Building Winning Teams: How to Hire Sales Talent Well – Discern the “Teachables vs. Unteachables”

Many companies don’t hire well for sales rep roles or even at executive level such as for a CRO or for a VP of Sales role.  They focus too much on teachables rather than on unteachables.  That’s one of the many mistakes to avoid.

Dan Ross, the SVP of Commercial Sales at Salesforce, wrote a few years ago about hiring for sales and about things that can be taught and those that can’t be taught.

Dan wrote about a couple of unique, counter-intuitive but very important insights which I also discussed several times in the past: “In my near decade at Salesforce, I’ve worked for, managed, and hired many a salesperson. Some of our best software reps had never sold software before joining us. In fact, some of our best closers had never closed a deal before working here.  This may sound unbelievable, but believe it. What these individuals may have lacked in traditional sales experience, they more than compensated for with core qualities.”  (Source:

He also wrote: “We at Salesforce are very aware of what we want in a salesperson. When interviewing candidates, we evaluate them based on two categories: the skills we can teach them and the skills we can’t. … . If they have the unteachable qualities, that’s great news, because everything else — from closing deals to business and sales acumen — they can absolutely learn. ”

When you are hiring – focus on identifying great candidates with strong “unteachables” and don’t worry too much about whether they have experience with “teachables” because those can be easily learned.


Unteachable Qualities – Can’t be Taught:

  • Curiousity
  • Integrity
  • Drive
  • Problem-Solving
  • Resiliency (aka Grit)
  • Self-Awareness
  • Emotional Awareness


Teachable Qualities  – Can be Taught:

  • Pipe Generation
  • Time Management
  • Business Acumen
  • Sales Acumen
  • Big Deals (see here – this is not hard to learn)
  • Product Knowledge
  • Forecasting