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5 Critical Sales Questions Finally Answered

If you don't understand the answers to these critical questions, your sales operation may be in jeopardy.

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When business people discuss selling, there are five questions that constantly pop up–and often spark arguments.  I thought I'd do everyone a favor and answer those questions once and for all.

Q: Are great salespeople are born or made?

A: Born. Numerous studies reveal there is a very small percentage of people who are natural sales stars, with a near-savant ability to sell inside a certain environment.

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.

Readers: Any other questions? Let me know. And if you're committed to sales success, sign up for the free Sales Source newsletter.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Apr 25, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES did a lot of business stuff and wrote a slew of articles and books. Now he writes this column. Preorder his new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, by May 12 and get an exclusive bonus chapter and a signed bookplate.
@Sales_Source




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