Are Good Salespeople Born or Made?

The correct answer is both. Let me explain.

Over decades of sales leadership and management, I’ve confirmed DNA is the single best indication of success potential in a salesperson.

Conversely, I’ve hired many salespeople without sales DNA; however, in a team selling environment, they brought certain technical skills to the equation and performed well. They were not particularly effective in business development, but they brought account management skills to the team.

How did I know their DNA? I tested it. This knowledge allowed me to confidently organize the best sales resources to win new business opportunities.

Consider this: Because a salesperson meets quota in a different company or industry does not necessarily predict future success elsewhere. Many factors weigh into this phenomenon. You need to determine: How marketing interacts with sales? How leads are generated? What resources are available to the sales reps? And whether a formal sales process exists with support from sales enablement?

This said, certain sales attributes tend to contribute value in most situations, regardless of past sales experience. Tenacity. Discipline. Collaboration. You can train for these attributes. Some salespeople are simply born with them. Some sales reps are not, and it is against their DNA to develop them.

The global sales training industry produces more than 2.5 billion (USD) in revenues each year. So we know companies make a vigorous effort to teach core skills.

Before you spend dollars to develop skills teaching for new hires, it makes more sense to invest those dollars in the right people and place them in the right positions where they can thrive.

As an example, back in the day when Michael Jordan was the superstar guard for the Chicago Bulls, considered by many as the greatest player in the NBA, I would not have spent any money to make Dennis Rodman an outside shooter. He was a great rebounder, and the team needed him to fill that role. In his basketball DNA, Rodman could not be an outside shooter in the NBA.

Certain skills necessary for superior performance are intuitive to top salespeople; they bring their A-game to your organization no matter how you train them.

Yes, to some extent, you can make great salespeople. However, consistently successful reps are born with the greatness gene embedded in their DNA. World-class sales organizations recognize this reality and operate with a well-polished hiring and evaluation process.

How to Hire

In my years of hiring hundreds of sales reps, I learned to avoid certain traps. Please take advantage of my mistakes. Let’s review four top lessons:

1. Set Expectations: I learned this one from the great coach John Wooden. Failure to define your desired roles and expectations stands as mistake one. Let’s say the role you need to fill requires the sales rep to be more of a “hunter” than a “farmer.” Hire to that role and do not paint a rosy picture that marketing will come to the rescue with loads of leads.

Often, what I learned from putting a candidate through the DiSC® profiling system, enabled me to know with confidence if he or she had the DNA to live up to our expectation. 

According to an HBR article, The Best Ways to Hire Salespeople, research on thousands of exit interviews shows that poor job fit is the primary cause of poor performance and turnover. People, especially salespeople with a variable pay component, quickly become frustrated when hired for tasks that poorly fit their skills and preferences.

2. Don’t Poach the Competition. Too often, we think we will gain a major advantage if we steal a sales rep from the competition. I see companies attempt to steal the crops from their competitors, rather than grow their own. And why not?

Hiring managers sometimes don rose-colored glasses and see their competitors as far better at growing sales organizations. So they grab some magic seeds from their competitors’ acreage and think they, too, can enjoy a great harvest. Even when hiring experienced salespeople, it takes time for them to acclimate to your culture and ramp up to speed. In my experience, it takes nine months to one year, depending on the product or service sold, before reps begin to produce at expected levels.

3. Hire to Sales Task. Selling effectiveness is not a generalized It is a direct function of what sales tasks your company’s target market requires; what sales strategy you follow; what size organizations your salespeople call on; what buying processes your prospects use; and, the development stage of your organization─start-up, mature industry, growth mode.

Think about the difference between sales tasks for someone selling financial services to a Fortune 500 company with multiple decision makers versus selling to a family office of a high net-worth individual. A world of difference.

Once you set expectations and decide not to poach the competition, you must understand the relevant sales tasks needed to master your market and complement your strategy. Then, directly reflect those tasks in your hiring criteria and process.

When I ran a financial services company targeting the Fortune 500 in a technical sales environment, I hired people with accounting, legal and actuarial backgrounds. But I used the DiSC profile to ensure they could handle some business development, as well. My sales hires were DNA-ready.

4. The Right DNA. I mention DNA often as I believe it is one of the most important aspects of hiring and evaluating your sales force. I’ve discovered an invaluable resource I want to share: 

For the past twenty years, Objective Management Group (OMG) has applied its unique sales force evaluation and sales candidate assessment to 700,000 salespeople across every industry. We wrote about the surprising results in last week’s post.

Backed with massive data, OMG has been able to tie the success of certain salespeople to 21 Sales Core Competencies. The firm constantly improves, updates, enhances and perfects the science of evaluating candidates and entire sales forces. Recently, OMG updated its evaluation process to reflect how people sell and how prospects buy today.

I decided to incorporate the OMG evaluation process into my consulting practice when introduced to this product by a CEO who sent me OMG’s report and asked for my input. I read the extensive report and found it quite relevant to discussions I had with the CEO’s sales manager and his reps. Its recommendations were spot-on.

When I discussed the evaluation report with the sales manager, he did not think it was accurate. Disconnect? The results pointed to poor sales leadership with no coaching or processes in place. The sales manager was in denial and preferred to do things his way.

Could this situation exist in your company?

Please study these 21 Sales Core Competencies as identified by OMG. 

Source: Objective Management Group

I don’t recommend you go off to do an OMG assessment on your own without the expertise of an experienced sales consultant to do the essential advance interview work and, later, the interpretation and recommendations based on the data.

However, it is important to know that these tools are available to you. You do not have to settle for mediocrity.

I want to leave you with a little dark humor on sales incompetency from a Huffington Post article; Sales Reps Have Little to No Idea What They Are Doing.

“Have you ever dealt with an incompetent salesperson? Of course, you have. We all have. It turns out there’s a good reason for that, which is that nearly three-quarters of people who work in sales simply cannot execute . . .”

“At first glance, it seems shocking that there could be a profession in which three-quarters of practitioners are inept. If the same ratio were applied to medicine, we’d have patients dropping dead all over the place . . .”

If you want to stop “winging it,” figure out the DNA of your current salespeople, shore up their deficiencies with skills training, then set out to rebuild your team with those born to sell.

And know, we are here to help.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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