HBR or OMG - Whose Criteria Really Differentiate the Top and Bottom 10% of Salespeople?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Aug 22, 2016 @ 10:08 AM

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The Harvard Business Review is at it again.  I honestly can't believe that a publication like HBR continues to publish and push junk science about sales.  Nearly every time they publish an article on sales or selling, they are usually as wrong as the mainstream media is with their attempts to manipulate readers and viewers to vote for their preferred candidates. 

I have previously taken issue with seven of HBR's articles: 

They did publish one that I agreed with on Looking for Potential in your Next Hire...

In their June 20, 2016 article, A Portrait of the Overperforming Salesperson, HBR identified several traits, attitudes and actions that they claim differentiate the top from bottom performers.  I'll summarize it for you below and then explain why I believe it is junk.  The findings include:

 

  • Focus which they described as including Money motivated, respected, likable and effective at prioritizing their time
  • Career Orientation which they described as including how much they think about work and why they went into sales
  • Personal Attributes which they described as including how they remember their childhood and what they use to make decisions
  • Customer Interaction Strategy which they described as tailoring, asking questions, being likable and having personal relationships  (these do differentiate tops from bottoms)
  • Attitude which was word association around sales management and sales process (word association?  really?)
  • Self Perception  which was checking off boxes to indicate the traits they believed they had

This was a survey of 1,000 salespeople. 1/3 of them are in field sales, 1/3 are in inside sales and the rest are sales managers or Sales VP's. 

Only 15% met the author's criteria of meeting quota 88% of the time. Although we weren't told what the quotas were, it's pretty safe to assume that the field salespeople manage accounts in existing territories.  Based on the questions asked, it is also safe to assume that the inside salespeople are making calls to and taking calls from existing customers.   So just in case you can't do the math, when you account for the sales managers and sales VP's in the survey, it changes the population from 1,000 top performing salespeople, to 150 people who don't have to find new business.  That is quite a distinction!  

I hate these surveys because surveys do not equate to science.

Compare this to Objective Management Group's (OMG) actual science from evaluating and assessing more than 1,000,000 salespeople from more than 200 industries over the past 2 decades.  7% are elite, and there are 16% more who are strong.  77% are ineffective.  From its 1,000,000 rows of data, I can assure you that no personality trait or behavioral style of any kind is predictive of sales success. Traits and styles are good to know - they help you understand who your employees are.  But they have never been, nor will they ever be, predictive of sales success.  

There are 21 Sales Core Competencies. Most of these competencies include as many as 10 attributes. Here are just some of the many differences between the top 10% and the bottom 10%:

Competency Average Score
for the Top 10%
Average Score
for the Bottom 10%
Sales Quotient (overall score) 143 (out of 173) 91
Sales DNA (supporting strengths) 84 (out of 100) 53
Motivation 75 57
Commitment to Sales Success 68 34
Closing 47 12
Hunting 74 37
Qualifying 81 31
Consultative Selling 74 37
Sales Process 67 39
CRM Savvy 77 37
Presenting 82 57 

If you look at Sales DNA - the combination of strengths that supports the use of strategy, tactics, process and methodology, you'll see that the top 10% are, on average, nearly 60% stronger than the bottom 10%.  You'll also see that the top 10% have an average Sales Quotient that is nearly 60% higher than the bottom 10%.  The top 10% have double the commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve sales excellence. For the more tactical competencies, the average scores for the top 10% are approximately double those of the bottom 10%. 

When we break sales down by difficulty level, industry sector, vertical market, decision maker to be called upon, price points, etc., the specific findings and scores that differentiate tops from bottoms change accordingly!  Now please tell me, when we have real science like this, what is the HBR thinking when they publish rubbish like personal attributes, attitude and self perception?

Will Barron recently interviewed me on some of these topics and it was a really good interview. You can watch or listen to it here.

Lori Richardson recently interviewed me on some of these topics too - another really good interview, that you can get here.

This article states that 4% of the salespeople sell 94% of the business.  I don't agree with their percentage but it gives you a sense of what is really taking place in sales.

And from OMG's data, this is just in.  The bottom 10% of all salespeople are actually better than the top 10% in 1 of the 21 Sales Core Competencies.  I'll bet you can guess which one...scroll down for the answer...

 

 

 

Relationship Building! It's no wonder that crappy salespeople keep getting hired.  You can hire the best salespeople for your role when you use OMG's accurate and predictive sales candidate assessment.  Try it! 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, comparison of top salespeople, harvard business review, difference between good and bad salespeople, objective management group

Ultimate Comparison of Top Salespeople versus Salespeople That Fail

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Dec 07, 2009 @ 21:12 PM

If you've been following this Blog you know I sometimes refer to the elite 5% of salespeople, the next 20% and the bottom 74%.  After reading Super Freakonomics I was moved to take a new look at our data on the more than 400,000 salespeople we have assessed.  Behavioral scientists would look at our data on the top 5% and report on some common findings.  It might look like this: 

Top Salespeople have the following common characteristics:

They enjoy selling

They prospect consistently

They have a strong Outlook

Of course, there are many more but, the problem I always have with these studies is that they don't look at the characteristics of the salespeople who are failing.  Would you be surprised to know that the bottom 5% have these characteristics too?  Well, they do.  A more interesting comparison would be to look at the characteristics where the biggest differences are:

 Top 5%

 Trait

 Bottom 5%

 99.5%

 Trainable and Coachable

 0%

 100%

 Strong Desire for Sales Success

 0%

 95%

 Strong Commitment to Sales Success

 33%

 94%

 No Excuse Making

 20%

 78%

 Don't Need Approval from Prospects

 6%

 59%

 Don't Get Emotional

 10%

 98%

 Comfortable Talking Personal Finances

 2%

 79%

 Supportive Sales Beliefs

 0%

 76%

 Supportive Buying Habits

 8%

 74 pts.

 Average Severity of 5 Biggest Weaknesses

 251 pts.

 95%

 Rejection Proof

 18%

 100%

 Have Personal Written Goals

 16%

 95%

 High Money Tolerance (choking point)

 35%

 88%

 Make Decisions to Buy without Thinking it Over

 18%

 77%

 % of the Attributes of a Hunter

 31%

 45%

 % of the Attributes of a Closer

 8%

 59%

 % of the Attributes of a Qualifier

 11%

Wow, right?

And you wonder why I make such a big deal out of the difference between personality and behavioral styles assessments as compared with our assessments.  You don't have to look much further than the impact of getting Desire wrong.  If the personality and behavioral styles assessments can't measure Desire for Success in Sales, they can't report on it.  They measure Drive (all the successful people in your company have it but they don't all belong in sales) but market it as a sales finding.

There is a huge difference between the top and bottom performers but any individual finding is meaningless unless it is considered as part of the whole, and in the context of what the salesperson will be selling, who they'll be selling it to, the anticipated resistance, and the expected competition.

Despite the huge gap between the top and bottom groups, even the top group of salespeople falter in these areas:

only 50% are Motivated to earn more money - but that's because most of them have made so much already!

only 29% of them have a sales process they follow - that just reinforces what I've been writing about lately.  The lack of formal sales processes in companies is just astounding!

as you saw from the data above, they only average 45% of the attributes of the closer skill set.  That just places more importance on the earlier stages of the sales process and reinforces what I so often say.  If you slow down between 1st and 2nd base, the sales process will accelerate and closing will take care of itself.

only 34% of them are effective getting high enough in the company.  They aren't a whole lot better in this area than their weak counterparts who get to top decision makers a whopping 20% of the time.

only 43% of them are consistently uncovering the real budget so you know they are wasting some time as a result of that.

here's a shocker - despite the fact that 90% of them prospect consistently (although we don't define what consistent is), only 55% of them have the desire to do it, so they force themselves.  The bottom 5%?  10% more, or 65% have the desire to prospect consistently, but 8% fewer, or 82% actually prospect consistently.

Now that you've seen the data comparing the top and bottom salespeople in the world, what jumps out at you?

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

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Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, Sales Force, comparison of top salespeople, sales study, sales effectiveness study, sales analysis, sales effectiveness

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for eight consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.

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