Nature vs Nurture: Building a High-Performing Sales Team
If your sales team is competing in an environment like many others are today, your buyers have more options and are more aware of their alternatives. It’s no secret that the shifts in B2B purchasing have made the buyer-seller dynamic much more of a “buyer’s market” than it ever has been. Serving customers with a highly productive, highly effective sales force has always been important, but there is also a higher standard to meet in today’s competitive environment.
To execute at the highest levels, your team needs to have the right mindsets, motivations and skills. But how do you get there? Is it a simple matter of hiring better salespeople? Is there a training opportunity? Are there behaviors that can be coached to lead your team where it needs to go? The truth is, many sales competencies can be taught quite effectively, but other critical traits and mindsets are much more difficult to change by training or coaching.
An effective sales talent strategy requires thoughtful approaches to both hiring and training. In this article, I’ll provide some ways to think about “nature vs. nurture” as it applies to improving your sales team. Or, more simply, which skills and competencies can be trained, and which are more difficult to train and should therefore be a focus in hiring decisions.
Determine Your Critical Sales Competencies
What is it that separates top performers at your company from the rest of the sales force? Rarely is it one – or even a few – key competencies. More often, it’s a combination of attitudes, motivations, habits and skills. To complicate things further, many top performers lean into one key skill or trait that becomes their “sales superpower” which is enough to power them past any of their shortcomings.
I’ve seen this personally when there is a seller who has a particularly challenging financial issue to overcome, which motivates them to succeed at all costs. Or there may be a top performer who is more charismatic and brings a magnetic energy to every conversation. These unique individual superpowers can certainly work on a one-off basis but shouldn’t be the “rule” that you build around when determining core competencies. I’ve seen a number of companies fall into the trap of trying to replicate one of these superpowers – and I’ve yet to see it work.
Instead, look at what’s common among a meaningful number of top performers. While there may be unique, singular superpowers in the bunch (extreme financial motivation, or charisma, as mentioned above), there will also be common traits, mindsets, habits and skills. These are what you want to build around as a repeatable, scalable foundation. Once you determine what the most important traits and competencies are – which are repeatable – it’s time to make a plan for building them within your team.
Nature: Hire Those Who Already Possess the Difficult Traits to Teach
Surely, some of the critical traits and competencies you identify will be things that are more “nature” than “nurture.” These are fundamental mindsets, motivations and characteristics that are baked into the fabric of who somebody is. Here are some common traits we see as important for many sales organizations:
Desire to Sell
How badly a salesperson wants to succeed in sales.
Commitment to Success
The willingness to do whatever ethical steps it takes to succeed.
What drives an individual to succeed, and to what degree.
A measure of whether a salesperson owns their results, particularly in tough times when
the results aren’t so great.
The extent to which a salesperson is willing to accept, and act on, constructive feedback and coaching.
Your target traits and mindsets may vary, but chances are they have some common threads with the ones listed above. And, while traits like these are very difficult to teach, they can be major differentiators between top and average salespeople. For this reason, interviews and hiring assessments should be focused on identifying excellence in areas like these when hiring. Even better, consider establishing a more formal sales hiring system. Without this strong foundation, skills training alone can’t produce top-tier sales results.
Nurture: Focus Your Sales Training on What’s Teachable
While some of the above traits are more “nature” than “nurture,” there are plenty of teachable sales competencies that separate top performers. Spending your training effort in these areas can yield terrific results, particularly if you’ve built a solid foundation by hiring for the critical traits and mindsets above.
In the category of what’s trainable, think about positive habits and skill-based behaviors that are common amongst your top performers. While you may have determined your own specific competencies in this category, here are some of the ones that most sales teams find valuable as areas of foundational training.
How a salesperson manages activities to effectively move buyers from prospect to purchase.
A seller’s ability to effectively select, connect with, and generate interest from leads and prospects.
Ability to ask questions to gain an understanding of buyers’ challenges, opportunities, and desired outcomes in order to align solutions with needs.
How well a salesperson communicates personalized, relevant value to specific buyers.
Industry & Buyer Acumen
Valuable insights about target buyers and their organizations that help a seller most effectively solve problems and enable opportunities.
Sales training is certainly not a checkbox activity; it requires a thoughtful approach that ensures new skills are understood, remembered, practiced, applied and eventually mastered. But building the most valuable sales skills and habits on top of strong commitment and dedication is a proven path to predictable sales success.
Start Building Your High-Performing Sales Team Today
New sales enablement apps, platforms, incentives, promotions, or management initiatives rarely change sales results as much as companies hope they do. But that doesn’t mean sustainable sales performance improvements are impossible. Instead, they require a thoughtful approach that strategically aligns hiring, training, coaching and management in a way that maximizes the impacts of each.
Good hiring and successful training, in particular, can set your sales team up to deliver much different results in the future than it has historically. Hire for the mindsets and traits that define “who a salesperson is.” Then build on that strong foundation by training and reinforcing the skills and habits that determine “what they do.”
No matter where you are in your sales improvement journey, it’s always worth taking a step back and making sure the individual components of your strategy are aligned. We recently published Build Your Sales Talent Roadmap, a short, digestible field guide that maps the key checkpoints along the sales force improvement journey. Check it out and identify the areas where some incremental improvements can enable significant gains.