8 Things You Just Can’t Teach Salespeople

8 Things You Just Can’t Teach Salespeople

I’ve spent more than a decade working with and training sales people. In this time I have learned that there are some sales skills that you just can’t teach.

Tony Robbins said “the best salespeople are not trained, they’re found.” I couldn’t agree with him more. The best salespeople are imbued with certain character assets that distinguish them as top performers.

Keep reading, and find out which of these assets you posses.

Sales Skills You Can't Teach Tony Robbins Quote


Oxford Dictionary defines resilient as 

“a person able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.”

People who are resilient have two distinct character assets:

  • they don’t care what other people think of them
  • they don’t give up

If you’re going to work in sales, it is crucial that you have a tough skin. You cannot dwell on the opinions of other people. Why? Because, you are going to face more rejection working in sales than you ever had in your life.

You are going to get hung up on. Doors will be slammed in your face. People will tell you exactly what they think of your profession, and of you, in not-so-kind words. I have been called every name in the book, and then some! Let me tell ya, people are pretty creative.

If you’ve ever been told by a perfect stranger that you should be burned with a blowtorch, to jump off whatever building you’re in, or had scabies wished upon you, then you’ve probably cold called before.

Most people would be hurt and offended by these statements. The best salespeople, however, pick up the phone and dial the next number. They knock on the next door. They don’t give up.

Not everybody is designed to be able to handle that kind of rejection. We as human beings have a natural instinct for self-preservation, and working in sales can often challenge that instinct. The ability to bypass that part of our brain that says, “No! Don’t! That’s scary! You’re going to get hurt!” is not something you can’t teach.

What can you do? Lead by example. Laugh it off. Make light of these types of situations. When somebody sees that it’s possible to overcome these risks, that the reward is greater, it will often give them the motivation to push themselves past the burn.


When I train people who are struggling, I always assess whether or not it’s a matter of skill or a matter of will. Skill, I can fix. Will, motivation, drive- these are all something that must come from within.

In this article from Sandler Training, Marcus Cauchi says,

You cannot motivate anyone to do anything ever. Why? Because motivation is an internal force. It stems from personal responsibility.”

Motivation is not contagious. It cannot be transferred from one person to the next. If somebody lacks motivation there is nothing you can do, say, teach, show, coach, or bribe them with that will change that.

Sales managers struggle with this truth on a daily basis. If you give somebody an incentive, like a contest for example, it may increase motivation for a short time, but it’s transactional- it won’t last. Too many sales managers get stuck in an endless cycle incentive after incentive, trying to motivate their unwilling staff (and eventually the manager gets burnt out, and people get fired.)

The best thing you can do for someone who lacks motivation and drive is help them to find their “why”. Simon Sinek has an incredible, best-selling book on this very topic called Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team. It’s been a sensational follow up to his first best-seller, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. If you’re in sales or sales management I highly recommend you read these books.

sales skills you can't teach megan dyer quote square


If there was one thing on this list I wish I could just puree and spoon feed people, it’s integrity. The problem with people who lack integrity is that it makes them so much more of a risk than any of these other character defects.

When we lack integrity, we embody the very things that Jesus warned against. Jesus’s self-sacrificial nature is one of the best things we can try to emulate as salespeople.

Salespeople who lack integrity are not willing to sacrifice for others. People who lack integrity put themselves first. To them, they are always the most important person in the room.

In order to truly be a great salesperson, you absolutely have to put the customer’s needs before your own.

A person of integrity would never sell a customer with a disregard for the actual impact or value for the buyer. People who lack integrity are only concerned with their bottom line.

Somebody who has no integrity is also going to have no problem lying, cheating, or stealing. They lie to get the job, they lie to their prospects, they lie to their bosses. Liers aren’t always caught right away. They may have short-term success lying. However, I promise you, their uppance will come.

What’s sad about people who lack integrity is that you just can’t trust them- and trust is an integral part of sales success. Trust must be earned, and once it’s broken in the professional world it is likely irreparable. Your boss is not your mom. If somebody lies and break trust at work, their boss is not going to love them anyway. They’re going to fire them.

A person with integrity it honest, they’re dependable, they do the things they say they’re going to do. They have personal accountability, and have no problem admitting and righting their wrongs. People with integrity don’t compromise their ethics or morals when they’re put to the test.

Integrity means you do the right things- even when it’s the hard thing.

The only way that I know how to help a person who lacks integrity is prayer. Lots, and lots of prayer.


The only constant I’ve ever had in sales is change. Products change. Commission structures change. Bosses change. Coworkers change.

Successful salespeople are able to adapt to these transitions. Unsuccessful salespeople are more like sticks in the mud. They’re inflexible. When change comes, they dig their heels into the ground. They resist, and hard.

Folks who lack adaptability are often the biggest complainers, too. They want things the way they want them, the way they’ve always been. They often say things like, “remember when it was like this? Working here was so much better then…”

It’s hard to train somebody to roll with the punches. Adaptability can be demonstrated, but people who are stuck in their ways are seldom able to have another person pull them out of it. It typically takes some external force or circumstance to provide the necessary push for a person to develop a desire to change.

It can happen, though. I recommend reading the book Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. This book is a classic for sales professionals. It can provide a lot of insight into adapting to change in the workplace.


For some folks, small talk and rapport building are just not natural. Creating commonality with their customers can be as awkward as a poorly matched blind date.

I’m sure you’ve seen something like this…

REP: “So, uh, I see you have a Cardinals jersey on… you, uh, you like baseball?”

CUSTOMER: “Eh, my wife bought me this.”

REP: “Oh… cool… I like baseball.”



REP: “So about your current billing system…”

It makes me cringe.

Unfortunately, this talent is not one that people can just “learn”. It is a matter of personality and communication skills. Some people are just naturally more sociable and have more effortless conversations. They just say the right things.

So how can you teach a salesperson to do that? Short of hiring a sound engineer to feed them lines in their ear like Johnny Depp, the best solution is to suggest they practice.

They can conversate with friends, co-workers, strangers in line at Starbucks, whoever. They just need to do it. Like many things, the more we do them the less awkward they feel (this is exactly how I became able to wear turtlenecks in the 90s).

sales skills you can't teach Einstein quote square


Coachability is absolutely a sales skill- and a big one. 

In my article How To Increase Your Sales in 30 Days or Less I talk about my favorite little acronym: ABL- Always Be Learning. If you’re going to be successful in sales you must remain teachable.

Einstein said it best- “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

A lack of coachability is actually a sign of a deeper issue- pride. A person who thinks they know it all and that their way is the right way is significantly disillusioned by their pride. Their pride keeps them from being able to take constructive criticism or admit when they’re wrong.

Despite the prominence of pride in American culture today as a good thing, the Bible cautions against pride nearly 50 times.

Proverbs 26:12 says, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Soooo basically what the bible is saying is that the sales rep who is too proud to be coached has very little hope. There’s little a manager can do to for such people.

Just like an inability to deal with change, an inability to be coached is often only changed by some extraordinary external circumstance (such as being force-fed some humble pie). Then, perhaps, that person may realize the error of their ways and make an internal change.


What does it mean to be diligent? What does that look like?

A salesperson who is diligent has a natural inclination to do work, as opposed to their apathetic counterparts who have a natural inclination to be lazy. Diligent salespeople work harder and smarter.

If a salesperson lacks diligence, they’re always going to be looking for ways to cut corners. They spend more energy trying to find ways to get out of tasks than actually completing them.

Diligent workers are proactive, they actively seek solutions, and work hard until things get done. Conversely, it’s the slackers who “cross that bridge never”, avoid problems altogether, and put in just enough effort to fly under the radar.

You cannot impart diligence upon salespeople. This is something that must be learned as a child. It’s something that moms and dads should teach their children at a very young age. Too many of the younger generation today lack this diligence because their parents were encouraged to give them freedom and take a hands-off approach.

When children are given too much freedom, they are more often than not going to use it to do whatever they want, not what they should do. Think about it… When you give kids free time, do they spend it taking out the trash? That’s a hard no.  

The result, today, is that many young adults take that same entitled, I’ll-do-what-I-want attitude to work. They want to do as little work as possible and still get the kind of money they see their parents making or more.

It’s ironic that the “hands off” approach used on these people as children makes some managers want to take a more litterall “hands on” approach today. Unfortunately, corporal punishment is generally frowned upon in the workplace. But I digress…


The last “sales skill” that people cannot be taught is the ability to maintain a positive attitude despite less than favorable circumstances.

There are very few things in life that we can control. We cannot control other people, places, things, or institutions. We can, however, control our actions, our reactions, and our attitude!

This means that there will be times when we must make a choice to have a positive attitude, regardless of what’s going on around us.

Negative people are like glitter. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to prevent it, they find a way to spread everywhere (especially where you don’t want them)- and it can take a long time to clean up the mess. I’m still finding glitter in my carpet from the time my daughters decided to make a music video in the living room using glitter and a fan… that was 2 years ago.

One negative person has the ability to corrupt an entire sales floor. I’ve seen it happen. It starts with subtle complaints…

“They have way better leads at that company…”

“This place has changed…”

“This comp plan is only set up to reward to 1%…”

“So-and-so has to be cheating to get those kind of numbers…”

It’s hard to train a person who always sees the glass half empty to start seeing as half full. Rather than looking at the success of a coworker and being driven to push themselves harder, they moan and complain about how unfair things are.

It’s a challenge to deal with negativity.

I have found, though, that typically people who are negative have some other issues going on than what we see on the surface. Sometimes it traces way back in their lives to some unfortunate events. Those jaded individuals needs a lot of prayer as well.

You can also recommend the book The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. It’s a great resource for folks struggling with negative thinking.


To the top salespeople, these skills are more than just skills- they’re part of their character. They have be ingrained in them from childhood.

The top salespeople learn these at home, and then learn to apply them in the real world. These skills are not only imperative for success in sales and in business, but they’re necessary for success in life.

If somebody lacks any of these, or even all of them, there is still hope. There’s always hope. Go to battle for them in prayer.

If you’re the sales person struggling with any of these, just remember that the change must start within. It is not something that people can do for you. Great change like that can only be done by the grace of God and the fortitude he’s blessed us with. So start today.  


What do you think?

Do you agree with this list? Is there something you would add? Maybe something you would remove? Are there some sales skills that you had to learn the hard way, that a manager just wasn’t able to teach you?

Tell me all about it in the comments below. I want to hear from you. I just might add it to the list!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I have most of them, attitude being the one I would need to work on a bit – I’m easily down way too quickly when my goal cannot be reached … but however going up again fairly quickly as soon as something positive comes out of the blues.

    They told us how reading selling articles everyday (i forget for what amount..oops) is beneficial for sellers and thus, i’m happy I found your blog !

    1. I’m glad you found it too! I can really relate to the sales rollercoaster. It’s tough.

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