Contrary to popular belief, though, there's not a single personality type that's good at every kind of selling–and, in fact, a sales star in one environment (say, field sales of software solutions) is likely to be a failure in a different environment (car sales, for instance).
Q: Can sales training create sales stars?
A: No. Although sales training firms constantly emphasize "best practices," the notion that you can train average salespeople to imitate the behaviors of sales stars is fundamentally flawed.
Sales training can make a sales star better and can improve the selling ability and conversion rate of average salespeople–but it cannot artificially create the kind of "sales savant" who can consistently outperform everyone else.
Q:Is the 80/20 rule for real?
A: Yes. But the statistic (i.e., that 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your sales team) is somewhat misleading.
The sales performance of any sales team maps exactly to a standard bell curve. As with any other kinds of human performance, there will be a few people who are really good at it, a large number who are OK or competent, and a corresponding small number who are lousy.
In other words, the 80/20 rule is simply a mathematical phenomenon tied to human behavior. It is not a specific call to action.
Q: Is sales an art or a science?
A: It's an art–but its measurement is very much a science. The best analogy is probably professional sports. Each player is very much an artist when it comes to the way he or she moves and thinks. However, coaches use a variety of scientific measurements to help improve individual performance, and managers use scientific staffing methods (think Moneyball) to deploy the right kind of teams for the right amount of expenditure.
Great sales managers do the same thing.
Q: Is cold-calling dead?
A: No. Cold calling–contacting people with whom you've never had a conversation in the past–is very much alive and very common.
What's different today is two things: First, you're far more likely to walk into a cold calling situation armed with a larger amount of information about the person you're calling and the company in which he or she works. Second, it's increasingly difficult to get people on the telephone, which tends to make cold-calling less cost-effective as a lead generation method.
GEOFFREY JAMES writes "Sales Source on Inc.com," the world's most-read sales-oriented blog. His new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, will be published in early 2014. To get weekly blog updates, sign up for his free "Insider" newsletter. @Sales_Source