I’ve been swamped of late with sales candidate assessments for different customers and have encountered an important trait – common sense.  This is a broad topic, but we use it in a fairly defined manner – using common sense.  We actually measure this aptitude in one of our assessments which often leads to rather pointed discussions…especially when a candidate has a low score in this area.

But what of it?  Our definition utilizes speaks to common sense being more of a natural reflex as opposed to a logical thinking process.  I’m not talking about intuition but rather the practical thinking in regards to seeing the world.  Does that make sense?  The ability is clearly beneficial to successful selling.

Think of salesperson’s task – successfully convince a stranger to hand over their (or their company’s) money for your product or service solution.  Most times salespeople have to go to the client’s facility to meet with them.  Most times they have never met the prospect.  Most times they are not certain of all of the buying factors (need, budget, decision process, timing, etc.).  If you think about it, this is a tall order.

Now think of a salesperson with the ability to see things in a practical manner, to see the world clearly.  How intrinsically helpful is this ability?  A salesperson with this aptitude can move through a qualifying process quickly and accurately.  In essence, they are more efficient.

A salesperson lacking in this area has to incorporate more aids (record keeping, organizing tools, selling system reminders, etc.) to move through the same area.  It has been my experience that these salespeople will move slower in comparison to the aforementioned salespeople.  These salespeople will also miss some important qualifying points.  They will, essentially, take longer to cover the same ground.

I’m not sure this distinction is necessarily critical in the present market.  Most companies I talk to are thoroughly qualifying every lead – they are not overwhelmed with hot leads.  Yet, the economy will pick up and business will start to move into a faster pace when it does.  At that point, a less efficient, slower-moving salesperson may become a real liability.

If you are not assessing salespeople today, it is time to start.

I preach this point from the mountaintop as often as possible so I’ll continue here – sales is the single most difficult position to hire in any company.  The reason is simple, accurately predicting sales success by discerning candidate capabilities is…well, often a crapshoot.  This fact is why it is imperative to use assessments to gain an understanding of what the candidate has “under their hood.”

A prime example is emotional control.  Successful salespeople have this trait.  It is a broad term so let me put a finer point on it:

This is the ability of a salesperson to maintain rational and objective actions when experiencing strong internal emotions. This trait measures one’s ability to control their own internal emotions and prevent them from affecting their actions, logic, objectivity, etc. Emotional Control deals with keeping internal emotions in instead of letting them get the better of the salesperson.

I’ve seen this trait showing up more frequently among salespeople in this recessed economy.  My theory is that deals are hard to come by in most industries.  When salespeople do lock on to a solid opportunity, they need to stay focused and keep qualifying.  However, if they lack emotional control, they may get giddy, over excited, even panicky to get the deal closed.  This approach is absolutely uncomfortable to observe (yes, I have seen it first-hand recently).

The other facet of this trait, or lack of it, is an angry, desperate salesperson who reacts negatively to a stressful prospect interaction.  The salesperson can become infuriated with a deal not moving forward.  Even experienced salespeople can respond with a quick cut on the prospect or fire off a curt email that turns the prospect negative.

Whichever way this weakness plays out is highly detrimental to any company.  Salespeople must maintain objectivity throughout the most difficult of discussions to properly qualify an opportunity.  Failure to do so leads to the aforementioned problems.  This potential weakness can be identified before you ever hire a salesperson.  The tools are available so please contact us if you are ready to keep this weakness out of your sales team.

Warning – psychology babble coming your way from Fast Company.  I encounter this effect often with clients:

That judgment is what’s called, in psychology, the Fundamental Attribution Error. Meaning that we tend to attribute people’s behavior to their core character rather than to their situation. So when somebody cuts you off in traffic, you think, “What a jerk!” You don’t think, “I wonder situation he’s in that’s causing him to drive so crazy.” Even though in those times when YOU have driven crazily, it was almost certainly because of the situation you were in—you were late for a job interview or a date.

May I make a suggestion?  The use of assessments introduces objective measurement into the situation which helps to limit fundamental attribution error.  Limiting subjectivity generally leads to better hiring especially with salespeople.

We’re an assessment company so you can imagine how adamant I am about assessing candidates (not just for sales positions either).  However, in sales it is crucial to use assessments to cut through the sales candidates’ well-developed social skills.  Unfortunately, many assessment tools focus on personality only which is not a reliable or repeatable predictor of sales success.

My experience has been that most people focus on big personalities when it comes to selling.  If the person is a good talker, tells funny stories, lights up the room, etc., then they must be a good salesperson.  The bigger the personality, the more they will sell.  Ok, I grant you that is oversimplifying it, but you get my point.  I have encountered it for years when working with hiring managers.

The issue becomes more pronounced when these same hiring managers employ a personality assessment only.  Now they look for big personalities with highly extroverted assessment results to confirm their gut-level decision to pursue a boisterous candidate.  Sales is a listening profession – asking the right questions, gathering information and directing decisions are the core competencies of sales success.

I always tell prospects who are using personality assessments that it is good they are using assessments.  They do tell you something of the candidate’s style that hiring managers can use in interviewing.  But if you want to know how they will perform in the role, you have to measure their skills, aptitudes and motivations.  These items are predictive of success and provide a detailed view of a salesperson’s abilities.

That is a tough question since I think values are primarily hardwired into each of us.  We assess this trait in sales candidates – call them motivations.  Each person tends to have two of these motivators that drives their behaviors (some people have 3 primary motivators).

We have assessed salespeople who were in slumps, who were unemployed and who were candidates.  These are stressful situations that should impact their values.  When we had the opportunity to assess the same people at a later date (years later), we did not see an appreciable change in their values/motivations.  Granted, this was no scientific study, but rather a consistent observation.

BusinessWeek.com provides this article – Value-Based Motivation – that discusses how values change in a recession.

One thing that makes motivation particularly difficult to manage is that individuals differ significantly in what they value and events can change what they value. What is very rewarding for some individuals, say, a day of golf with the boss or even an all-expenses-paid vacation trip to Hawaii, may not be seen as a reward by others. The same thing goes for praise by the boss and most forms of recognition.

Recessions can have a significant impact on what people value. Not surprisingly, job security, and financial rewards tend to become more important in periods of recession. It is particularly important that organizations skillfully manage these two drivers of employee motivation during recessions. How they manage them needs to be fine-tuned to the business strategy and how a company is affected by the recession.

Interesting point in that recessions have a global impression – the recession is outside of my control so my motivations are influenced towards monetary and security rewards.  That seems like a logical assumption…perhaps a macro-level influence like a global recession can sway motivations.

As a manager, it is important to know what motivates your salespeople and what rewards them on an individual basis.  This point is valid no matter what the economy is or isn’t doing.  These two factors provide the beginning of a roadmap to gaining the most production out of your sales team.

If you haven’t discovered these motivators in your current team, may I suggest a test assessment?

From Inc.com’s article on how to screen sales candidates:

It cost $400 a candidate, and the recruits took the tests online. Dolan and Kinaxis’s star salesperson took the test, too, and Opus analyzed their test scores and created a personality benchmark. Afterward, Opus discussed the results with each of the candidates to see if any of them disagreed with the assessments. None did. “They’re spooky accurate,” Dolan says.

We use spooky accurate assessments for all of our sales candidates.  Assessing sales candidates is one of the best ways to cut through the veneer and see what they are truly made of.  This article places a priority on personality assessments which is fine but not ideal.  However, a personality assessment is still better than no assessment.

We categorize personality as Selling Style and it is analogous to fashion style.  It is the means by which the salesperson prefers to communicate, but it shouldn’t be a knockout factor when hiring.  Companies who hire based on personality tend to be the ones who believe that all successful salespeople are extroverts.  Not true and we have years of assessments to prove it.

Using the fashion analogy, there are a few faux pas that would lead you to seriously question a candidate (yes, I have sat through those interviews too).  The personality style is similar – there are some that are probably a complete mismatch to the position’s needs.  Those candidates should still be pursued in the interview process with questions to reveal more of their style.

The better assessment for successful sales hiring is to measure their motivations, natural aptitudes and existing skills.  These factors are far more predictive of success in a sales position than personality.

Selling Power’s Hiring Newsletter takes a look at assessments used in the hiring process.  This is a topic near and dear to our hearts in that we assess sales candidates with online tests.  One paragraph jumped out (emphasis mine):

According to Whittle, the average test runs around $200, but there were some tests that tacked on extra costs for interpretation up to $600 to $900 extra. Her company usually conducts the tests after at least two behavioral interviews to save time and costs. However, Whittle reminds us – the cost of testing is nothing compared to the cost of a bad hire. “We conduct the tests to validate what we’ve seen during the interview process,” explains Whittle.

I understand this approach, but I don’t agree with it.  Here has been my experience – hiring managers will doubt the test results as opposed to their “gut instinct.”  If you are two interviews into the process with a candidate, I guarantee someone has bonded with the candidate.  This is not a bad thing, but what if the assessment comes back with information that indicates the candidate would be a risky, or even bad hire?

This is the problem – the hiring manager has committed to the candidate at some level.  If the hiring manager has enough power, they will still hire the candidate in spite of the assessment results.

We assess candidates after a successful phone interview.  This provides a detailed view of the candidate’s abilities, motivations, drive and so forth.  The results also provide the topics for discussion during the initial in-person interview.  This data makes that first interview far more revealing than simply probing for unknown weaknesses with generic questions.

I’ve been dealing with many different sales candidates of late and one thing that is starting to stand out – a candidate’s resourcefulness.  This trait comes shining through on some candidates and is little more than a dull luster on others.  The less resourceful a salesperson, the more wary you should be in considering their candidacy.

This trait has always been important in sales.  Resourcefulness feeds networking, prospecting, qualifying and competitive knowledge.  Recently I have encountered a couple of candidates who just plain lack this ability.

The lack of resourcefulness shows up in not finding email addresses or cell phone numbers.  One salesperson wasn’t able to recall the position for which he was applying (this makes for an arduous phone screen).  Another salesperson wasn’t able to research new leads due to ineptitude using online tools.

These shortcomings are severe weaknesses in the information age.  I’m not sure how to measure this ability though we can get close to it with our assessments (practical thinking and using common sense).  More than likely, this ability has to be experienced in the hiring process so pay close attention during the initial stages of sourcing sales candidates.

Ere.net offers up an excellent Kevin Wheeler article that explains how gut-level hiring occurs.  Here is the crux of the problem:

Interviews are examples of how easy it is to abandon the tools of objectivity, the scientific method, logic, and the rules of evidence, for our “gut” or for “chemistry.”

While there is considerable evidence showing that testing candidates is far more likely to predict successful performance, we still rely almost exclusively on interviews. Though numerous researchers have pointed out the need to gather a variety of data about a candidate, we generally settle for an application form and an interview.

Why are we so resistant to testing and other more objective sources of data?

Wheeler goes on to quote a psychologist who lays out the mental decision process that occurs in the majority of hiring managers:

Tom Gilovich, a Cornell University psychologist, writes:

“Information that is consistent with our pre-existing beliefs is often accepted at face value, whereas evidence that contradicts them is critically scrutinized and discounted.”

That is exactly right.  We have a customer who reviews the resume and comes to a conclusion.  He then spends the interview attempting to verify his conclusions.  He uses “questions” like “You sold to this type of customer, didn’t you?”  This approach is the opposite of objective.

Wheeler ends the article with a suggestion that we wholly support:

Use objective tools such as validated tests and multi-rater feedback. By starting with one or two well-known tools, we can refine and hone them to our exact needs until they are excellent at predicting success. Proctor and Gamble has been doing this for more than two decades with remarkable success.

We can help – we have objective, online assessments.

I’ve read many sales technique articles recently that discuss how to approach a prospect.  Salespeople are expected to have a cursory knowledge of the company itself, it’s market and, to some extent, whether or not they have a solution that may be a fit for this prospective customer.  Gone are the days of cold calling a prospect and asking what it is their company does.

I think everyone can agree with that paragraph.  So why do companies still expect hiring managers to go through the added discovery of sorting out communication styles, motivations and skill sets?  Granted, most managers want to verify these items, but assessments provide a starting point that not only speeds up the process, they enhance it.

We assess candidates before the initial interview.  The first benefit here is that we actually screen out candidates that are not a strong fit for the position.  There is no need to interview them if they are completely misaligned to the position’s requirements.

Second, the assessment results provide a foundation to start the interview process.  Now that the hiring manager has some measurement of the unknown candidate to provide context immediately in the interview.  The discovery phase is shortened drastically and a focused interview can occur.

If we measure a candidate’s sales skills and find an underdeveloped area, we provide the hiring manager with specific questions to drill down during the interview.  These areas can be explored in the initial interview which allows the hiring manager to reach their decision faster with more objective data to support the decision.