A survey of 254 sales professionals across the UK and the US has shown that career paths may have been determined from childhood.
Demonstrating the ambition and drive required to succeed in a sales career, 68% say they were made to earn their pocket money as a child, while 31% found their first employment aged just 13.
Just 8% questioned in the survey, undertaken by sales intelligence SaaS provider, sales-i, waited until they were 18 to find a paid job.
On average, respondents to the survey met their monthly targets nine times and exceeded them in seven of the last 12 months.
An analysis of the results shows that, as children, most salespeople already demonstrated a competitive nature: more than 70% competed in at least one school sports team. Conversely, just 17% chose to avoid, or were not included in, school teams.
It is a trait that sales professionals recognise in themselves, as shown by the 36% that selected ‘competitive’ as their principal childhood characteristic. Qualities including ‘social’, ‘driven’ and ‘positive’ were also indicated.
Cary Cooper CBE, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School, said: “These results reveal an unmistakable personality type for salespeople. They are social, competitive and driven, with a positive outlook on life, not just in their work and career. And what’s really important is that salespeople define themselves in this way. It’s that level of confidence and self-awareness which is typical, and needed, in their role.”
Cooper added: “Salespeople are the typical self-starters – they’ve had a job from an early age and they’re pragmatic. They’re used to being successful and can adapt to make sure they stay that way.”
This profile of a young salesperson is reinforced by the 66% that deem themselves to have been popular during their school days. Only 7% believe they were unpopular, while 3% say they were bullied during these years.
Aside from their inherent personalities and social choices, nurture may also play a role in the future salesperson’s career choice. While 92% of respondents indicate that they have at least one sibling (39% have more than three), 38% are the eldest.
Previous studies have indicated that firstborns have a tendency towards diligent personalities. These children often want to be the best at everything they do. They enjoy winning the hearts of those senior to them – an assumption supported by the 57% who indicate ‘people pleasing’ as a key characteristic of their childhood personality.
While a clear profile of a salesperson in childhood can be demonstrated using the results, it’s interesting to note that less than 22% pursued sales as their first career choice.
Cooper said: "It’s revealing that only a minority of salespeople say they set out to build a career in sales. A majority come from middle-class homes where the aspiration is often to move on to university, and then one of the professions. It’s a little different in the US where people are more willing to follow their parents into a sales career – in fact, you could say that selling is more of an accepted part of their culture in general.” In the US 55% of those with a parent working in sales chose sales as their first career choice, compared to 30% in the UK.
Paul Black, CEO of sales-i, commented on the results, saying: “That sales wasn’t most people’s first choice does not mean it is the wrong one. For the other 78%, it may be that it wasn’t until they began their career in sales that they found a job which best suited their personalities and skill sets.
“The results of this survey are important for sales team leaders and hiring managers in that they indicate exactly what personality traits to look for in a graduate salesperson. Competitive, driven personalities are rarely developed in adulthood, they exist within salespeople from a young age. Similarly, self-starting behaviour in childhood correlates well with high performance on the job.”
On average, respondents to the survey met their monthly targets nine times and Of the salespeople who made up the survey's respondents, 57% say that nurturing by managers has helped them improve their selling ability.
Black added: “Whether a person believes they are a natural sales person or not, they will still benefit from proper development and support by their team leaders and company management, so of course a person’s childhood experiences isn't the only thing to consider when hiring.
"Whether it’s sitting down for one-to-one training sessions or providing a sales intelligence software that simplifies the sales process, sales people need to be given the best opportunity to apply their personalities and maximise their sales success.”