Are You a Talent, or Are You Talented?

As an Outsourced VP of Sales, I often travel with my clients’ sales people to evaluate their performance in their “office” – that is, in front of the customer.  Recently I spent a day with a sales person that my client regards as a strong performer.  I’ll call him Greg, and Greg is respected as a real performer; 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 talented.  I could tell that Greg was both surprised and confused with my statement as he asked what I meant.  I told him he is very personable, intelligent, and his customers really enjoy being around him.  All strong points!  However, an effective sales process requires engaging in a progression of strategy, technique, financial understanding and process management.  These were elements that were missing.  Thus, he was a talent, but not yet talented.

What it Takes to be Effective AND Talented

There are many misconceptions within the world of sales about the personality and behaviors that the most effective sales people demonstrate.  Some sales styles are very action oriented, while others are relationship driven or stable, and then some are very analytical.  Any of these styles combined with the right skills can be effective to the right customer.

When seeking to fill a key position like a CFO, the critical success factors usually aren’t widely known.  But everyone in the company seems to know exactly what to look for to identify a successful sales person.  When I meet with clients for the first time, 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 similar. Talent: “a natural aptitude or skill.”  Talented: “a special ability allowing someone to do something well.” To most of us, the definitions are the same.  However, in managing sales people toward top performance, the two words describe very different results.

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

  1. Create trust in your customer relationships.
  2. Use effective processes to develop the sales opportunity.
  3. Utilize active questioning in the discovery process.
  4. Prepare and perform powerful presentations.
  5. Properly position yourself and company for the opportunity.

While these seem pretty clear cut, these five primary skills are not what people seek or understand when trying to hire top sales talent.  Often attributes like appearance, likeability, smooth speaking, gregariousness, and humor – which are all very apparent during the interview process – resonate the most.

When Talent Becomes Talented

Professional sports athletes are a great example of passionate and people with talent, who have put tremendous focus and commitment into developing all the necessary fundamentals of strength, endurance and mental training to become talented.  They have learned that talent will not win a single championship but becoming talented may.

In his great book Showtime, my friend Bernie Cronin 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 his questioning skills in the discovery process, gathering better data, revealing customer frustrations and exploring the consequences of the customer’s problem to better understand and create value to solve their problem. Soon Greg will be both a talent and talented – then he will become very powerful in his sales performance!

Feel free to contact Michael Wills, President of Top Line Solutions, at for sales leadership consulting and outsourced sales management services.