Are You a Talent, or Are You Talented?

Sales performance winning stairs

As an Outsourced VP of Sales for a new client, I recently spent a day traveling with one of my sales people, whom my client regards as a strong performer. I will call him Greg, and Greg is respected as a real performer in the organization, someone with a strong future at the company. I was excited to spend the day watching him with customers and appreciating his skills in client development.

I participated with Greg on several customer sales visits that day and while driving back to the office, he asked me for some coaching feedback. I was expecting the question to come up at some point, and I replied, “Greg you are a talent, but you are not yet talented.” Greg was immediately surprised with my statement, and then asked, “What do you mean?” I said, “Greg you are personable, intelligent, and your customers really enjoy being around you. However, effective sales require engaging in a progression of strategy, technique, financial understanding, and process management. You are a talent, but not yet talented.”

There are many misconceptions within the world of sales about the personality and behaviors most effective for the sales position. Yet, when you speak to people about the skills and behaviors needed for different company positions, the role of a more critical position such as the CFO is not well understood by many, but everyone in the company seems to know exactly what to look for to identify a successful sales person. Sometimes, I almost expect to see a large banner in the cafeteria with pictures of both the good sales people, along with crossed out photos of the unsuccessful sales people – a company timeline based on sales people who have worked there!

So, what did I mean by telling Greg that he is a talent, but not talented? The Webster’s dictionary definition for each word is almost identical, talent – “a natural aptitude or skill”, and talented – “a special ability allowing someone to do something well.” To most of us the definitions are the same. However, while the dictionary definitions may be very similar, in managing sales people toward performance, the two words describe very different results.

There are five primary skills which are critical to sales performance:

1. Creating trust in your customer relationships
2. Effective processes used to develop the sales opportunity
3. Utilizing effective questioning in the discovery process
4. Preparation and performance for powerful presentations
5. Positioning yourself and company for the opportunity

The Summer Olympics are a great demonstration of athletes who have a talent in the sport they are passionate about. These athletes have put the rest of their lives on hold while they develop all of the necessary fundamentals: strength, endurance, and mental focus through extensive training to become world-class talented. Talent will not win a single medal on its own, but being talented might.

My friend Bernie Cronin in his great book “Showtime” says, “Talent is overrated. We work to become a successful person and we practice and rehearse. We learn to do something over and over until it becomes natural.”

My role now with Greg is to focus on coaching him to become talented. We are working on the questioning skills in the discovery process to gather better data, reveal customer frustrations, explore the consequences of the customer’s problem, and understanding and creating value in solving their problem. Soon Greg will be both a talent and talented – then he will become very powerful in his sales performance!