Sales Skill vs. Sales Will

An interesting question was posed recently by a member of one of my LinkedIn groups:  Which is more important, sales skill or sales will?

The responses were split. In one case, the respondent noted that sales will is more important because while sales may be a discipline that anyone can learn, selling is not for everyone. “Desire and motivation are key,” he said. “I have seen more success [from] motivated people that are not as skillful [than from] skillful but unmotivated sales people.”

Another respondent said that, 80% of the time, skill was more important. He likened it to chess and baseball, saying that skill will defeat will almost every time.  In other words, if two salespeople’s skills are equal, the one with the greater willpower will most likely win.

“If the environment negates the skills of the salespeople, willpower will likely make a difference. But if the sales people are competing straight up, I’ll bet on the more skilled sales person,” he said. “Will I win every time? No. But I’ll win 80% of the time. Many people will remember the 20% that were exceptions and make a myth about them; great stories that result in poor bets.”

I personally believe that you have to have both to be effective in sales. But if I were forced to choose between skill and will, I’d have to say it depends upon what you’re selling.

Will alone isn’t enough to close strategic, solution-oriented, multi-phase deals, such as selling complex intangibles or professional services. Success in these instances requires more skill, planning, analytical ability and persuasion than will.

However, someone who is extremely solution-oriented and methodical won’t be able to pound the pavement and produce results for low cost/high-volume selling such as widgets or advertising. While skill is necessary, it also takes sheer willpower to succeed in this type of selling environment.

What are your thoughts:  Is skill more or less important than will?

3 thoughts on “Sales Skill vs. Sales Will”

  1. I would submit to you that your question answers itself as “sales will” is not something that would be missing in any proper hire, or under any good leader.

    Your question of will is only present when the hiring of the person is incompetently handled. You have basically hired an inferior person for the job.

    If you have such a person on your team the solution of “will” is solved immediately through one of the following — the person is let go, you use your leadership skills to remove the problem creating a motivated team player that has unlimited will to achieve the vision of the team.

    Base on the above I would submit to you that “will” is not an issue over skill, except as I said in the case of incompetent hiring. And even in that case is immediately resolved.

    Thus skill is the most important (only in) factor of the two but not the major factor in overall success — that would be “motivation.”

    You can hire motivated people, and I recommend you do, but in reality it is up to you as the leader to motivate them and the only real way to do that is to lead — leadership skills make all the difference.

  2. I don’t see the dichotomy. ‘Will’ is a polite fiction for Incompetence. A sales professional without ‘will’ is an oxymoron. There is no such thing.

  3. First, I disagree with Lloyd that will is polite fiction for incompetence. There are many sales professionals especially with MBA’s who lack will but believe skill is everything.

    Will is necessary given that 50% of all sales leads are not followed up and 80% of all sales are made on the 5th to 12th contact. Since almost 80% of all sales people stop after 3 contacts, will is very much alive and well.

    I also disagree with Flyn that it is up to the leader to motivate sales people. The Leader’s role is to keep the person inspired, to remove any internal barriers preventing sales success. If the salesperson is not hungry, they will not hunt for food. So if the sales person does not want sales, they will not seek new prospects.

    Motivation, if you look at the origins of the word, means to come from within. No one can motivate anyone else. They can inspire them, to create a thought, a desire, but motivation is 100% internally driven. Only in later years have we taken to looking at external and internal motivation to explain why some performers do well and why others do not. I believe this has perpetuated the lie about motivation.

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