It is now an age-old question: Are salespeople born, or can they be made? It is true that some of the essential attributes commonly possessed by salespeople are part of their DNA. Some salespeople have a natural charisma, the ability to develop rapport, and great communication skills. At one point in the history of our profession, this may have been enough. Now, however, business acumen is as essential as these natural traits, and in some cases more important.
In the new art of sales, you had better be as comfortable explaining how your ROI impacts the prospects P&L as you are developing the rapport that got you face time in the first place. You had better be at least as comfortable with Exel as you are with PowerPoint. Heaven help you if you cannot diagnose the business challenges and issues your prospects face and present meaningful solutions. And, while you are at, make sure you have the management skills to oversee the team responsible for executing and delivering after you make the sale (all while prospecting and selling the next deal).
An MBA program can definitely help with business acumen. Read Steve Martin at Heavy Hitter for advice on deciding whether or not an MBA is right for you. Read Seth Godin for some alternative thoughts.
The other side of this discussion has to include those with the business acumen but who lack the natural attributes. Can they benefit from a college degree in sales? Christina Salerno has an interesting piece on BNet: Can College Tech You to Sell?
I believe that the question itself is flawed? Can you learn to be the outgoing, naturally charismatic, rapport-developing, communicator that some of your peers are? Probably not; it is inauthentic and prospects can see right through that. It creates mistrust. But can you be a disciplined, aggressive, educated sales professional with off the chart business acumen that you leverage to create value for prospects and your company? Absolutely!
Ask any sales manager with more than a few years experience whether or not they have ever know a salesperson with more natural ability than anyone else on the team who failed because they weren't disciplined enough to succeed despite their natural talents. Then, ask them if they have ever known a salesperson with no natural talents who succeeded simply because they were disciplined, focused, and relentless. No doubt, they will have names and stories.
Chances are, you are somewhere between these two poles. Regardless, to succeed in sales, you are responsible for developing the skills you need. This includes both the attributes and skills that some are born with and the business acumen.
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Filed under: Sales 3.0