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On Throwing Punches

I am continually amazed at how much of a difference willingness and effort count for in a salesperson’s results. Let’s take a look at two very different salespeople.

The first salesperson (let’s call him salesperson 1) has a tremendous amount of business acumen. He knows his business well, he understands his client’s business, and he knows how to make a difference for his client in a big way. He is the supreme subject matter expert, and he could very easily be a level-4 value creator (this means he can create value at the strategic level).

The second salesperson (salesperson 2) doesn’t know nearly as much about the business. She doesn’t really know enough about her client’s business either. She would love nothing more than to make a difference for her clients, but she doesn’t know exactly what is possible and she needs help. She isn’t a subject matter expert, and she is a still a good distance from being able to create a high level of value for her clients.

The first salesperson has everything he needs to succeed, while the second salesperson is woefully ill equipped. Or so it appears on the surface.

The Rest of the Story

Which of our two salespeople would you prefer to have on your team if you were their sales manager? If you are a salesperson, which salesperson would you prefer to be?

What if I told you that salesperson 1, for all of his abilities, was unwilling to put his knowledge to use prospecting and creating value for his clients and dream clients? What if I told you he refused to put forth the effort necessary to produce results?

And what if I told you that, for all of her lacking in knowledge and experience, salesperson 2 was willing to do whatever was necessary to succeed? What if I told you that she put forth a massive effort to get in front of her clients, to learn, and to find the help she needed to make a difference for here clients?

The ability to sell isn’t the best predictor of success. In fact, many talented salespeople waste their talents and abilities because they are unwilling and don’t put forth the effort.

A willingness to do the work and to put forth the effort, if coupled with some training, some coaching, and some development, will produce success at a far greater rate than talent alone. But these ideas aren’t mutually exclusive; it is possible for a salesperson to possess by the talent and the willingness to do the work.

It’s far better—and it produces far greater results—to have less talented salesperson that is willing to throw punches than it is to have a talented salesperson that refuses to use their talents. The salesperson that is willing to put forth the effort can be taught what she doesn’t know, and she can gain what she is missing. It’s unlikely that the lazy, unmotivated, and talented salesperson is ever going to find the internal inspiration to take advantage of their talents.

For my money, I’d bet on the salesperson that throws punches.


How much does willingness and effort count towards sales results?

Is talent more important than effort?

Is ability more important than willingness?

Would your results be improved through greater effort or through greater knowledge?

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  • David J Soyk

    Desire outweighs talen.  I’ve seen it happen and know that in my case, I’m not the most talented or most intelligent, but, I’m motivated and it has helped me get to thet op

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      No doubt it has, David! 

  • Bruce Sallan

    I’d go with #2 ’cause she’s cuter…No, seriously, knowledge is such a small part of salesmanship. Enthusiasm, persistence, creativity, passion…all are more important than facts, stats, and details. I sold for a quarter-century – ideas – when I was in the TV biz. Ideas. Not a product, just an idea for one. My success was solely due to my creativity and willingness to go the distance a la Rocky…I took punches and I threw ‘em…I think that’s the thing that matters!

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Such a good comment, Bruce. Enthusiasm, persistence, and creativity are all essential attributes of a great sales person. We do sell ideas, a vision of the future that is better than the present. Creativity and persistence go a long way. 

  • S. Anthony Iannarino

    Sales is an action-oriented endeavor, isn’t is, Jim? Doers are surely the willing ones. 

    • Keenan

      No Doubt Anthony, no doubt!

  • Stacy Mountain

    I agree. I’d also capitalize on the training and train a new employee the way we need them in my business. I agree with the drive. In my industry, we have a lot of people who know the business because they’ve been in it for a while – subject matter experts. However we need people to do it. Doers!!

  • Jo-Ann

    I agree with this article.  I always say that you can’t teach passion or creativity but you can teach skills to a passionate person!  I am not down playing the importance of knowledge but I speak from experience in a managers position.  It’s like a puppy vs. an old dog!

    Jo-Ann from Dayton Ohio

  • William Seidman

    This is a valuable distinction between drive and knowledge (knowledge is NOT the same thing as talent), but one that I believe has been made less relevant by recent advances in neuroscience. Until recently, most people thought that you couldn’t teach passion, but that is not correct. In fact, the research is overwhelming now that passion can be taught.

    The neuroscience about positive images, “purpose” (see Dan Pink’s DRiVE)  and “mirror neurons” shows clearly that people can and will become passionate if there is a strong enough sense of compelling purpose. In our work with “positive deviant” sales people, we find that they are always motivated by a sense of compelling purpose about creating a great good for their clients. When this image of the greater good is communicated to less effective performers in a particular way, 98% of the time, they respond by becoming incredibly passionate too.

    For example, we were working with insurance agents who were stuck at a plateau of 2000 policies. By following the processes suggested by this new science, a test group of agents soared to 15% growth while everyone else was flat. They grew primarily because they developed, or more correctly, re-energized their passion for helping clients. The distinction made in the post should be irrelevant for any forward thinking sales organization. Anyone can become incredibly passionate and any sales organization that thinks otherwise will get left behind.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I don’t disagree, William. In fact, I think purpose is the key to culture–and culture trumps most else (In fact, I have a bunch of posts about what it means to belong to your tribe and your client’s tribe).

      On the other hand, I believe that it is very difficult to overcome some people’s cynicism, and that that cynicism is only growing worse (but that’s another post and something I have written about lots). I agree that anyone “can become incredibly passionate” and that organizations should try to instill the purpose that drives passion. But I have trouble believing that passion is something that can be chosen for–or imposed–on others. Some are unwilling (or unable) to believe, and I believe they are a danger to very culture that you describe (negativity is the only cancer that spreads by contact).

      To your point, I’d chose passion over abilities (or knowledge) every time. And that is the point of this post.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and research here! I appreciate it, and it adds a lot to the ideas and conversation!