When to Consider a Sales Talent Assessment Test … And When You’re Wiser to Avoid It

Properly applied, a quality sales assessment test can be a powerful workforce decision support tool. Used haphazardly, it may result in more harm than good. Here’s our thinking based on many years in the sales psychometrics field.

  • You want to fill entry level sales positions without the high wash-out rate. Since entry-level sales candidates won’t have a relevant career history, don’t even think about pouring over resumes and conducting exploratory interviews until a candidate has demonstrated they have sales genes. A superior sales assessment test will offer you a 70-80 percent likelihood that a candidate will be successful and discriminate among a dozen or so sales roles. Avoid so-called sales personality tests.  While illuminating, there is little evidence that they are able to predict a candidate will be successful on the job. Verdict: consider
  • You must decide between two supremely qualified candidates for a senior sales role. Each candidate offers a well-documented history of sales achievement in a similar role, and is intimately familiar with your industry, solution set, and competitive landscape. Should you require each candidate to take a sales assessment test to help break the tie? Sorry, where there is a long history of sales performance in a given role, a sales assessment is unlikely to offer much value add. And you may spook a senior-level candidate if it seems you can’t make a hiring decision on the merits. Further examine each candidate’s credentials and use your own good judgment in making the call. Verdict: avoid  
  • A candidate has been a top performer, but in a different sales role. Should you consider hiring them?  Slotting a rep who has excelled at one sales role, say inside sales, into another role, say account management, presents a major risk. Different sales roles require very different talent sets. On the other hand, limiting candidates to individuals who have excelled at the job at hand may greatly reduce your hiring pool. A superior sales assessment test will rate the success potential of a given candidate across a dozen or so sales roles. So you can confidently make hiring decisions even when a promising candidate has limited experience at the role you are trying to fill. Verdict: consider
  • An incumbent sales rep isn’t producing. Should you terminate, reassign, or give them more time? A sales assessment test will immediately reveal whether a rep is failing on account of being in the wrong sales role and may suggest other sales roles that would be a better fit. You’re not doing anyone a favor to continue to invest in an individual who hasn’t the potential to succeed. And, if the rep is in the right role, a superior assessment will identify development needs and trigger corresponding training and coaching initiatives to help get the rep on a success vector. Verdict: consider
  • You want to build a promote-from-within sales culture. Smart sales organizations are always anticipating future needs. Will the territory rep you’re hiring today have what it takes to become a strategic account manager? Will you be able to draw your future sales managers from your current individual contributor population? A superior sales assessment test will identify candidates who have the flexibility to meet your succession planning needs. So next time you have an unexpected turnover, instead of taking a flyer on another firm’s castoffs, you’ll have a tried-and-true source of talent waiting in the wings. Verdict: consider
  • You’ve been parachuted in to turn around a failing sales team and you have 60 days to do so.  You’ll want to hit the ground running with field territory reviews, key customer visits, drop-in coaching calls, and more. And you’ll need to identify who you can trust to be part of the solution. A sales talent assessment of your entire sales organization (also known as a talent audit) is a powerful first step. While you’ll no doubt discover some turkeys who don’t have a sales bone in their body, you may be pleasantly surprised to find you have a new business rainmaker miscast in an account management role, a struggling sales manager who should never have been moved out of territory, and a technical sales support specialist that has the leadership genes to replace him or her. In identifying common development needs you’ll know right away which coaching and training initiatives to focus on without a tedious curriculum analysis and development cycle. Verdict: consider
  • You want another take on appraising sales team member performance. Stick to measuring and rewarding your salespeople based on the goals you’ve assigned them and how well they’ve performed against those goals. Reserve the use of sales assessment testing for when there is no obvious explanation for performance shortcomings or not enough is known about a candidate or incumbent’s ability to perform in a new sales role. When sales team members are invited or required to take a competency test for no apparent reason, it can have a chilling effect. And when sales leaders make workforce decisions based on test results rather than job performance, they risk missing their numbers and winding up in court. Verdict: avoid 

 

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Ed Shineman is a career sales and marketing executive, currently co-founder of SalesGenomix, a psychometrics-based assessment service that is the product of a 30-year research effort to predict the success likelihood of sales candidates based on the role they are required to play.

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