You Can Change and You Must

For solid couple months I have written here about some of the attributes and skill sets that are required to succeed in sales, and about succeeding more generally. This blog, and with any luck the book that will develop out of it, is about effectiveness.

My post yesterday, Process Isn’t Enough, was written because sales processes can and do improve effectiveness. In the comments of that post you will find the thoughts of two people with great experience and knowledge regarding sales performance and sales effectiveness, Dave Brock of Partners in Excellence and Dave Stein of ES Research. These are thoughtful guys who know process and who know sales. And they both agree that the attributes a salesperson must possess to succeed cannot be taught and that the salesperson must already possess them in order to succeed in sales.

I agree. Mostly.

I am in complete and total agreement with my two colleagues that it is difficult (and closer to impossible would be more accurate) to train people to be more disciplined, more optimistic, more competitive, or any of the other attributes and skills I have written about here and here. Both recommend hiring people that already have these attributes, and I agree, knowing that finding all of these in one individual is rare (and that lots of people have varying degrees of these attributes and skills, being stronger in some and weaker in others).

It is sure a lot easier to identify the right attributes and train the more easily teachable skills than vice versa, and anyone who has hired people for any job will agree.

But I will never accept the premise that what defines a person is what they are now, that they are never able to change and that some unbreakable law binds them to being less than they might otherwise be. And I don’t think either of my two colleagues would disagree with this premise:

You can change who you are, and in some (many) cases, you must.

You Can Change

All of the required attributes and skills that I have written about for the past couple months are recognized in behaviors. If the behaviors are changed, then the attributes are changed. More important, if the behaviors are an improvement over prior behaviors, the attributes and skills are improved.

Your ability to change is not limited by any of your past behaviors or your past habits.

Even your DNA or your genetic code doesn’t limit your ability to change. The study of epigenetics provides us with biological proof that our DNA can change the way it is expressed, activating and deactivating genes based on external factors and, perhaps, our own behaviors. You can change at the most fundamental and even at the cellular level. (look it up!)

There are only two things that limit your ability to change:

1. Your thoughts, and

2. Your actions.

Only You

Where Dave and Dave are correct is in expressing the idea that no one else can change you. They are right in not trying to change other people. No one can want something for you enough to change you: you have to want it for yourself. No on can do for you what you won’t do for yourself.

The only person who can change you is you.

You can change your thoughts and you can change your actions. Because this is true, you can develop the attributes and the skill sets that are required to succeed.

This is true even of the most difficult to change attributes like self-discipline. Self-discipline is found in values and behaviors.  You can be a disciplined salesperson as soon as you value something enough to be disciplined about it and as soon as you start taking actions in accordance with those values. If you prospect for one hour a day, linking together day after day makes you a disciplined prospector. If you value follow-up, linking together kept commitment with kept commitment means you are disciplined. This is true of all of the other skills and attributes.

To believe otherwise is to believe that one can never change, that one can never improve, that one can never be more than they are now. I know this not to be true; I have seen remarkable transformations.

But this isn’t touchy-feely stuff. In fact, changing ourselves is the most difficult endeavor any of us will ever undertake, which is why discipline is the first and the supreme attribute of effectiveness and success.

It is your responsibility alone to develop to train yourself in the attributes and skills that are required to succeed. That goes for the attributes and the skills that are required to sell, as well. If your company offers to train and develop you, that is all to the good, but who you are is your responsibility alone. And you are the only one who can change you, for better or for worse.

Choose your thoughts, your beliefs, and your actions accordingly. It is your first duty to develop yourself into all that you might be. You are your own personal brand; you decide what that brand means.


Smart companies hire salespeople who already possess the attributes that are required to succeed in sales, and they know that they can’t change people. But people who want to can and do change themselves, and we all posses the ability to be something more than we are.

You can change, and in some cases, you must! It is your duty to develop yourself into all that you might be.


1. Have I bought the lie that I cannot change, that I am defined by past actions and behaviors?

2. Am I the one who is telling that lie?

3. What actions and behaviors do I need to take to succeed and to develop the skills and attributes that success is built upon?

4. How many days can I link together these actions and behaviors? How long will it take for these actions to define me to others?

5. What is my responsibility to myself and to my company in regard to my own personal and professional development?

6. What does my personal brand stand for?

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  • Chuck Overbeck

    I am in agreement, but would express it in a different way. When I hire sales reps, I look for three things. I want my reps to be:
    (1) Intelligent
    (2) Hard working
    (3) Coachable

    When I am hiring, I am building my team, a Tier 4 Sales Organization. My team has a system in place for changing faster than the competition. We will use our ability to change to gain the competitive advantage.

    Therefore, everyone on the team has to be coachable (willing to change); even me.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for the comments, Chuck. My list starts with Self Discipline, which you call Hard Working. I use Business Acumen for Intelligent, because I believe the intelligence needs to be pointed towards business problems and challenges. I use Emotional Intelligence for Coachable.

      Each of these is rare enough alone, let alone being found in great measure in one person, and regardless of what we do in sales management and sales training, I believe people change when they are ready to change themselves. I focus here on reminding us that it is our duty to change and improve ourselves.

      As for changing faster than the competition, I am adding a section on Adaptability to my foundational attributes. Changing faster is the killer competitive advantage!

  • Daniel M. Wood

    A great article Anthony.
    As you say it is very hard to find someone with all the required skills and traits to become a great salesman. Often you end up waiting forever and never hiring anyone, or by at last growing tired of the wait and hiring the wrong person.

    When I hire and don’t require that my potential salesman have all the skill sets. But it is important that they are willing to learn, that they are humble enough to see that they need to improve, and that they have the self discipline to work hard and make change.

    Just as you say self discipline is one of the hardest things to learn and so is humility. If you have them in order in your employees you can create a atmosphere of development and people will improve and become inspired.
    It is a wonderful atmosphere to be a part of.

    Thanks again for the article Anthony, keep up the good work.


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  • David Tyner

    Anthony, now you have me thinking.
    “nothing worse than wasted talent”…from A Bronx Tale.
    For me in hiring sales people I look for someone who has overcome adversity, and equally important, someone who has achieved and excelled when no one was pushing them.
    It is bewildering how so many people can give in to taking the path of least resistance, slipping day after day into the sameness of life.
    I feel that one of the quickest way to change is to invest in the life of someone else. EG..when in a rut, look for someone to help, share some wisdom, take minute to listen or pass a word of encouragement.
    This works wonders to affect change. Skills and talent are nothing if not shared.
    Thank you for these thoughts you have shared.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for the comments, David. I like both of those qualities, being determined and resourceful enough to succeed against long odds, and being driven to achieve outcomes are both critical skills for salespeople (and success in any other endeavor). Passion is the enabler for not simply taking the path of least resistance.

      Thanks for reading, and thanks more for commenting!


  • Michelle Ricketts

    I only recently started following your blogs here. I like what you have to say and your way of thinking. With over 23 years in sales, in three specific industries -media, transportation and finance I think you really “get it”. I look forward to future posts.


  • Sales Manager Training

    I can’t agree more that it is soooo important to find salespeople that are already predisposed to be successful in sales. Great article.

  • relationshipsellingbuffs

    I too agree with the assessment that is important to have the mindset of success (law of attraction) to be successful. I found this blog while searching for some sales info. Great blog and great post.

  • Sales Consultant

    Thank you for a great article…Finding great salespeople is probably in the top 3 skills of a manager. Thanks