A re salespeople born or made?

My views on this question have evolved. I asserted for many years that selling was something you learn and that anyone can become a great salesperson. Now I no longer believe this to be true. Yes, training can turn people into first-class sales reps, but only when they already possess an internal drive and hunger for success. Those intangibles can’t be taught.

Michael Jordan clearly was blessed with gifts for playing basketball that few possess, but raw talent alone didn’t make him a superstar. Jordan also was a relentless perfectionist who honed his craft through constant learning and practice.

The Grateful Dead are perceived to be a bunch of drug-taking free spirits … which they were! And while lead guitarist Jerry Garcia was born with a natural gift for sound, few people realize that this talented team of performers conducted weekly strategic marketing meetings to promote a brand that ultimately created a legendary following of fans.

Top performers are not always the most talented. Pete Rose wasn’t a hot prospect, but eventually he compiled more hits than anyone in baseball. Despite standing just 5-foot-3, Muggsy Bogues built a 10-year NBA career in which he even blocked 39 shots.

The common ingredient for success, regardless of natural talent, is character. I believe that great salespeople, like other top performers, possess the character that enables them to succeed. Here are some of the internal characteristics that superstars can choose to develop:

Growth-motivated. I have interviewed hundreds of salespeople and discovered one consistent truth: The defining difference between average performers and superstars is the drive for personal growth. I am not talking here about the desire for promotion or material gain. Growth-motivated individuals constantly study their craft in search of ways to improve. A professional never sees criticism as a personal attack, but instead welcomes it as a means of improvement.

Competitive with themselves. There is a difference between competition to win and competition to succeed. Competition to win is fear-based and derived from comparisons with other performers. Top sales performers compete with themselves and set goals far exceeding what other people do.

Adaptability to relate to different personality types. Some people are born with personalities that don’t match up well against powerful decision-makers. It is difficult to turn a shy or analytical person into a top Sales Leader because shy people don’t stand up to the aggression of Type-A buyers. If you weren’t born with the ability to communicate with all personality types, start working on it. It means getting out of your comfort zone.

Ambition. The biggest complaint I hear from employers is that salespeople are “comfortable.” Top salespeople are not satisfied just getting by. They are hungry for success, which they measure in more than financial terms. They pursue a lifestyle, a reputation, and a leadership role in their career and community.

Dedication to administrative excellence. In other words, sales stars sweat the details.

Fearlessness. The best can work under pressure, in part because they’ve prepared properly and in part because they know the value of their services and their products.

Optimism. Sales Leaders carry a positive outlook for the future.

Ultimately, I believe the heart of the sales warrior is the prime predictor of success. Here’s my new challenge for myself and for you: Look in the mirror and be tougher on yourself. Develop the character of a Sales Leader and you’ll create for yourself a better career.

Rick Davis is the president of Building Leaders, a training organization devoted exclusively to the sale of building materials. His latest book, “The Sales Secret,” is now available. To order it, go to www.buildingleaders.com, 773.769.4409, or contact Rick at rickdavis@buildingleaders.com.