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Nature or Nurture with Sales Training? Answer: A Bit of Both

— by Bill Cushard

Learning developmentSales trainingTraining

Recently I attended an SMMConnect Webinar by Teresa Hiatt, former director of sales education at Ricoh Americas Corporation. The topic: Nature versus Nurture in B2B Sales — whether sales people are just plain born to be sales people or whether sales is a skill that can be learned. The answer to this question has enormous implications for learning professionals who design and deliver sales training. It’s also a critical issue for business leaders who are deciding on spending thousands and thousands of dollars on sales training.

The question of nurture versus nature is an interesting one, but far more interesting was an example that Teresa gave of two claims made of sales solution vendors. Each claim has its own angle on the topic and by themselves seem reasonable and logical. But when you look at them side-by-side you think to yourself, “Whoa, which one do I believe?”

Here is the first claim:

“Correlation studies show that applicable aptitude assessments could represent up to 50 percent of the predictive performance of a sales candidate.”

– John Asher, CEO Asher Training and Assessment Supplier

The point of this claim suggests it is important to screen for people who are already good at sales (those born to it) and that sales success relies heavily on finding people with the “sales gene.” That seems reasonable, right? Now let’s look at the second claim that Teresa cites.

“Fewer than 10% of salespeople are naturals; training is very important for salespeople. It provides an opportunity for continuous refinement, creates repeatable successes, and can help a company take a promising sales person from very good to superb.”

– Linda Richardson, Richardson Training

The point here is that training is the most important factor in helping sales people become successful. So, which claim is right? They are both right. The point I want to make is that when you are evaluating any program that could help improve the effectiveness of your salesforce, be skeptical of the claims. After all, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

> More on e-learning on the Mindflash blog.

Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

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