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Top Attributes of Sales Leaders #4: Sales Intuition

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Of all of the results that were unearthed in Martin’s research, this one was the most confounding to me — until I realized that it was completely inappropriately named.

Saying that “sales intuition” is a top attribute of a sales leader strikes me as complete bullshit on a number of levels — not least of all, how do you measure intuition?

Sure, we’ve all had the argument — how much of sales is learned behavior, and how much are you born with? Heck, I’ve argued it both ways myself. But it turns out, what’s being discussed here isn’t really intuition, and isn’t really that complicated at all. I’ll quote the HBR article in full:

While the average sales experience for both high-performing and underperforming sales managers was 17 years, high-performing sales managers estimated they have achieved their annual quota 88% of the time over the course of their career. Underperforming sales managers indicated they have achieved their quota 75% of the time. This suggests that the depth of a manager’s sales intuition—the practical knowledge gained from the experiences of participating in sales cycles and managing salespeopleis directly associated with their success.

See what I mean? That’s a terrible definition of intuition. BUT. It doesn’t make the point wrong. I absolutely concur that sales is a professions where practice makes perfect. You have to get your teeth knocked in — over and over and over — and keep coming back for more. It’s not just about resistance in the face of “no”. It’s about learning all of those “sales skills”. Overcoming objects. Getting to yes. Getting past the gatekeeper.

A great sales leader doesn’t have to be a great salesman. In fact, I’ve argued that he shouldn’t be. But there’s a difference between being a great salesman and a good one. Any great sales leader has to have served in the trenches, and has to have been good enough at it to keep the respect of his subordinates.

You have to do the work.