Oct 31, 2019 • Blog

Are Great Salespeople Born or Made?

If you’ve been in sales long enough, you’ve heard the term “natural-born salesperson.” In many professions, it’s common to refer to someone as a natural-born _______ (fill in the blank). Especially, in the sports world. How many times have you heard a spectator or coach say, “They are a natural-born athlete”?

So, here’s the question…Is there such thing as a natural-born salesperson?

No, there is not. Great salespeople aren’t simply born, they are trained and they are self-made.

Consider Angela Duckworth’s ideas from her fascinating book, Grit. In Grit, Duckworth addresses the born vs. made argument. She even recalls insight from Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher.

“Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius,” Neitzche said. “For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking.”

To paraphrase and modernize Nietzsche’s theory…

“It’s easier for people to believe in the natural-born_________ (fill in the blank) than to admit they could’ve attained that level of expertise if they’d have only tried harder.”

What if your tendency to try was limited to your likelihood of winning?

The natural-born salesperson is a myth that people use to justify their performance when compared to top-achieving salespeople. Again, it’s easier to suggest that someone is naturally gifted than to put in the actual work.

In a recent presentation, I conducted a live poll with several hundred sales leaders. I asked a basic question about their top performing salesperson:

Which statement best describes your top salesperson?

A. My top salesperson is more talented than they are motivated.


B. My top salesperson is more motivated than they are talented.

Seventy percent of sales leaders admitted that their top salesperson is more motivated than they are talented. Referring to the best salespeople as “naturals” is a convenient way for sub-par salespeople to let themselves off the hook. Rather than assuming a top-performer is naturally gifted, ask yourself, “What am I doing wrong?” and “What are they doing right?” Embrace humility and realize that we can all get better if we put in the effort.

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