin makes a strong case that our culture vastly over-rates the significance of "talent." He goes on to say, ". . . many people not only fail to become outstandingly good at what they do, no matter how many years they spend doing it, they frequently don't even get any better than they were when they started. . . In field after field, when it came to centrally important skills . . . people with lots of experience were no better at their jobs than those with very little experience." Scary thought!

But wait, there’s more …he adds, “Occasionally people actually get worse with experience. More experienced doctors reliably score lower on tests of medical knowledge than do less experienced doctors . . . research confirms that merely putting in the years isn’t much help to someone who wants to be a great performer.” Whoa!

A hall-of-fame Canadian football player told me, "Don't let comments about 'natural' talent fool you. When a player weighs over 260 pounds and is coming after you, the natural reaction is not to block and tackle. It takes hours, months, years of practice to instictively react in productive ways."

So what’s an ambitious salesperson to do? After 37 years of making sales calls and coaching others to high-performance, here’s what I see.

Techniques of selling can be learned, but we cannot teach others to want to sell. People have aspirations that are inexplicable to others. Why some people get a “charge” out of creating sales from nothing is a true mystery. But it’s visibly evident.

Selling is as much an art as a science. As a matter of fact, an overly granular approach to sales may be counter-productive. That said, I’m amazed at most salespeople’s lack of fundamental knowledge of their craft.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Well yes, but in the words of  Charles “T” Jones, “You can put salt in his oats and make him thirsty.” Within minutes, I can tell if a person is truly interested in elevating their competencies or simply looking for “tips and tricks” to part people from their money. Frankly, I find the former much more challenging and rewarding than the latter.

Selling is less about “gift of gab” and more about listening and connecting. When a prospective customers says to themselves, “He gets my situation and he gets me (how I think - what’s important to me..”), then we’ve done our job well.

Selling is more about finding a fit between what we offer and what a prospect wants and needs and is less about pitching a canned “solution” or spouting generic features and benefits.

Going back to our headline – we’re actually born selfish and narcissistic. If we weren’t we’d probably die. Babies seem oblivious to anything but being hungry, smelly, or wet. However, once we reach 2 or 3, it’s time to reach out and interact with others. After 19 or 20 years it’s probably a good idea to get over ourselves and try to do what Dale Carnegie suggested, “Become genuinely interested in other people.”

Who can resist a smile like this one?

“Become genuinely interested in other people” is easy to say, and most of us probably think we are that way. Over the years, I’ve been more manipulative and shallow than I’d be willing to admit at 25. Life is more fun, for me, when I challenge myself to be more skilled than yesterday and find opportunities to practice my craft. Selling is, to me, a profession requiring skills, knowledge and a healthy dose of self-awareness.
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