Sales Testing – Bitter Truth #4

images-3Sales Tests Can’t Identify Certain Critical Factors

In my conversations with clients about the results of our sales assessment tests, they are usually looking for answers or at least some guidance. I do my very best to address their questions and to help them to understand the pros and cons of the results we are discussing. Our clients are savvy and pragmatic so they know that what we offer is a tool and is not the be all and end all answer. At the end of many of these conversations I find myself using the phrase, ‘people are complicated creatures, thank goodness’.

When I use this phrase I’m not being flippant, nor am I trying to brush off questions or concerns about a candidate. I use it to express something that both the client and I are always cognizant of; that people are often very hard to figure out and that when it comes to hiring sales people there are no easy answers. The process of evaluating sales candidates has been sliced and diced for so long that there are tools purporting to measure almost everything. Despite this, there are certain critical contributors to sales success that just cannot be measured by any tool or test. At least none of which I am aware. While by no means a definitive list, I have highlighted a few below.


How important is this in a sales person? I would venture to say that it snookers many other things including both hard and soft skills. Can it be taught? I don’t think so! Will it help the rep in their dealings with prospects and customers? I would say without a doubt it will. Even though a candidate might be better ‘on paper’ they may not seem all that likeable or may rub you the wrong way when you meet face to face. It might just be a chemistry thing between you and the candidate. Then again, maybe not. Perhaps the way they come across to you is the way they will come across to your customers. In my opinion, likeability is important. You know it when you see it and experience it but no tool can measure it or define it.

Passion for the Business

Talking about ‘passion’ for one’s work is way over done. Realistically, there are a lot of very successful people doing very well selling products and services about which they can’t possibly be ‘passionate’. They are probably getting other things from the role such as money, freedom, or prestige. In my opinion if you find yourself considering a candidate who has an obvious love or passion for your business they are definitely worth serious consideration, even if they are lacking in other key aspects such as skills, experience and test results. A sales person with shortcomings in these other areas can ultimately be very successful because their enthusiasm can cover up a lot of sins (weaknesses).

Work Ethic

This is one of those things that can be articulated in various ways but basically, to use a brief dictionary definition, it is ‘the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous and worthy of reward’. When it comes to sales the old saying that success is the result of 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration really does hold true. There are lots and lots of examples of sales people who have overcome all sorts of shortcomings and obstacles. Like the example above, a sales person with a great work ethic is definitely worth hiring even though ‘on paper’ he or she would seem to be a weak candidate. I am not aware of any test or instrument that can identify this, but if you see it hire it!

Candidate Perception

Sales people who see the role as an opportunity to advance their career will be highly motivated to succeed. Conversely, a sales person whose perception of the role is that it is a step down or even a move sideways will likely fail even if they are highly qualified. Hiring over qualified candidates very often leads to failure when the candidate leaves after finding the ‘role they were really looking for’. This is a common issue during recessions or periods of high unemployment. A less qualified candidate who perceives an opportunity will more likely demonstrate a ‘hunger’ for success. You won’t find a test or instrument that will measure this but you should always do your best to see the role from the perspective of the candidate.

In your experience, what other critical things can’t be measured by a sales assessment test?

Thanks for visiting the Blog. I would enjoy hearing from you with your comments and to learn about your challenges with regards to hiring sales people.

Sales Testing – Bitter Truth #3

images You can’t have it both ways!

As my mother used to say, (this sounds best with a Scottish accent) ‘Ye cannie have yer cake and eat it too’. Meaning of course that you can’t have it both ways. This phrase is definitely worth keeping in mind when you are considering the personalities of sales people.

More to the point a sales person’s core personality traits can be likened to double-edged swords. This is relevant because personality trait drives have both a favourable and an unfavourable side. This is the source of not only their sales strengths but also their weaknesses.

Many hiring managers simply do not understand this. I find this very surprising since it accounts for so many of the frustrations, issues and problems that managers mention when discussing their sales people. It is even more surprising given the fact that management’s most basic responsibility is to understand how to motivate people.

Even a cursory understanding of motivational trait drives and specifically the core temperament and motivational drives of their own sales people would be a huge help for many in sales management. Unfortunately, with no objective understanding of this, they are left to their own devices. Which means that when it comes to managing and motivating sales people they are seriously hindered.

If these managers were to begin using a sales personality test they would be amazed at how much more effective they are. I’m sure many would be asking themselves why they ever expected to do their jobs without one. There are few other areas in business with such high financial stakes, where management operates with so little in the way of objective insight.

I typically have my first ‘two-edged sword conversation’ with clients when I am learning about the requirements of their sales role(s). One thing I usually do is to ask them to describe in their words the ‘ideal’ person. Almost always I am given a list of traits as long as my arm. The length of the list is not the problem. The problem is that, without knowing it, they have created a laundry list of ‘necessary’ traits that are completely contradictory. By contradictory I mean they just can’t possibly exist within the same person. There are dozens and dozens of examples. A few common ones are listed below.

  1. Hunters and closers have naturally very large egos and are very independent. These traits mean they are weak with details and de-motivated by rules and procedures. That said, it is pretty common for hiring managers to expect them to work under tight controls and to devote much of their time to reporting and other details.
  2. Another example with hunters and closers is for the hiring manager to be overly concerned with job turnover. While controlling unnecessary turnover is a good thing the nature of these very venturesome types is that they will always have a relatively strong tendency to move from job to job. It is just part of their nature, so allow for it.
  3. The misguided belief that one can hire a sales person who is both a great sales hunter and a great sales farmer. Motivationally these styles have in many ways completely opposite personality trait requirements. You really need to decide what the focus of the position truly is and hire for that.
  4. The expectation that highly independent sales people will be great team players. Great team players are usually anything but independent.
  5. The belief that somehow a sales person can have both a great deal of ‘patience’ but also a sense of urgency. A sense of urgency is really just another way of saying impatient. One can’t be both patient and impatient simultaneously.
  6. There are unique challenges to hiring telephone sales people.  Management typically needs sales reps to have a sense of urgency and be rather proactive, yet of course, sit in one place and make calls in a rather routine fashion. What many managers don’t understand is that proactive people with a sense of urgency have an abundance of nervous energy and need great variety in their work activities. The last thing they are matched for is a role that requires them to sit in one place and perform a repetitive activity. This contradictory requirement is a key contributor to the notoriously high turnover rates in telephone sales.

Realistically, all sales roles have some of these contradictory requirements. In many instances they are rather minor. It becomes a big problem when these contradictions are quite pronounced. In this situation such as example #3 above you really need to make the decision as to what is most imperative about the role and hire for that. In some other cases like the example in #6 you really just have to live with the situation. In this instance hiring sales people to fit the routine nature of the role would mean hiring passive order takers rather than true sales people. I doubt you would want to do that.

It would be a mistake to think that using will mean that these contradictions will be completely eliminated. By using our knowledge of sales roles and sales personalities we can make you aware of them so that perhaps you can rethink the role and/or the type of person for that role. When that is not possible just having insight into the situation will make you a far better manager.

Are you trying to have it both ways with your sales people?  If so, we would enjoy hearing from you. Perhaps you might benefit from our 3 decades of experience.