Natural Born Sales Talent Is A Myth

Tony Hughes

Natural Born Sales Talent Is A Myth

Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's Maybelline. It's been said that we come into this world endowed with 'talents' and 'gifts'. Talents are something we apply our blood, sweat and tears to in order to become excellent and achieve self-mastery. It's hard, so we go for it. We crave the challenge that makes the endeavor attractive. In contrast, God-given gifts are so second-nature that we often overlook them for an entire lifetime because we fail to recognize or cherish them hiding in plain sight.

Are we a product of our selling environment; is it sales nature or lead nurture? (Pun intended!)

Nobody starts at the top although most Gen-Y people expect to. Nobody enters the world invincible with all their faculties fully developed. There's a myth that's worthy of that you must hire natural born sales leaders, born with that champion DNA, the inherent attitude and aptitude, the will to win and the thrill of the hunt.

But I just would like to debunk that myth with a series of empirical stories and archetypes of sales legends I have witnessed that broke the mold. Please keep in mind, I'm not endorsing all these behaviors as many are counter-intuitive and may cause collateral damage. I'm simply sharing these stories because I find them to be amusing archetypes that many of you may relate to who manage people or work in a lively salesforce. I share them to prove a simple point about the core factor governing sales ability:

  • The strong, silent type: This person doesn't say much. Often a former star athlete, they're extremely focused on the catch and pass or block and tackle aspects of sales. They're often laser focused on managing KPIs. They listen more than they talk and they manage a massive book of business or wide open, greenfield frontier territories with aplomb. Dressed in a humble yet ubiquitous beige twill blazer, their explanation is simple: "You think too much. Keep it simple, look them in the eye and simply say, we're going to transform your business."
  • The sweet, sensitive empathetic relator: Omnipresent at company events, church functions, community gatherings, Instagram blaring, culture committee; this person lives to be around others and thrives in seeing them do well and win. This is a 'relationship builder' who breaks the mold, that sells the lights out regardless of becoming out of vogue with the advent of The Challenger Sale.
  • The radically funny, loud-mouth uncouth non-PC practical joker: He cracks inappropriate jokes in front of your largest client making you cringe but executives absolutely love him. Riddle me that! He's easy going, a family man and makes it all look easy with a wry sense of humor. Working remotely, he's fixing a tile floor by hand at his son's school gym, while you're on a conference call for a client hand-off or internal knowledge transfer session. He doesn't care and he is a disarming force to be reckoned with because he has non-hunger in front of customers and it attracts people. Non-hunger and humor are his irresistible, innate weapons!
  • The complete techno head introvert who never picks up the phone: This rep has mastered LinkedIn and Twitter and built networks of 50,000+. She blogs, ghostwrites, lives on multiple time-zones and is constantly teeing up qualification discovery calls. She has huge social media game, she's a one-woman-marketing-machine, supporting the entire company with fresh pipeline based on trigger event research, leveraging various listening platforms and marketing automation. Because of her, you don't even need a CMO. She's a bookworm who writes and reads voraciously, kind of shy, and blows peoples' minds in social. Social media extrovert, phone introvert. But she's the best of old school writing meets new schools Social Selling 3.0.
  • The delegator manager: Comfortable making less income than the best in her salesforce, she always asks: 'How's life?' But she actually means it so it cuts-through. She naturally delegates to such an extent she's in at 9 and out at 5 and got more presentations out than you (and tailored); massively productive, rarely ever getting stuck with busy work. She rapidly moves up through management with her ability to organize and apply the 80/20 principle. Yep, she's now the COO because she doesn't care who gets then credit so long as the great results are achieved.
  • The engineer who now sells: Buried in a Kindle, he's rapidly building flow-charts and Gantt charts, beautiful Tableau Domo dashboards (there's one within the linked post) on an iPad while listening intently, challenging CTOs and CIOs and constantly in demand. Nicknamed "The Professor," dressed in Trunk Club hipster outfits, he's always one step ahead of the technology curve. Not necessarily likeable or personal, but he's the backbone, lifeblood of the company. Everyone wants to bring him in on sales calls because he nails it in product demos and is indefatigable in his ability to execute as a sales engineer. You can stand him up at the head of a twelve executive RFI gauntlet and he'll school the entire group. Several people will surreptitiously attempt to hire him after the lunch workshop adjourns.
  • The awesome parent who whittles wood and is hyper-active on Chatter & Yammer: This guy is the group oracle, helps everyone, multi-tasks like crazy (is always spending quality time with his kids I might add), is flown-in with all key clients, existing clients and gets dialed by the CEO. Yep, the one with bodyguards nobody has met yet. He boomeranged back from a small start-up and now appears to be everywhere at once. Constantly closing seven figure deals, loves his job, is amiable and helps everyone with a grin to match his permanent unassuming plaid.
  • The whiz kid party animal: Showed up late to the QBR during the on-site in Vegas. Built a PowerPoint so rock solid, it floored the regional VP with its precision, even built screenshots of software only hypothetically developed that in-turn floored the VP of Engineering. Woozy in presenting, made it look all too easy. The kicker is, he reduces friction and anxiety over implementation risk and makes it 'look easy' for the customers, too. Yahtzee! But don't let him sell vaporware to clients, it will come back to bite you!
  • The disciplined anal-retentive former restaurant manager: Process, process, process. Salesforce dashboards and accountability are his stock in trade. He walks the halls with a putter and shakes your hand with a wry smile, reminding you that your numbers ought to be better in the far territory. He's always wise-cracking and throwing popcorn to try to land it in another executive's mouth. He has managed hundreds if people over the years and watches everyone like a hawk. His ability to micro-manage inspires fear and loyalty. The team can't wait to execute for him meticulously. He can rely on his team for execution and set for auto-pilot while his generals drive massive success. He's your best friend when compensation plans get recalibrated and territories redrawn.
  • The fitness pro turned mattress salesman turned club promoter turned top sales person three years running: He sends the paperwork confidently so the customer can fill it out. Years later, colleagues are still wondering how he can close the biggest deals without ever leveraging a presentation deck. It seems like an impossible breach of sales-cycle protocol but clients trust his unorthodox method and it simply works. He's so good at his job, his largest retail or client is at the bar with him and his colleagues are asking who the new team member is? That's how embedded he is in the client's business. Ultra-conservative banking clients love him, go figure.
  • The old school phone magician: She's rarely on a computer, still uses a day-timer, may even have a "brick phone" or pager, prefers face-to-face, phone calls and on-sites over doodads and gadgetry and doesn't even use Facebook. She's carrying the team number quarter over quarter. An iconoclast by being so old school, she talks to people, builds trust and moves the most contracts, generating impressive new bookings.
  • The anger case: Literally takes offense when customers don't buy but they ironically appreciate the heat of passion and typically don't mind a bit of positive sales pressure because everyone else is trying to win them over with smarmy charm. This is a paradoxical character that gets offended when customers don't buy. Emails from her often read: "Status report." She is a Challenger persona and loves tension, especially with those who get in her way internally.
  • The air traffic controller, monotone, emotionless: Talks to clients as if he's guiding an Airbus A380 in a crisis. Quiet and devoid of emotion, this matter of fact, Department of Motor Vehicles mumbler, sends a signal of urgency and causes a magnetic pull to buy. The anti-sellers can't figure-out why these sales assassins get chased by elephants. It's a Bermuda Triangle effect similar to dogs smelling fear.
  • The loud one with the boisterous cackle [could even be sinister], blustering, breathing heavily and causes clients to turn down the volume on conference calls: Incredibly confident, speaking loudly, always getting up to do karaoke at the company party. Sweats his collar and unravels the tie. He tends to hang-out with key customers, even go on international flights with them. He watches boxing and is a sports fanatic, a shouter; this person is gregarious and the volume goes up to 11. Oddly, they have the ability to whistle in a half dozen ways and it's always the loudest ones. No fingers even needed! Annoying but amazing.
  • The organizational analyst: Risk-averse, this planner grows existing business with aplomb. They have a deep affinity for the Excel spreadsheet, pivot tables, macros and chart fireworks. Softly spoken, she'll listen for forty minutes on a forty-five minute call without saying a word, taking crystalline Evernotes in presentation-quality. She most likely won an award in college for organizational management excellence and will do everything possible to go deeper in fewer accounts. Clients love her attention to detail and the outputs she produces, always right on the money.
  • The Project Manager who sees everything in selling as Project Management:This unique breed of seller builds ingenious account planning maps and locks-in clients for every appointment all weeks in advance and has all the QBRs set six-months out. They approach sales like building software and bring the respective technology and executives teams to the table to get sign-off early. They leverage spreadsheets, calendar software and even virtual assistants to run their diary like a Swiss watch with meticulous pre-planned closes. They love to talk Six Sigma and rave about how easy it all is. They buy you a book on Project Management and suggest you become a PMP. Their close-plans can be trusted, their forecast accuracy is phenomenal.
  • The prognosticator of doom: Reading passages from their prospect's annual report they've printed out, he warns that "things look grim" if you don't change from the status quo. Every insight they share supports a thesis of 'dinosaur thinking' and being obsoleted by competition. "It's clear your numbers are down and your business may be facing extinction." Extremes of black and white, full suit, they show you how your competitors are lapping you. Frankly, they scare the crap out of any prospect that will listen, and CEOs love it because it's the first sales person in ages to truly give a wake-up call which is what inspired them to take the job and turnaround the company with disruptive thinking. They embrace Challenger thinking so persistently it's to such an extent that customers actually start to agree it's high time for sea change.
  • The yes man who references Pumping Iron, Generation Iron and Navy Seal Training: A political genius, everyone could get canned and he'd still get promoted. This manager makes everyone feel like gold, apologizes easily, forgives, is the ultimate repository of 80's movie trivia and writes in acronyms he seems to magically make up as opposed to well known ones. He creates sales awards out of kitchen items and is a mensch. Glengarry Glen Ross DVDs are distributed at sales kickoffs and awards abound for pure irony. He will invest in a major laugh and always lifts spirits.
  • The spiritual guru: Quotes Coach John Wooden or Coach Wayne Bennett after meditation; is "mostly into" positive psychology, Wayne Dyer meets Deepak Chopra, high fives Tony Robbins in the aisle at Dreamforce and spends all day visualizing 'the close' and doing affirmations. He's at a TEDx conference giving an ad-hoc slam poetry speech when he meets his counterpart in the buying organization, invites him to indoor rock climbing followed by yum-cha in China Town and almost always magically closes a deal through his socially conscious network in the eleventh hour.
  • The most competitive human ever: Constantly casting FUD on competitors, she hosts a FUD social stream in the company chatter. "Crushing it" is the cornerstone of her vocabulary, "failure is not an option." This sales giant is so fiercely competitive she'll relish losing a deal just to ensure her competitor lost it too. Fantasy sports champion, she will have a dance-off in the hallway and challenge clients to a rousing game of tennis, even armwrestling on the spot. Instant camaraderie and rapport is built and customers know if she'll fight this hard in all areas of life, she'll do the same to drive success of her solution within the buying organization.
  • Story-time: She been to 50 countries with 50 stories a piece, regales colleagues and clientele with her (mis)-adventures and weaves them back into a business lesson gestalt triggering the right hemisphere of the brain which executives emotionally relate to. She needs her own publishing company to keep up with the volume of content she generates, starting most sentences with "Remember that time when..." even on the second time you've met her.
  • The den mother group therapist: Asking how you're 'really doing,' getting to the bottom of the issues, holding court at the water cooler, mediating arguments, airing out the space. He's even solving inter-office politics within the customer's company. Loves to listen with the patience of a doctor, gets to the root of the problems and grows key deals.

So witness this motley crew of top performers and the diversity of personalities and profiles. What is the through-line to all these idiosyncratic styles? It's further proof that sales people are not necessarily born with 'it'. There's no 'it' factor or even X factor. Almost like anthropomorphism, we'd all love to proclaim and endow those we choose for winning, even by luck or chance, with these lofty traits. People that are authentically themselves, confident and comfortable in their own skin, sell better.

Customers relate to the humanizing qualities of your corporation and they build trusted advisor relationships with those stakeholders that are even quaintly flawed. Each of these archetypes, typically all did something remarkable in their own right. Echoing what they are most passionate about, they cut through the hype and the formality. Many hated their job and may even be searching for a new one as we speak, hopping around in that nether region of sales leader attrition circa 18 months... but that's beside the point.

Much like psychological learning styles, a seasoned manager must learn to pull out the best in her people. The one area you can coach consistently is bringing out each individual contributor's signature style. Help your people become the best version of themselves and come into their own. Create a constructive agile learning environment where each team member can thrive in their own sweet way. Some may be visual learners or present with amazing SlideShare imagery. Others are skeptical, analytical, cynical, rebellious, humorous, gregarious or even super negative. Teach them all to play to their strengths, flatten your organization and learn as much from them as they can from you.

Do you believe that sales talent is innate or that it's a function of environment? Who are some of the bizarre and outrageous personalities you've encountered in your selling journey that may not even be house broken or even manageable? Please leave some comments with your amusing stories from the field. I personally advocate one hundred percent integrity in sales. Authenticity is the new litmus test for success. As the jazz standard goes: There'll never be another you. May we all achieve greatness by being trulyus because... we can. Food for thought!


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at or his sales methodology website at

Main image photo by Flickr: Francisco Osorio


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