Sales Testing – Bitter Truth #5


 You’re a Lousy Judge of Character*

*but you’ll be a good one when you use a sales test

After I wrote that title about being a bad judge of character I thought about softening it but then I had a change of heart. After all, this article is about a bitter truth so in that context being told right off the bat that you are a lousy judge of character does seem to fit. If it is any consolation it is not meant as a personal slight but a comment on a flawed process.

If your job entails interviewing and hiring sales candidates then obviously a core requirement of your job is to learn about, and to understand, what makes those candidates tick. Sure, you can verify facts like education, skills and experience, but that’s not what I’m talking about. If you’ve been hiring sales people for any length of time at all you already know that while important, these things rarely have much to do with sales success.

No, what you need to judge is their character; motivational traits, drive, sense of urgency and myriad other personality aspects of the candidate that ultimately determine how they match the requirements of the role. It is this that inevitably determines their sales success or failure.

Are you still with me?   If so, then you are also painfully aware that relying on face-to-face interviews with sales candidates in order to obtain an accurate measure of this is much easier said than done. Why is that?

The overriding reason is that interviews are just not an effective way to evaluate job candidates, especially candidates for sales roles.   This is not just my opinion. This has been the topic of many research studies and articles by numerous highly respected experts. This New York Times article by Jason Dana, Professor of Management and Marketing at Yale School of Business explains this issue very nicely: The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews.

Management’s use of interviews as a selection tool is so entrenched in our hiring methods, systems and procedures that, despite all the evidence demonstrating that interviews are a waste of time, it is simply not realistic to think that you or anyone else is going to stop conducting them. So if as I suspect, you will continue to interview sales people, all the while operating in the knowledge that the process itself is fatally flawed, the question is what, if anything, do you intend to do about it?

You certainly have the option of maintaining the status quo in the mindset that ‘it is what it is’. You have to admit though, that if you were stuck with a ‘flawed process’ in any other area of your business, and particularly one with such costly implications, that you wouldn’t waste a minute before getting to work trying to find a way to fix it or work around it.

On the other hand, adding a highly accurate and proven sales assessment test such as is fast, easy and very economical. The sales assessment will cut through the typical role-playing at which candidates are so effective and that would normally fool you. Instead, you’ll operate with a clear and precise picture of the real person behind the façade.   Not only will you have a full picture of the candidate’s critical sales abilities, (ie. prospecting, closing, sense of urgency) but you’ll also have a very full understanding of strengths and weaknesses and other red flags. More than just leveling the ‘interview playing field’, you will find yourself back in command of the situation.

In other words, if you use our sales assessment test when interviewing sales people you will become a very good judge of character. Isn’t that how you see yourself?

Sales Personality Test – You Can Teach a Hunter to Farm But You Can’t Teach a Farmer to Hunt – Here’s Why!


‘You can teach a hunter to farm but you can’t teach a farmer to hunt’ is an expression I’ve heard many times over the years. Like a lot of old expressions, whether in the ‘world of sales’ or in everyday life they often contain a lot of truth. Hiring managers who’ve used this phrase have usually come to believe it through hard earned experience and their fair share of hiring mistakes. The sales assessment testing we have conducted with hunters and farmers over the years definitely bears out their view. Rather than just accept this expression I wanted to add some of the ‘why’.

Not wanting to go over the previously traveled territory I covered in this article about Hunters and Farmers, I will very briefly summarize their key trait similarities and differences. The two styles differ in both their levels of assertiveness and of dependence. Hunters having high assertiveness while farmers have low. Hunters have low dependence while farmers have high. The similarities are that both tend to be very extroverted and both tend to possess a sense of urgency.

Just to be clear, it is rarely a good idea to have contradictory criteria in any sales role. This previous article about sales testing covers this subject. The essence of the article being, that traits can be likened to two-edged swords. This means that the person’s traits, or sets of traits, that create certain sales strengths also create corresponding sales weaknesses. It normally follows then, that one should make sure that the sales role and the sales person being hired for that role are completely in sync. Unfortunately this is not always possible, so this article is meant to shed some light on a fairly common sales hiring dilemma.

Why you can’t teach a farmer to hunt

The reason you cannot teach a farmer to hunt and why if you do try, you are setting every one up for failure, boils down to the simple fact that the change of personality required to pull this off is so dramatic that it is virtually impossible to achieve.

Changing or adjusting one’s traits to successfully perform one’s job is achievable only if the change/adjustment required is relatively minor. In fact, a slight alteration in one’s style for work is actually quite common and can be pretty positive. When the change becomes too great however, as is the situation we are addressing here, then it is a recipe for disaster. Specifically, the expectation is that the person will elevate their level of assertiveness from very low to very high and simultaneously lower their high level of dependence to very low.   Either one or the other of these adjustments is a very tall order; successfully making them both will just not happen. Naysayers and others who disagree with the above will bring up training, sales tracking software and other tools as a remedy. These will very likely make a bad situation less bad, but the heart of the problem is that you are fighting a losing battle because the issue is not skill, nor anything else that might be taught. The fundamental issue is a very poor personality fit.

Why you can teach a hunter to farm

The overriding reason why it is more realistic to teach a hunter to farm is really quite simple. Firstly, the degree of change required in the hunter’s personality traits is more limited and therefore a more realistic change. Secondly, the available sales tools and necessary skills that need to be taught for these more service-oriented activities are more likely to actually work. There is another practical reason as well; in most instances management’s primary need is for the rep to open accounts (hunt) and as those accounts are opened, to service and maintain them (farm). In other words, the key sales activity at the very least initially, is to develop new business.


If you need to hire a hunter but you also need him to farm, here are a few quick suggestions. First of all, put in place tools and procedures that while helping the rep, do not make him feel controlled nor require too much of his time, otherwise he will be quite demotivated. When ‘selling’ the idea of these tools to the rep and any training you need to provide him, always relate the benefits to what’s in it for him i.e. money, opportunity and independence. If the rep buys into the connection between the farming activities and his individual success, then this will be highly motivating and the rep will be far more likely to succeed.

I hope this has been helpful and I would invite your thoughts and comments. I would especially enjoy hearing from you to discuss your challenges regarding sales hunters and farmers and would be pleased to share some of what we at have learned over the past 3 decades.

Sales Assessment Test – Good Sales Farmers

images-3Good Sales Farmers – What Makes Them Effective?

Here at we do a lot of sales assessment testing to identify top sales hunters.   I would guess though, that we do nearly as many sales tests to identify high potential sales farmers.

One thing I have noticed is that while hiring managers think about and seriously ponder the sales personality traits of top sales hunters, they put far less thought into the sales personality traits of sales farmers. It is almost as if a sales candidate who is not a good hunter automatically qualifies as a good sales farmer. This is a rather binary way of looking at sales personalities, as if by being a bad fit for one you are by default good for the other.

Obviously, there are more than just two types of sales person personalities. I can absolutely assure you that many of the sales candidates who would be just awful sales hunters would be equally awful as sales farmers. I therefore thought I would focus on and describe the critical trait drive combination that always seems to be present in top sales farmers.

In this previous article about Hunters and Farmers we explained that while the two diverse styles have important differences, they also share some key similarities. Where they differ is in both their respective levels of assertiveness and of dependence. Hunters have high assertiveness while farmers are low. Hunters have low dependence while farmers are high. Where they are similar is that both tend to be very extroverted and both tend to have a sense of urgency.

Summary Description of Top Sales Farmer

Top sales farmers are non-assertive, outgoing and persuasive. They have a sense of urgency and need for variety and they are also quite dependent on rules and structure in order to give direction to their work activities. They are very altruistic and are therefore highly motivated by the desire to help others-the customer, the team. Their eagerness to please others means that they will be highly motivated by recognition.   Because they have quite a strong fear of failure and risk aversion they will tend to follow policies and procedures. Top sales farmers will operate with seeming independence and seeming authority when they are comfortable with the role and on firm ground with regards to the rules and procedures. For this reason they may appear quite assertive and independent if they are highly familiar with the position.

Critical Trait Drive Combination

In our studies of sales farmer teams, two critical trait drives are consistently present in the top performers. They invariably have both Low Patience (they are impatient) and High Dependence. These two trait drives are described below.

Low Patience– low levels of this factor mean that the individual is very impatient, is restless and pro-active, thrives on change/variety, has nervous energy, is deadline oriented, is a multi-tasker, is bored by routine and repetition.

High Dependence– high levels of this factor mean that the individual is very dependent on the structure of rules, procedures and guidelines, is very perfectionistic and detailed, is compliant, has a strong fear of failure, and requires security.

The above combination of traits is critical and integral to their success because it means that they not only exhibit a great sense of urgency within their work but in doing so they are organized, detail oriented and follow a plan. Those sales farmers who lack this sense of urgency and detail orientation tend to be very passive and reactive in style. As well they do not tend to be particularly organized nor as dedicated to following procedures and systems. In short, they are scattered, disorganized and very high maintenance. Which type would you rather have on your team? readily identifies the difference!

If you are responsible for managing or hiring sales farmers I would be pleased to have a conversation with you to learn about your specific challenges.

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.