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Are High Performance Salespeople Born or Made?

June 2018
Originally published by Professional Performance Magazine


The Answer May SHOCK You . . . And Change the Way You Recruit Forever!

I have been assessing salespeople and advising companies on recruiting sales talent for over fifteen years, and if there are two clichés that drive me absolutely crazy, while costing companies tens of millions of dollars, they are:

  1. Anybody can be a productive salesperson. Wrong!
  2. Anybody can be trained to sell well. Wrong again!

It never ceases to amaze me how some companies recruit, say, engineers or web developers using strict and rigorous technical standards to be sure they can do their jobs; but then turn around and hire salespeople, on whom the company’s very life depends, on intuition, gut instinct and hope. Maybe that is a leftover from the days before technology and data-driven assessments were available. But one thing is for sure, if you are not using today’s available science to select true sales talent, you are going to be crushed by competitors who are embracing contemporary recruiting and selection technology and techniques.


Great sales talent is born. Talent begets development

Salesperson selection and recruitment should involve exactly the same set of dynamics that are at work in professional sports. For example, professional football teams scour the college talent pool for athletes who are potentially strong and fast enough to compete with others at the professional level. They then take those athletes and train them to play the game at the highest levels and to win! But without the fundamental talent, these athletes would never be able to keep up no matter how well they were trained.

Research now overwhelmingly shows that successful salespeople are also born with several innate personality characteristics that cannot be taught later in life. And the key is finding out if your candidates have this DNA before hiring.


Research on high-performance salespeople

Research shows that successful salespeople share three innate characteristics that must all be in place as a core aptitude requirement:

  1. Need for Achievement – This is the burning desire to set goals, meet them and then set the bar higher and higher. These individuals want to do well just for the sake of doing well.
  2. Competitiveness – These people love winning and absolutely hate losing. They want to beat their competitors and their peers, and they even subtly compete with their buyers in a friendly contest of wills.
  3. Optimism – The great game of sales is played in an environment that includes constant rejection. Optimistic salespeople do not take rejection personally and know that the next call will be the winner.


All three of these characteristics must be in place to form the master characteristic known as Drive; and by the time a person is an adult they either have it or they don’t, as it relates to selling. Now, here is the biggest challenge for hiring managers: Drive can easily be faked on resumes and in interviews. That’s right; a good “actor” can mimic high-Drive behaviors for a few hours. The problem is that he cannot sustain it over time. Sales is a marathon, not a sprint, and even though the candidate sold you, once, in the interview, it will take a lot more than one sale to achieve success month in and month out for you.


Applying the right assessment and behavioral interview

Today’s big data, research and technology have allowed assessments to be created that are incredibly accurate at parsing for the non-teachable characteristics shared by most high-performing salespeople.

There are dozens of different kinds of assessments out there, some better than others, and as a rule of thumb you get what you pay for. So be careful not to assume they are all the same quality. You have a lot at stake here. Clients tell us it costs at least $50,000 when they make a salesperson hiring mistake. Also, many assessments focus on “teachable” skills. That can be useful, but skill development sits on the foundation of talent, so you need to get the talent element right before the skills will kick in.

After analyzing the research and finding Drive to be the core aptitude I was looking for, I developed an assessment called The DriveTest®. The DriveTest® Report provides scores from one (lowest) to five (highest) on the big three non-teachables and provides an overall Drive score. We recommend using the assessment before interviewing so you are only spending time with high aptitude candidates while avoiding potential actors. This greatly increases your odds of selecting top talent and increasing production downstream.


In Conclusion

Are high performance salespeople born or made?  The answer is born, and then made! Great salespeople start out with a set of mission critical, non-teachable characteristics. These must be in place for further development to really pay off with a return on investment you deserve. By identifying Drive in your sales candidates prior to hiring them, you can stack your sales team with championship caliber producers!


Dr. Christopher Croner is a psychologist and Principal at SalesDrive, LLC, an organization dedicated to helping companies identify, assess and hire high performance salespeople. He is co-author of the book, Never Hire a Salesperson Again, and the developer of the DriveTest® sales assessment.


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