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Psychometric Testing in the Sales Hiring Process

Too often sales executives find that newly hired sales professionals do not possess the particular traits needed for the jobs they were hired to do. ES Research Group estimates that this happens 25-33 percent of the time, depending on the industry. In all cases, those salespeople endured or even thrived throughout a rigorous interview process, and in most, they underwent specific skills training after they began at their jobs.

If under-performing salespeople went through interviews and completed specific job training and yet still lack traits need to achieve results, where is the gap?

ES Research Group knows that one missing link is to test the candidate using a scientifically rigorous psychometric instrument that is directly connected to the candidate’s specific job profile.  

First, understand what a psychometric test is and is not. It is not a personality test, such as the Meyers-Briggs assessment or Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). A psychometric test is intended to be predictive. When valid and well-developed, and integrated into a strategic approach for recruitment and selection, it is an objective decision-making tool directly tied to the hiring decision(s) at hand. It will calculate a candidate’s fitness for a particular role far better than any subjective assessment ever will.

The test must be scientifically sound and sales-specific. This means only a handful of providers most likely will prove adequate. Choose a firm that has partnered with statisticians and psychologists to develop reliable testing instruments that are specific to the sales arena. Reputable firms also will ensure that their tests fully comply with Equal Employment Opportunity laws and case precedents. The provider also must be willing and able to adapt the test to your organization’s own job profile(s). An assessment developed for an inside sales position will differ from one created for a strategic account manager or for a business development specialist.

Hiring managers should expect psychometric testing as a capability of full-service sales training providers. If the provider does not have it, then the provider is coming up short. A preliminary list of sales training firms with psychometric assessment capability could include but would not necessarily be limited to The Complex Sale, Inc., Miller Heiman, Revenue Storm, Kurlan and Associates, and Richardson.  Any sales training provider you consider should have either own their own talent management solution (including psychometric tests) or have an established partnership with a specialty firm such as HR Chally Group, Profiles International, Inc., or the Objective Management Group. (Disclosure: The sales performance improvement providers mentioned are ESR subscribers.)

Connecting the psychometric test to the job profile

When implementing psychometric testing in a sales hiring process, it’s important to understand the differences between traits and skills. Traits are innate capabilities that a candidate either possesses or does not possess. A new hire cannot receive training to correct a shortcoming in an trait. For example, almost everybody would agree that a sales person must be motivated enough to accomplish the objectives set forth in his or her job profile. But a person’s level of motivation is not a skill that can be trained. Rather, an individual’s motivation level is an inherent trait  that already exists in varying degrees from person-to-person. After hiring an individual, there is very little that organization can do to change a person’s level of motivation, and it certainly cannot be taught or coached as a skill. This is why the job profile must deal in traits, and it must be wholly different from the job description or the list of job skills necessary for the role.

Skills can be improved through training, while traits cannot. “Do not hire to skills,” says LaVon Koerner, CEO of Revenue Storm, a sales performance improvement provider that also offers psychometric testing for sales hiring. “Hire to traits, and then, train to skills.”

And so, the psychometric test must measure exactly those traits that appear in the job profile. Koerner also insists that the job profile reflect the company’s defined strategy to serve customers, win market share and outperform the competition. “The question is not so much whether or not the candidate can fulfill a job profile, but whether he or she can execute the company’s specific go-to-market strategy,” Koerner says.

How often do sales managers discover that their new hires are inadequate only after months of training? Psychometric testing helps eliminate these costly mistakes. “Hire slowly, fire quickly,” Koerner says. Most sales managers reverse that process. They hire quickly and spend a multitude of resources attempting to train people who lack necessary traits for their roles. Then, the managers congratulate themselves on having discovered an inadequate hire after the training process has begun. Just consider the costs of training versus the costs of testing and understand why there must be a better way.

Note: This post was excerpted from the ESR/Brief TM Psychometric Testing in the Sales Hiring Process – Guidelines for Implementation.