Sales Skills: Training (Nurture) or Personality (Nature)?


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The age-old debate—nature versus nurture is a common theme that pops up for managers who are seeking the right sales candidates. It’s an important question: Do people have an innate personality ability to sell (nature) or is it a skill that can be taught (nurture)?

If proper coaching is one of the biggest factors in sales, then a company should rightly focus their efforts on sales training and examine how management lead the sales team.

But if great sales ultimately comes down to personality, then perhaps HR and management should start screening specifically on innate traits—and maybe even incorporate personality tests into the hiring process.

To examine the debate in more detail, we decided to conduct our own sort of “virtual focus group,” if you will, by combing through the great World Wide Web and doing a comparative analysis on the topic by looking at sales websites, blogs, articles, and forums. Below we present a summary of the most common themes that we found in our research.

When that glass is half-full …

A person’s sense of optimism was a common theme that we found throughout our survey on the topic. In the sales world, your staff will face rejection—repeatedly. The ability to see the positive in situations and carry on, even in the face of adversity and frustration, is an important trait for salespeople. One article even cited a study that found a positive correlation between sales and a person’s level of optimism.

This brings us to our next question—is optimism nature or nurture? Again, a survey on the topic found it to be split—many people believe that whether someone tends toward optimism or pessimism depends on personality traits and on how a person was raised and has learned to respond to situations.

For the purposes of this discussion, however, let’s focus on how your team’s disposition is as-it-stands. You can test for optimism through an interview process or written test. If you spend enough time screening a candidate, his or her outlook on whether that glass is half-full or half-empty will become apparent.

Empathy and sales skills

A person’s level of empathy is a close runner-up to optimism. When a person is empathetic, he or she will see sales as fulfilling a need, versus simply pushing a product. Empathetic people will more closely listen to a prospect’s desires, ask the right questions, and figure out how to frame the item or service correctly that so it addresses what a buyer is after.

Empathy, similar to optimism, is a trait that seems to be a result of nature and nurture. You can teach people to be more empathetic, but certain people tend to have an innate ability to listen and operate more intuitively.


Motivation is a sales skill that you can foster through incentives and coaching, but at the end of the day, a person needs to want it—sales people have to possess a certain amount of drive. Motivation is a personality trait that a good coach can capture and build.

It’s one thing to hire candidates who are motivated, but your team will be more effective if you can coach them with the right incentives to keep their motivation high. Therefore, when looking for candidates, find people who are self-directed and respond to enticements, and then work on training and coaching to keep the fire hot.


A person’s self-confidence tends to be a combination of nature and nurture. Some people will remain wildly confident, even if they’ve been in environments that break down other people’s self-belief. Others need to be constantly given reassurance and guidance.

When building your sales staff, look for confidence, but don’t confuse confidence with arrogance. Confidence, in sales, is a skill closely tied to persistence. If your staff members immediately give up after the first “no,” chance are, they won’t make it very far in the sales world. Additionally, you want team members who believe in the product and can be assertive, when necessary.

So … is it nature or nurture in the sales world?

What can we conclude from our online survey on the nature versus nurture debate? It appears that successful sales people need to come to the job with certain hard-wired personality traits, such as the ability to see things optimistically, pick up on social cues and be empathetic, and have a certain amount of drive. Which answers the “nature” side of the equation.

However, the other side—”nurture” is equally important. A person who possesses all of the necessary personality traits still needs the proper guidance and coaching to help him reach his peak. Moreover, if you take a candidate with small doses of optimism, empathy, and drive, and give them careful coaching, you’ll uncover the hidden sales superstar.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Peggy Carlaw
Peggy Carlaw is the founder of Impact Learning Systems. Impact helps companies develop and implement customer service strategies to improve the customer experience. Their consulting services and training programs help organizations create a customer-focused culture while producing measurable business results. Peggy is also the author of three books published by McGraw-Hill including Managing and Motivating Contact Center Employees.


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