Street smarts or book smarts—which is better for sales?

We only hired college graduates, or so I thought. So, when the president of my company hired a Sales VP without a degree, I challenged him. He said that Craig, the new VP, had the sales leadership experience we needed, and that a degree, in this case, was irrelevant.

It turns out the president was right. As the manager of a geographically diverse sales team, I reported directly to Craig. I learned more from him about sales lead generation and how to engage clients in a relationship than I’d learned from books and my own sales leadership experience.

When we hear people say someone is “street smart,” we often surmise that they are undereducated, underachievers, and don’t have a very high I.Q. But I learned very quickly that street smarts trump academic smarts in most every business interaction. After all, experience is the best teacher of all.

Not All High Achievers Seek Higher Education 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big proponent of college, and I would certainly encourage any young person to go. College is a valuable experience in itself—an opportunity to develop curiosity and discontent and to prepare for the world ahead.

But should it be so hard to find a sales job without a degree?

Angela Duckworth sets the record straight with her research on what makes high achievers special. It’s the combination of passion and perseverance—no matter what the obstacles. She calls it grit.

Lisa Quast summarizes Duckworth’s research in her Forbes article, “Why Grit Is More Important Than IQ When You’re Trying To Become Successful.” She writes:

Being gritty, according to Duckworth, is the ability to persevere. It’s about being unusually resilient and hardworking, so much so that you’re willing to continue on in the face of difficulties, obstacles and even failures. It’s about being constantly driven to improve. 

In addition to perseverance, being gritty is also about being passionate about something. For the highly successful, Duckworth found that the journey was just as important as the end result … [It] wasn’t natural talent that made the biggest difference in who was highly successful and who wasn’t—it was more about effort than IQ. 

Read the rest of the article to learn Duckworth’s success formulas.

My Father, the “Street Smart” Hero

My dad never finished high school. He went straight to work, and he did well for himself. He had an innate ability to “read” people. He knew how to run a tough business, and how to engage and retain customers.

He also knew the best way to learn. One year, as Dad watched football on TV, I asked if I could go to a game with him. He told me we could go the next year. This year, I would watch games on television with him, and he’d explain it to me. That way, I would understand the game when we went.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was the smartest man I knew. As Duckworth puts it, “Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.”

(A side note: I’ve lived in California for a long time, but I was raised in Philadelphia. The Eagles will always be my team, because I will always remember those special times with Dad. Before this year, the Eagles only reached the Super Bowl twice and lost both times—in 1981 to the Oakland Raiders and in 2005 to the New England Patriots. So, as I celebrated our team’s big win on Sunday night, I also celebrated the man who inspired in me both a love of football and a lot of grit.)

No matter how much sales leadership experience you have, there’s always room for improvement and learning. Want to help your team learn sales lead generation tactics that work? Learn more about the #1 Referral Program for Account Based Sales.