Sales Management – How to identify a natural born salesperson

August 25th, 2018

Sales managers and leaders are always on the search for good salespeople.  They’re hard to find.  Sales is a unique occupation – a demanding one with huge potential payoffs.  So what do you look for in a salesperson – one who has the potential to be a star?

An article in Harvard Business Review (HBR) provided some interesting stats.  They estimated more than 70% of elite salespeople are born with natural sales skills, and fewer than 30% of top performing salespeople don’t have these natural skills.  Stats also show that 40% of people getting into sales who don’t have these natural skills will fail or quit, another 40% will be average at best, and only about 20% will perform above average.  These stats will vary to some degree based on industry, the product/service being sold, and other factors . Nonetheless, if one doesn’t have natural sales skills, the road to sales success will be steep.

We’ve tested and worked with hundreds of salespeople over the years and have come to understand some characteristics that when combined, represent these natural sales skills.  This article provides a summary of these characteristics.  Additionally, realize that for every strength, there’s a corresponding shortcoming.  This article also provides some cautionary thoughts for each of the natural sales skills.


They are driven and competitive

Top salespeople have a “fire in the belly”.  They are competitive with a passion for winning, sometimes at the peril of their friends and team-mates.  College athletes, especially D-I, have risen to their level because of an intense desire to win, and many companies specifically recruit these athletes into their sales teams.

They have a high sense of urgency – a drive to get things done, get things accomplished.  Some suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) because they are so driven to be good, be right, have things in order and excel.  They frequently operate at a fast pace. When evaluating sales candidates, observe the pace at which they operate, and how driven they are to accomplish an assignment you might give them during the pre-employment process.  

Finally, natural born salespeople are assertive – they are action-oriented.  They aren’t afraid to address a situation, and they can handle conflict. They are often dissatisfied when no action is taken on something and/or there’s not an obvious next step.  When evaluating sales candidates, look for energetic, action-oriented people for they will be more inclined to prospect consistently.


  • Overly competitive people may struggle being part of a team
  • Fast paced behavior and a high sense of urgency may result in boredom


They are independent and seek control

By their very nature, top salespeople are more egotistical and self-centered than your average human.  The best salespeople can manage and internalize their egos to a point where they don’t have negative consequences on others.  At times they are vain. They use these factors to drive the need to achieve – the desire to accomplish things and be the best at what they do.

Since they are so driven to achieve, they want to control of their circumstances.  By eliminating factors out of their control, these salespeople increase the probability of their success.

When evaluating salespeople, discuss with them how they control their environments.  Look at their personal appearance and observe how “buttoned-up” they are – how much pride they take to present a positive appearance to others.


  • Their need for independence may cause them to ignore and break the rules
  • They may not contribute to the greater good of the team, but be more focused on themselves


They generally suck at details

Natural born salespeople are focused on winning, sometimes at all costs.  They care less about the journey and more about the end result. They often operate at a fast, sometimes frantic pace, and attention to detail is subservient to closing the deal.  This is one of the reasons many salespeople don’t do a good job of entering and maintaining CRM data.

If your sales environment requires an attention to detail, you should refine and document your sales processes so these natural born salespeople don’t have to personally remember steps and details that might derail the situation.


  • Lack of detail orientation will cause some to miss important steps
  • If your sales contracts are lengthy, you might want to have someone else verify the details


They are eternal optimists

Natural born salespeople are optimistic and they believe in the human spirit.  This trait has proven to be critical for identifying top salespeople. Think about it – salespeople often get more rejection than the average person, especially if they are doing cold prospecting.  In order to rebound from rejection, a salesperson has to believe there are positive things on the other side. These people always think they can win, even when the circumstances suggest there’s no chance.

This belief in the positive often prevents them from being skeptical of anything.  They generally believe in and trust that other people will be equally positive and forthright.


  • High optimism may cause some to spend too much time on poor leads
  • Too much trust in someone may result in others taking advantage of the individual



Seek salespeople that have natural sales skills for they will have a far greater chance of success in your company.  During the pre-employment evaluation process, look for drive and competitiveness, the desire to acquire and keep control of the situation, and the person’s level of optimism.  Depending on your situation, prioritize these natural sales skills over industry knowledge. You can teach someone about the industry and about the details of the product and service, but as HBR found, it’s far harder to teach natural sales skills.

When recruiting for salespeople it is difficult to assess drive.  Consequently, we encourage you to utilize an online sales assessment that is specifically designed to measure natural sales skills – the traits described earlier.

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