Latest Research on Personality Assessments for Sales Selection

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 @ 10:04 AM

ambivertTwo articles caught my attention today.

The first, 10 Traits of Successful Salespeople, was typical of the misinformation that often passes for must-read information:

  • The data came from commission-only insurance salespeople in just one company, so it has limited application in other industries.  
  • The author says that some of the most successful salespeople share 10 personality traits, but doesn't say how many were in the study or how many shared the 10 traits!
  • Because all of the salespeople worked for the same company, they reported to that one company's sales management team, further skewing the results.
  • The author incorrectly classified the 10 traits as personality traits, but some of them are actually behavioral styles.  When styles and traits are combined, they become qualities.
  • Using Objective Management Group's (OMG) data on salespeople for reference, we know that just as many unsuccessful salespeople share those 10 qualities as successful salespeople.  That's why only some and not most of the successful people shared the traits!
  • Even when salespeople possess all 10 qualities, there are still dozens of reasons why they still may not succeed.  OMG identifies weaknesses on its Sales Candidate Assessments that predict why someone who has all the greatest personality traits could be expected to fail.   OMG's top 4 are:
    • Lack of Commitment toward sales success;
    • Lack of Desire for sales success (different from Drive in that Desire in this context is sales specific);
    • Poor Outlook; 
    • Excuse Making.  A sales candidate with either the Lack of Desire or the Lack of Commitment would neutralize all 10 traits the article referred to!
  • OMG's next 7 would be: 
    • Non-Supportive Buy Cycle (the way the candidate buys does not support the sales cycle); 
    • Need for Approval (their need to be liked outweighs their need to sell); 
    • Discomfort Talking about Money; 
    • Becoming Emotional; 
    • Difficulty Recovering from Rejection;
    • Too Trusting;
    • Self-Limiting Beliefs.  

Any combination of 3 or more would certainly neutralize all 10 of the traits referred to in the article.

The second article appeared on the same site and was called Busting the Personality Myth about Salespeople.  This article is not as far off the path as the first article, but it's still full of misinformation.  It's claim, that ambiverts are more successful than extroverts and introverts, may be or may not be true.  There were only 300 salespeople in the study and data was collected for only a 3 month period.  We weren't told what they were selling, who they were selling it to, what the cost was, or the type of competition they faced.  Even if the data is sound,  you would not be smart to go recruit and select ambiverts!  I guarantee that 74% of them will suck at sales too!

It is becoming more and more difficult to separate opinions, experiences and musings from appropriately collected, time-tested, sales-specific, trans-industry data.  That's probably why OMG has earned the Gold Medal for Top Sales Assessment Tool from TopSalesWorld for two years running.

For more on the differences between Assessments and which ones are the most predictive, see this series of articles.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales candidates, omg, hiring salespeople, Personality Tests, personality assessments, sales assessment tests, sales selection, sales assessments, objective management group

How Four Variations Influence Sales and the Way People Make Decisions

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jan 26, 2011 @ 08:01 AM

Over the past week or so there has been a terrific discussion on the Sales Management Executives Group on LinkedIn that drew an unusually spirited discussion on the use of sales assessment tools.  As of this writing, there were more than 7science0 comments, enough participation that I can easily break the comments into four types.

  • Opinions
  • Experiences
  • Gut instinct
  • Science

My regular readers know that I fall on the side of science, but the other three types of commenters feel so strongly about their positions that you would think they were talking science too.  It's great when many people chime in with their comments.  That's the beauty of a discussion forum or Blog - everyone gets to participate and weigh in.  But in the case of a question where its author expects an answer based on science, it becomes more difficult to separate opinions from experiences, gut instincts and facts.  Regardless of the type of comment offered, they all believe their comments to be factual.

Science shows that Objective Management Group's Sales Candidate Assessments are highly predictive - 95%.  But a very small group of clients may have experience that is inconsistent with that science, especially if they used it as a stand alone(without the process it was intended to be part of) tool, had a poor quality pool of candidates to use it on, if they failed to closely manage the people they did hire, if they ignored the warnings we provide on recommended candidates, or if there were non-performance issues (nut cases). Others could have an experience with assessments that aren't at all predictive of sales performance (personality and behavioral styles assessments) but used them with such a small sample size that luck led them to believe that those assessments were predictive.  OMG's sample size is 500,000 salespeople! 

Opinions about assessments, such as "they don't work", lumping dozens of brands, types, and results into a single category, is akin to making sweeping statements like, "cars aren't made very well",  "cell phones can only be used for talking", or "X-Rays aren't dangerous".  Opinions are often lacking in science and experience.  On the other hand, Gut Instinct is great -- when it's right -- and sometimes it is right!  But sometimes it's wrong and you can't make important business decisions on something as unreliable as gut, especially when you are more likely to try and force that kind of decision to be the right decision (in hindsight) by waiting too long to correct a mistake.

If you understand these four types of comments as they relate to a discussion on assessments, what happens if I suggest that prospects judge salespeople in the same four ways?  They subconciously sort whether they are being fed science, experience, opinion, somebody's gut, or some combination, as well as how it all impacts the way they make their decisions.  For simplicity, let's use the 4 traditional social styles - Amiable, Expressive, Analytic and Driver - as context. Analytics will only respond to science.  If they believe they are getting anything other than facts they won't buy.  Amiables need to trust the person they are buying from so when a relationship and trust have been established, Amiables could buy from someone who has strong opinions and good references and might even ignore the science-based salesperson who may not be a good relationship builder.  Expressives have many ideas to share so they may not want to learn that they are wrong from someone who is basing his solution on science.  Drivers want results - quickly - and may use all four - your science and the experience of others, and their own gut to form an opinion to quickly make a decision.

How much of today's article is science?

How much is opinion?

How much is gut?

How much is experience?

I always have an opinion and it's usually influenced by my considerable experience working with companies in more than 200 industries during the past 25 years.  I try extremely hard to make sure that my opinions can be backed by science and while I use gut instinct, I only use it to choose which subject to write about on any given day - I never use gut to make decisions about who to hire, recommend, or how to hire them!

 

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Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales hiring, sales management, sales candidates, sales assessment tools, linkedin, personality assessments

Selling Power Hit and Then Miss the Mark on Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Nov 17, 2010 @ 09:11 AM

selling powerThis must be the week for big names laying big eggs.  The problem stems from the fact that people who are not experts on sales, selling, sales organizations and salespeople, are weighing in with opinions that are either based on unrelated science (general behavior versus sales behavior) or faulty analysis.  So yesterday it was the Harvard Business Review article and today it's a Selling Power article.

They pointed to three qualities that are highly predictive indicators of a top sales performer.  Let's see how their claims (using data from personality assessments) stack up against real sales science (using Objective Management Group's data from sales specific assessments).

They said the 3 highly predictive qualities are:

  1. Able to Connect - they actually measure empathy.  The problem is that there are TWO kinds of empathy.  Measuring empathy alone (personality test) is NOT predictive.  Being able to distinguish between good empathy (relating to the problems the salesperson can solve) and bad empathy (relating to their stalls, put-offs and objections) IS predictive.  But predictive of what?  In the end, it is only predictive of whether salespeople can identify problems representing sales opportunities, and whether they are likely to be vulnerable to every stall, put-off and objection that comes their way.  It's two data points, but not the entire story and therefore, not predictive of overall performance.  As a matter of fact, a related finding, and even more predictive of whether salespeople will accept stalls and put-offs, is how trusting they are of what prospects promise - whether they take prospects at their word or approach them with a degree of skepticism.  Those who are most trusting, don't even recognize the stalls and put-offs and as a result, don't even get to the point where they have the option to change a prospect's opinion.
  2. Driven to Persuade Others - This is my favorite.  Driven and persuasion are both social findings.  First we'll tackle Driven.  Everyone on your company's executive team is Driven, but they aren't all driven to succeed at selling.  You'll get false positives on Driven until it snows in the Caribbean.  Our version of that is sales specific and it's called Desire for Success in Sales.  And while it is one of the two most important findings in our assessment, it is not a measurement of effectiveness. While the absence of Desire would prevent a candidate from being recommended, the existence of Desire is not predictive of success, only a willingness to change (improve).  Persuasion, when measured in a social context, is a meaningless finding because in that context, there is a missing variable.  Money.  And money, or the need to get someone else to part with it, is a deal changer.  The Personality Test's use of Persuasion is  a finding out of context and additionally, it is not a measurement of a sales skill.

  3. Able to Deal with Rejection - They got this one right.  But it's only partially predictive of a single selling activity, and that is cold-calling.  But the Personality Test measures rejection in a social context, not in a sales context.  So is getting turned down for a date the same as having a prospect say, "not interested"?  Is having your idea rejected the same as getting hung up on?  The personality test measures the fear of rejection while we measure the impact of rejection - specifically, whether the salesperson will recover quickly enough to continue making their calls.  Our Rejection finding is a single data point out of three that predicts whether a salesperson will consistently prospect for new business.

Understand the difference between our highly predictive, sales specific assessment verus the personality and behavioral styles assessments.  Recogize that their marketing is complete with sales lingo to make you think it is an assessment for sales when the reality is that it has been modified (same assessment but names of the findings have been changed for sales) for sales. You should also recognize the limitations of what personality and behavioral styles assessments can actually measure when the context for their questions is social rather than business.  Findings taken from a social context are not predictive of sales success.  For more informatoin about the difference between personality assessments, behavioral styles assessments and our highly predictive, sales specific assessments, read these articles.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales candidates, hiring salespeople, caliper, selling power magazine, personality assessments, sales assessments

Born to Sell? Give me a Break!

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Dec 18, 2009 @ 08:12 AM

I really don't have an issue with others who write in the sales & sales force management space. I encourage and embrace it.  I just hate it when people write opinions when facts are called for.  We all have opinions.  We all prefer one style over another.  We all have what we believe are better methodologies, strategies and tactics.  But there are some topics that are just begging for data - not opinion - and the author I seem to target more than any other just wrote one such article on whether great sales pros are born that way.  All opinion.  But based on what?  He doesn't really say.  He simply uses his two kids as comparison.  The problem is, he is dead wrong and the data says so.

He talks about his popular, empathetic 5-year old son who he says will make a great salesperson.  Why?  Because he's popular and empathetic?  The data doesn't support that.  While his son might very well end up in sales, the data suggests that he would be among the bottom 74%, not the top 26%.  (Yes, contrary to the popular belief and the author's use of a top 20%, the data says there is a top 26%.)  Understand that his popular son has strong need for approval or he wouldn't be so popular.  He simply wouldn't try. And his empathy?  That will make him more susceptible to all of the excuses, stalls, put-offs and objections he'll be hearing.  His daughter, who is the opposite, may not end up in sales, but she might be better at it than his son.  The data says so!

Most of the salespeople that make up the elite 5% that I so often refer to don't have Need for Approval while 94% of the bottom 5% do.  And when you have Need for Approval AND Empathy, uh oh.  Of course, a personality assessment would wrongly suggest that these two traits - empathy and approval - are good for selling.  Find me the data that supports that!The reality is that those two traits are good for customer service and account management!

The readers who voted seem to concur that great salespeople are trained. My data supports that too.  After all, are great plumbers born or trained?  Perhaps only great athletes are born but even they must still be trained - and trained extremely hard. They have the raw physical talent.  With sales, there is raw talent as well but it's not physical as much as it's how a salesperson is wired, making some much more suitable for selling than others.  All of the people who are suitable for selling can be trained to become great but most do not start out that way.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales training, selling, Sales Force, born to sell, personality assessments, sales assessments, salespeople

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned a medal for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for six 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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