Kindergarten Closer

Is it possible the most important training for your top-performing salespeople came before they closed their first deal — or even chose a career?

A survey of 254 sales professionals across the U.S. and United Kingdom has shown that their career paths may have been determined from an early age. Demonstrating the ambition and drive required to succeed in a sales career, more than two-thirds (68 percent) say they were made to earn their pocket money as a child, while one-third (31 percent) found their first employment by age 13. A scant 8 percent questioned in the survey, undertaken by sales intelligence Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider, saes-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.

Competing from an early age

An analysis of the results shows that as children, most salespeople already demonstrated a competitive nature. More than 70 percent competed in at least one school sports team. Conversely, just 17 percent chose to avoid, or were not included in, school teams. It’s a trait that sales professionals recognize in themselves, as shown by the 36 percent that selected “competitive” as their principal childhood characteristic. Qualities including “social,” “driven” and “positive” were also indicated.

“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,” says Cary Cooper, professor of organizational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School. “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 continues, “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 in the making is reinforced by the 66 percent that deem themselves to have been popular during their school days. Only 7 percent believe they were unpopular, while 3 percent say they were bullied during these years.

The role of nurture and birth order

Aside from their inherent personalities and social choices, nurture may also play a role in the future salesperson’s career choice. While 92 percent of respondents indicate that they have at least one sibling (39 percent have more than three), 38 percent are the eldest. Previous studies have indicated that firstborns have a tendency toward 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 percent 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 percent pursued sales as their first career choice.

“It’s revealing that only a minority of salespeople say they set out to build a career in sales,” Cooper says. “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 U.S., 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 U.S., 55 percent of those with a parent working in sales chose sales as their first career choice, compared to 30 percent in the UK.

Paul Black, CEO of sales-i, says, “That sales wasn’t most people’s first choice does not mean it is the wrong one. For the other 78 percent, 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.”

Black says the results of the survey clarify for sales managers what personality traits to look for in a new hire.

“Competitive, driven personalities are rarely developed in adulthood, they exist within salespeople from a young age. Similarly, self-starting behavior in childhood correlates well with high performance on the job.”

Black says, “Whether a person believes they are a natural salesperson 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 aren’t the only thing to consider when hiring.”

Founded in 2008, sales-i is a software-as-a-service sales development solution. Integrating business, sales and customer intelligence, it has been designed to simplify the collection and analysis of business data, while cutting both time and cost. Learn more at