Nature vs. nurture. Talent vs. skill. Destiny vs. willpower. It's one of the oldest unanswered questions that still confounds science: How much of an individual's potential is realistically achievable?
As with all scientific endeavors, the only way to answer the big questions is to break them down into smaller ones. In this case, there's no point getting bogged down in hazy concepts like “destiny.” A solvable question is, “Can you make an awesome sales team out of average salespeople?” You may be surprised to learn that the answer is yes. One great salesperson is not as valuable to a business as a repeatable process for improving the sales quality at the team level.
Sales Training and Natural-Born Sellers
The Association for Talent Development estimates that U.S. firms spent over $20 billion annually on sales training alone. For training in general, companies spent roughly $1,229 per employee for 32.4 hours of training over the course of the year. Market leaders increased training to 43.9 hours. In short, there's a great deal of financial investment to support the idea that sales is a trainable skill.
At the same time, there have been many studies about what basic personality traits are shared by great sales people. In many of these studies, traits like self-motivation, charisma, competitiveness, curiosity, empathy and being an extrovert seem to be decided advantages in the sales game.
However, one recent data analysis of thousands of sales professionals over time suggested that there are seven essential sales personalities:
The Relationship Builder prioritizes the quality of the sales experience over price and features.
The Problem Solver strategically uses facts and figures to win over buyers.
The Achiever values autonomy and has a killer work ethic.
The Team Player understands the value of collaborating with others in the sales process.
The Competitor wants to succeed and outperform their colleagues.
The Charmer is skilled at overcoming objections and creating rapport.
The Straight Shooter tells it like it is and stays true to their word.
The Relationship Builder represents the largest grouping, defining about one third of all salespeople in this study. A surprising fact that emerged was that Achievers represent a very small sample of beginning salespeople, but they stick it out to become the second most common personality type after seven years. Both factors reflect the new reality of collaborative competition that defines complex sales processes and multiple buyer contacts.
Three Elements of Fantastic Sales Teams
Even these naturally born Relationship Builders and Achievers will run out of steam though, without dedicated and ongoing management support. They need a defined strategy, clear expectations and ongoing commitment to sales education and training. This three-pronged approach can assure baseline quality for your sales teams. Here is how that looks in the real world:
1. Defined Strategy
The IDC estimates that a misalignment of sales with corporate goals costs about $100 million in annual revenue for the typical B2B firm. Market leaders set channels and expectations for their sales teams with a well-defined approach to the market.
Otherwise, the great salespeople come up with their own ideas about how to sell and who they should be selling to. It doesn't take long for independently developed sales techniques to cause conflicts and inefficiencies across the organization. On the other hand, a collaborative sales and marketing effort aligned with corporate goals can be unstoppable.
2. Ongoing Sales Training
Blink and you'll miss it. The market has changed, and old sales strategies don't work anymore. Unlike the sales landscape even a few years ago, today 81 percent of staffers outside the C-Suite have significant influence over the B2B buying decision.
In fact, 24 percent (almost a fourth) of the time, somebody lower down on the organizational chart has final sign-off authority. You've got to know how to influence the right internal stakeholders. B2B sales professionals need to win over a group of 5.4 buyers on average. In this complex environment, those with social selling training have been able to operate with a decided advantage.
3. Reduced Volatility
A great sales force delivers consistently. That's not an accident or due to raw talent. Companies that want to tame revenue volatility put metrics and processes in place to keep sales quantity and quality on track. Sales enablement technology, recognition and motivational programs are all components of that sales guidance system.
Without these in place, sales teams tend to concentrate on the deals most likely to close soon. It makes sense but shortchanges the leads pipeline and creates a reactive sales force that always seems to be putting out fires. Sales managers need to guide their teams into being more proactive by deploying motivational rewards for advanced planning. Eighty-two percent of buyers saw five to eight pieces of content from a vendor before they closed. Making that happen demands long-range advance planning.
A Guided Team for a Moving Target
A great sales team is truly the ultimate expression of a moving target. When you get the right people in place, the buyers change. Adapt to the buyers, and the business model changes. Retrain to maximize revenues under the new business model, and the sales team changes.
That's why the personality traits of individual sales professionals, even the great ones, don't really matter. What matters now is strategy, recurrent training and taking the long view in fostering buyer relationships. The sales environment is certainly going to be different in a year, but your team will be ready to tackle whatever comes next.
This post was originally published in July 2016 but has been updated for accuracy.