How do you build a great salesperson? Are great salespeople born...or made? Are there breadcrumbs you can follow to find one? What would you look for?
Of course, I always looked for relevant experience. The closer to what I was looking for the better. A college degree was always a filter. It seemed important to me that somebody had the persistence to grind through at least the four years of college. Although the best salesperson I ever mentored, Mark Salmon, only had a high school degree.
His lack of higher education did not hamper his incredible natural ability. Mark went on to work in a small Florida town and, from that modest and humble location, became the #1 local cable advertising salesperson in the USA.
My best hires seemed to come about in a coupe of different ways; either the new hire was somebody I'd had my eye on for a while or we were able to generate a ton of applicants over a short period of time (a couple of days).
Caliper And Dr. Greenberg Was Always My "Ace In The Hole."
I was blessed, from the beginning of my management career (as a 27 year old general manager of a commercial radio station), to have had a resource named Caliper by my side. In reality, Dr. Herb Greenberg , Ph. D. has always been the personification of Caliper. He was the founder and chief architect of the research into what makes a great salesperson.
Dr. Greenberg was my ace in the hole during a 20 year career in commercial radio sales and management and throughout my 10 years as a Director Of Sponsorship And Broadcast Sales for an NBA sales team - the Orlando Magic. Not only did Greenberg's research and work help me, but his insights helped me to build a world class team of salespeople.
For context, the NBA sales team I lead was in the 20+ something size market in the NBA. Our sales revenues, however, were in the top 4 revenues of all NBA teams (out of 29). New York (largest market in the USA), Chicago (Michael Jordan days) and Los Angeles (Magic Johnson days) were the only teams that outsold us in total revenues.
In his most recent research, Dr. Greenberg identifies updated traits of great modern salespeople - some of which cannot be taught. According to the Caliper research, the key to success is desire. Unless the candidate has an internal burning desire to succeed, nothing else matters. But in addition to craving success, sales winners have five qualities in common: empathy, ego drive, service need, self image and utilitarian attitude.
The science I had always had to help me peaked during a very unusual event. I had the awe-inspiring experience of having my most current Caliper profile explained to me by Dr. Greenberg as he sat across the table from me one-on-one while I was in the NBA. It was eerily and painfully clear at that meeting I knew myself pretty well, but the great doctor knew me just a little bit better.
Sometimes Great Salespeople Also Need Great Teammates
My career in radio, television, and in pro sports all instilled in me a deep need to strive for excellence. Somehow, the people around me were nothing short of extraordinary. For one interesting year, I was a front office executive for the Orlando Arena Football Team - the Orlando Predators. In that single year while I was there, the Predators were named by the commissioner's office as the best front office staff int he AFL. That same year the Predators won the Arena Bowl (the AFL equivalent of the Super Bowl) by the largest margin of victory ever achieved in the league.
Most often, professionals who excel travel in packs. The Predators, however, had a secret weapon. Our president and leader was Mr. Jack ("call me "Blood") Youngblood. Blood was an all-pro and Hall Of Fall Inductee thanks to his incredible career with the Los Angeles Rams. He's still the only professional football player to finish playing in a divisional championship and the subsequent Super Bowl with a broken leg. That's tough leadership, baby. Hard to call in sick with a cold around that kind of tough.
I'm proud to say that in most of the organizations for which I worked, I had a fantastic team of all-star salespeople and dedicated support people with which to work. At the Magic, we also had a promotions department second to none in professional sports led by my colleague, Cari Haught-Coats. Without her help and support, I would never have been able to put together what still stands today as the largest non-cash prize in NBA history: A brand new, custom-build home. Great salespeople really can shine when surrounded by incredibly good teammates and partners.
So, What Comes Out On Top - Nature Or Nurture?
My combined actual field experience and the insights of Dr. Greenberg and Caliper lead me to believe that 80% of a great salesperson's makeup is from nurture. Some of the most important traits are build into a person at birth. They can be tamped down, of course. A normal (whatever that really is) upbringing will normally leave inborn personality traits intact.
By the time somebody graduates from college, for example, that person either inherently cares about other people or not (empathy). A salesperson either has the ability to bounce back from rejection (ego-strength) or is somewhat or totally crushed by it.
A person in sales either has a burning desire (I mean hair-on-fire type desire) to be a success in his or her field. An employee inherently strives for excellence.
People Who Sell Really Well Don't Ever Have To Be Pushy*
A great salesperson also has another inherent trait - the need to persuade people and make the sale (ego-drive). Oddly, it doesn't matter whether the subject is the best new widget or a sports team, the need to move another person to his or her viewpoint is a built-in, hard-wired personality trait.
By the way, ego-drive has nothing to do with aggressive, pushy, obnoxious behavior. It's just an inner driving force that, most often, is masked by another important behavior trait - sociability.
Of course, there's more to the nature part of the story.
However, let's move over to the nurture side of the equation.
There are some behaviors that need to be taught...or nurtured. One of my first supervisors/mentors in the radio business, Larry Kindel, taught me some incredible, invaluable lessons on which I was able to build my entire career. Larry was an ultimate nurturer. He demonstrated and was a driver of creativity, excellence and performance in everybody around him. It was like an exhilarating behavior/skill boot camp for six straight months. It was a life-altering and career-altering positive experience.
Larry taught me just about everything I ever needed to know about a career in sales and marketing.
Nurturing Includes Training, Mentoring, Books, Tapes, And Seminars
I'm hoping you nurture your people through regular training sessions both in the office and in the field. My recommendation is that a lot of that training concentrate on fact-based material with special emphasis on how to make your product or service work for your customer. Definitely not a steady of diet of hype. It seems to be particularly helpful if you can have customers document how they benefited from your company's efforts.
Nurturing would also include training from solid, fact-based programs like those from the Spin Selling group. If you're truly in the business of solving the problems clients have, I recommend you dive head first into their books and training. Their original book and practices were culled from 35,000 sales interviewers with sellers and buyers. Not surprisingly, the buying process in major sales looks a lot different than most company's sales process.
Be very careful about the training materials you provide to a sales team. Make sure the training nurtures the most productive behaviors for your people, your firm, and your clients.
When you interview prospective sales candidates, look for the inherent personality traits that are hard-wired into people who are - or will be - good at this work. Nurturing is an important component, but the foundation comes from the inherent nature of the candidate.
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