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Predictive Testing For Salespeople. No Reason Not To Do It.

I’ve been a proponent of psychometric/predictive testing for salespeople for many years.  I was a non-believer until Nancy Martini, now CEO at PI Worldwide, put me through their Predictive Index and SSAT (see below) in 2001.  After I took the two tests online, Nancy emailed me the manager’s version of my results and I nearly fell off my chair—the appraisal was that accurate.

My friend,  sales trainer Steve Waterhouse, is a PI consultant as well.  Those tests are terrific tools for a sales trainer to have for diagnosis.

Let me state this clearly:  One of the root causes of the many B2B sales challenges companies have today is that they have too many unqualified people in sales jobs.  Among ESR’s clients and the companies we spoke with as many as 25% to 33% (depending on the industry) of sales people aren’t suited for the jobs they hold.  That means, based upon skill and trait gaps between what is required for success and what those reps possess, there isn’t enough time or money for them to ever come up to speed.  The solution is simple, but not easy.  Don’t hire people that can’t get the job done.

We know for a fact that profiling and a structured interview process are critical for hiring success.  We also know that psychometric and skills testing saves interview cycle time and significantly reduces risk.

I posed some questions to Todd Harris, Ph.D., Director of Research at PI Worldwide.

Dave Stein: Why is predictive testing so important for a company’s sales effectiveness?

Todd Harris: Twenty-five years of research clearly indicates that personality factors significantly impact sales success.  For example, in a recent Predictive Index® (PI) study of 32 outside sales representatives tasked with selling manufacturing equipment to medium-sized businesses, those who were more independent, confident, assertive and embracing of change achieved over five times more sales volume during a 27-month period than those who were not.

DS: How accurate are your tests?

TH: Very accurate. In over 400 separate studies, PI has been statistically shown to measure factors that impact actual work performance, including sales performance across a wide range of sales positions. Further, to be considered scientifically sound, an assessment has to demonstrate both reliability and validity. Reliability refers to the consistency of a measurement. Validity refers to the accuracy of a measurement Research by psychologists and experience with clients show PI to be reliable and valid.

DS: Can a salesperson “beat” the test?

TH: It is nearly impossible for someone to substantially distort their PI profile. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the PI is a “free-choice” instrument with no right or wrong answers, no invasive or overly personal items, and it is not obvious what it measures or how it does so. Second, research supports that fewer than 5% of job applicants attempt to significantly “cheat”, “game” or otherwise distort their responses to employment tests. Thus, this potential problem is much less widespread than some people assume.

DS: Where in the hiring process do you recommend the test be applied – the beginning, the middle, or the end?

TH: In general, most of the sales organizations we work with administer the PI relatively early in the process, combining a candidate’s PI results with other data points (e.g. resume, interview, references, experience level, etc.) to make a fully informed decision. Additionally, the PI can and should be used post-hire as a component of sales coaching and development efforts to motivate and maximize sales performance.

DS: What areas of a sales person’s capabilities do the tests cover?

TH: Fundamentally, the PI taps into what motivates and drives their behaviors and actions on a day-to-day basis. The PI measures many key constructs such as their ability to self-start, take action in the face of adversity or obstacles, connect with and influence others, drive their pace of activity, and plan and follow through.

DS: Is there more than one test?

TH: PI Worldwide® offers a comprehensive suite of sales-related products and solutions. The Predictive Index assesses a sales representative’s motivating drives and behaviors, our Selling Skills Assessment ToolTM (SSAT) is a skills-based diagnostic instrument that gauges how adept a sales representative, sales team and the entire organization are at executing key elements of the sales process and Customer-Focused SellingTM (CFS) utilizes data from the PI and SSAT to provide a targeted and comprehensive sales training experience.

DS: Do you provide testing for sales managers as well?

TH: Both the PI and the SSAT can be used with sales managers and sales executives. Our clients often find the most benefit when these tools are consistently deployed and scaled throughout the entire organization, as they provide a common and objective framework and language for driving sales performance. In addition, we provide a sales management course Coaching to Excellence which combines skills, process, and data to help sales leaders drive performance.

DS: What kind of financial return would a sales leader expect to see on a full-fledged investment in your testing product(s)?

TH: We commonly observe year-over-year sales increases in the 20% to 25% range. For example, over a two-year period, a biosciences company grew sales from $38.3 Million to $55.3 Million, an increase of 44% over two years. Many clients see even larger gains.

If you can think of reasons not to do predictive, psychometric and sales skills testing during the recruitment and selection process, let me know.

Photo credit: © Jeffrey Collingwood – Fotolia.com

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4 Responses

  1. I could not agree more on the need for testing. Never hire a Bad Salesperson Again says three things are needed: 1) Need to Achieve, Competitiveness and Optimism. But most hiring managers insist on vertical knowledge. As a result, most sales hires fail.

  2. Dave:
    Hiring sales people without predictive testing, is in my mind equal to playing a Russian Roulette!
    There are so many tools in the market that can predict the performance of a salesperson, BEFORE he creates damage to your brand and customers, there is NO reason not to use them.

    Raz Chorev
    raz@bluefinmanagement.com.au
    http://www.bluefinmanagement.com.au

  3. Hi Dave,

    As a Miller Heiman sales consultant I can tell you that these assessments work very well.

    At Miller Heiman, we have partnered with a fantastic company, Profiles International, one of the largest assessment companies in the world and have worked with them to specify assessments and profiles specifically for sales people. We’ve developed the “ideal profile” for several hundred types of salespeople and can successfully measure the “DNA” of a sales person and to see if it’s a match to the highest perfomers in that discipline. As you might suspect, the profile is much different for, say, a $400k/yr enterprise software rep from a $80k/yr inside sales guy. We make that distinction.

    In addition to measuring if the person has the right “sales DNA” we have a separate assessment that measures the person’s skill level in 17 different skill topics such as prospecting skills, closing skills, negotiation skills, etc. We often use this as part of a diagnostic to determine where specific skills need bolstering.

    These kind of assessments are vital to our industry. They work and not only give great feedback as to whether to hire someone (NEVER use this type of tool as the sole decision criteria as to whether to hire!) but if you do decide to hire the person, these assessments give great feedback to the person’s manager as to why they behave certain ways and how to effectively coach them.

    Best regards,

    Bob

    • Thanks, Bob, for your comment.

      Since effective sales hiring is a very big challenge, I can’t see why any hiring authority wouldn’t avail themselves of a tool such as this.

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