The ability to sell at the highest level is the result of genetics. But this doesn't mean you can't be a sales star.
I recently had a conversation with John Asher, the CEO of the sales training firm Asher Training, where he cited research that at least 50 percent of success in sales is directly related to natural talent. "Some people simply don't have the innate talent to be successful in sales," he explained.
What's really interesting, though, is that he says the true sales stars–the 4 percent with the most innate talent–are responsible for selling 94 percent of the goods and services. I've heard other, less dramatic, statistics, but either way: there's no question that sales stars book the bulk of every company's sales.
On the surface this might seem discouraging. After all, if only a very few people can sell well, what are the chances that you are one of them?
It turns out it's not that cut-and-dried. Not every sales job or sales situation is the same. Some require the outgoing, driving personality that most people associated with professional sales, but just as many sales jobs favor people who are introverted and detail oriented.
What Are You Selling?
For example, if you want to sell semiconductor design services to high-tech companies, you'd better be able to think and act like a engineer, because otherwise none of your buyers will even talk to you. Give a typical "sales pitch" and you'll be laughed out of the building.
The importance of finding the right match for your personality becomes clear when sales stars move from one type of sales job to another.
According to Howard Stevens, CEO of the sales research firm Chally Worldwide, sales stars often see their success rates plummet when they're assigned to a different type of products. He characterizes sales stars as "savants," who are optimized for a certain type of sales behavior and who are worse-than-average performers in another environment. "Companies often lose a lot of sales and money when they wrongly assume that selling talent can be moved around arbitrarily."
The trick to becoming a sales star is to match your personality to the type of sales that you're attempting to do. This is true whether you sell full time, or whether selling is just part of your job.
When to Hire Outside Help
For example, entrepreneurs who start companies are often very good at selling ideas to investors–but often not so good at reselling established products to existing customers. That requires a different personality, which is why smart entrepreneurs delegate ongoing sales activities to other people.
Once you've found the area of sales where you can shine, then you can start thinking about sales training and coaching to improve your performance. On the other hand, if you're trying to sell in a way that's unnatural to you, no amount of sales training is going to work.
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