The Myth of the Natural Born Sales Wonder

When I researched the field of using personality inventories to determine future sales success potential, I found the following flaws in their application and interpretation:

1. Personality researchers assume that people are predisposed to sales and that there exists an 'ideal' sales personality. From experience alone you will know people of widely different personalities in sales who are both successful and unsuccessful. Indeed many unsuccessful salespeople join other companies and become successful, whilst successful salespeople leave to further their careers elsewhere only to subsequently become unsuccessful.

In many of the sales forces I examined I continually came across inconsistencies in personality amongst the top 20% of performers. In particular, most of the personality profiles would lead you to believe that successful salespeople are confident and goal orientated. My own findings showed that top salespeople are generally less confident internally and certainly more insecure that their lower performing colleagues. This is borne out by top performers in other fields. Insecurity appears to come with the territory of high performance. Perhaps it's the uncertainty of not knowing how long this high performance level can last? Yet, when I attempted to apply this factor into a personality inventory I found the same low correlations as exist in all other inventories.

In addition my own research clearly established that each company has its own 'personality'. In some cases, getting on with the boss's assistant and his/her favoured henchmen is a greater contributory factor to longevity of employment than a supposed sales personality. This leads me to the next point.

2. Hardly any company buying personality inventories conducts sufficient internal research in order to validate the instrument they are using. When I conducted my own research I applied an instrument to a) all existing salespeople in the company b) all applicants, and c) all new joiners, over a 24-month period. I also attempted to keep in touch with applicants who were unsuccessful in their application.

I drew up a profile of unsuccessful and successful internal salespeople and divided these between new starters and existing staff. I examined the profiles of applicants who were offered a job and those that were rejected. I monitored the sales results of all salespeople against these profiles over a two-year period. Lastly I compared these results with demographic data to look for significant correlations. After two years the profiles of successful and unsuccessful salespeople were close enough to be identical. I also examined in detail all of the inventories on the market and found the same low correlations.

One of the biggest problems is that companies have no way of knowing whether those they have rejected would have been successful or not

3. All purveyors of personality inventories warn against using the results in isolation, stressing that they must be seen as part of a total process. In all cases where personality inventories were being used as part of a selection process I observed a disproportionate credence being placed on the results of the inventory. Sales managers have a tendency to believe in instruments which are seen to be academically accredited, and which absolve them from making incorrect selection decisions. It should be said however, that in processes where the only mechanism for deciding future potential is an interview, managers were generally wrong in 50% of cases. Even so, despite the guidance to avoid 'gut-feeling' on interviews, I found that 'gut-feeling' proved more intuitive at pre-guessing success than any inventory.

4. The greatest problem with personality inventories is that the candidate completes them themselves. I recall a quote from John Hillier (Chair of NCVQ) who said ? 'I can convince myself that I am in control of my weight provided I do not go anywhere near the scales'. The tendency to either lie or exaggerate is strong in salespeople wishing to make their biggest sale ? employment. Most inventories contain a few questions, which they say are 'lie detectors'. Once again, I found that many salespeople know which these questions are and therefore learn to avoid making exaggerated claims about their ability in the questionnaire, only to save that exaggeration for the interview. Many managers when interviewing, lack the skills to explore these exaggerated claims.

5. A question - if these inventories work, why have they not reduced labour turnover and failure, and increased success? They haven't.

6. An observation ? some of the best salespeople I have ever met are those selling personality inventories!

Frank Salisbury is a highly experience motivational speaker, and inspiring business coach, particularly to the sales profession. Frank is recognised as a leading authority in the field of sales - including sales process design, sales performance, and sales coaching.

He strongly believes that whether we work in the public or private sector; whether our organisation is commercial or non-commercial; that we are all in sales. His favourite quote, which has become his maxim, is from Robert Louis Stevenson ? 'Everything in live is selling'. He has spoken at numerous conferences and seminars where his style has received popular acclaim for a speaker with a passion for life, and achievement.

He is Managing Director of Business & Training Solutions Ltd ? a sales consultancy based in Ireland and the UK. He can be contacted at frank@btsolutions.ie. 28 Rye Close, Banbury, Oxfordshire. 0044 (0)1295250247

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