Benchmarking top Sales People – Realities and Pitfalls!

images-1I often hear hiring managers express the desire to ‘benchmark my top sales reps’. We’ve done this a lot of over the years and continue to do so frequently.

The thing is, when said out loud, ‘I want to identify the strengths of my top performers so I can hire more reps like them going forward’ it sounds like it should be a pretty straightforward task.

I wouldn’t suggest it is rocket science or that it can’t be done properly in a few simple steps but, in my experience, when I get down to the ‘mechanics’ of the project such as the specifics of who is a top rep, why they are a top rep and the pros and cons of managing those reps it gets a little ‘messy’. Why? Well, there are numerous potential problems and pitfalls about the process. My intent with this article is to identify them and to describe how we work around them. The bottom line is that, if done properly, you’ll have in place benchmarks, (hereafter referred to as Target Profiles) that are highly predictive of sales success, which of course means you’ll hire more A players.

Nobody is Perfect

Top sales people rarely have it all! Really good maybe, excellent in most respects perhaps, but there is always room for improvement. This is no great revelation, but my point is, that a Target Profile is meant to be the ideal to aim for when hiring.

As an example, a common situation with clients who hire hunters is that a lot of top hunters are scattered, disorganized and weak with the details. In this situation the Target Profiles keep the traits that are desirable while adding in the traits that are also desirable but lacking in your top people. Hence, the aim is to hire a hunter that is somewhat organized and at least reasonably good with the details.

Another example of this comes up when we have to ‘blend’ the traits of a couple of top performers. It sounds a bit like Dr. Frankenstein’s work but, in essence, this sometimes entails building a Target Profile that is based on one rep’s sociability and sense of urgency combined with another’s drive and work habits. In effect, we are combining the best qualities of both as the style we are aiming to hire.

Target Profiles Must Be Realistic

Target Profiles cannot be based on an unrealistic laundry list of traits. It still surprises me that many managers operate under the delusion that they can have everything wrapped up in one person. Traits are like two-edged swords, so for each strength there is often a corresponding weakness: Independent people are not good with rules, extroverts cannot be expected to be analytical, assertive self starters are hard-headed and hard to manage, sales farmers don’t make good sales hunters, and so it goes! Target Profiles must be a reflection of real combinations of trait drives since it is real people who are being measured against them.

Your Top Performers Vary

Often clients will talk about establishing a ‘benchmark’ and to do so will want to test their top performer so that we can use him or her as ‘the benchmark’. This is all well and good but the reality is that in any given sales role the top people get the job done in different ways, yet they are all successful. This is why it is important to think in terms of the plural-benchmarks and is therefore why we typically have up to three Target Profiles for each role.

Outliers and Exceptions

Despite the previous point about variability in the top performers, there are always outliers in any group of top reps. When profiling a large group, similarities and trends become very clear. What also becomes quite obvious is the identity of the outliers. When we are profiling a very small group it can be very uncomfortable for a hiring manager to accept that one of his top reps, or perhaps even his very top rep, is an anomaly relative to the type he wants to hire in the future. This is one of those situations that illustrate the benefits of having humans doing the analysis of the top performers. What I mean by this is that at we bring to the table many years of experience with benchmarking. We have likely profiled many sales positions that are identical or if not, very similar to yours. This gives us a much broader perspective on the role than that of the typical hiring managers with whom we are working.

Typical Benchmarking Process

In order to benchmark a sales role and have us build your Target Profiles your first task is to identify and test your top performers. Once again, this sounds pretty clear but your top performers might not necessarily be those that have the highest sales numbers. For example, if you are looking to hire sales hunters you may have a group of veterans whose numbers are great but who do not ‘hunt’ for one reason or another. And of course you may have a relative newcomer whose numbers may not show it yet but who by all other measures is just exactly the type you want to hire more of. So this is where your judgment is critical in deciding just who is a top performer. Prior to analyzing their test results we first look at the job description and what information you have supplied in our online Job Profile Form. It is important that we look at this information in order to see how it matches up with the top performer’s test results. If there is a big difference between what you are saying you want and the test results of the top performers then we will need to get clarification. Now let us suppose that you have tested your ten best. Putting it simply, what we measure is where, as a group, they predominantly fall on our primary trait drive scales-Assertiveness, Sociability, Patience and Dependence. Why these? Because it is from these four trait drives that we can determine their work tendencies such as prospecting, closing, response to incentives, in short, their overall sales strengths and weaknesses. So let us assume that in our hypothetical example we find the following:

  • 8 score high on Assertiveness
  • 9 score high on Sociability
  • 8 score low on Patience
  • 7 score low on Dependence

Please note that for purposes of explanation I am showing a very simple example but from this result you can conclude that your Target Profiles, and therefore the type who should be most successful for this role, are Highly Assertive, Highly Extroverted, Very Impatient and Very Independent. In short the classic sales hunter style. Going forward, job candidates who match these Target Profiles have a much higher likelihood of success.

Playing the Odds

Please note that last sentence …job candidates who match these Target Profiles have a much higher likelihood of success. Just in case you are thinking that candidates who match the profiles are guaranteed to succeed, let me take this opportunity to dispel that notion. People are very complicated creatures and, as such, there are many reasons for success or failure. Nevertheless, when you hire without using Target Profiles there are inevitably sales people who get hired who never had a chance of success in the first place. So, as this article nicely explains, the idea is to improve the odds of success by hiring sales people who are a good match. In other words, it is all about putting the odds in your favor.

Predictive of Sales Success

Is benchmarking your top sales people worth the trouble? If you are a hiring manager you certainly do not need me to advise you of the benefits of making better hiring decisions. The reason for going through the minimal effort required to benchmark your top performers is to hire more successes and fewer failures. The question is whether, at the end of the process, you are better able to predict sales success in job candidates.  If you are, then the answer is obvious!

I do hope you have found this article useful. As always I would be more than pleased to speak with you in order to learn about your sales hiring challenges. I promise to be very forthright in my comments and I am very pleased to share what I can, having worked in the sales testing field for nearly 40 years.

Sales Test Online – 6 Hidden Killer Features of our Sales Test

downloadSales assessment testing is not for everyone. That said, if you are planning on introducing a sales test to your organization you might be interested in the 6 killer features described below. These features are either barely, or not even mentioned on our promo web site. For this reason, I thought it might be helpful to write a specific post that explains them. Perhaps it will help you decide whether ours is the right solution to address your specific challenges.

All of these features are great but, being perfectly blunt about it, they should not be the reason why you choose or do not choose our sales test. In my opinion what should be the deciding factors about which sales test to use are first, does it measure what you need to have measured and second, does it do so accurately? If you are satisfied with this then the features described will just make the sales testing experience better.

Simple Credentials

This feature is no big deal if you are testing people only occasionally. On the other hand, if you are testing in even modest numbers this can be a great convenience. Specifically, every applicant for a given position uses the identical credentials in order to take the test, rather than your having to juggle and keep track of different logins and passwords for each applicant, which can be a real headache. With our system you can create a standard email template with the same credentials for each and send this to applicants either individually as needed, or even in a mini email ‘blast’ to all. For larger clients, this feature enables you to easily integrate our sales test into your automated applicant tracking system.

Testing for Multiple Roles

With you’re able to test people for any role, not just sales. In our experience, those clients who need to test sales people very often also need to test for other roles. It can be inconvenient in several ways to use a completely different testing ‘platform’ for these other roles. With our system this is a non-issue. You have the convenient capability to test for all other roles and the system functions in the very same way. As well, our customization feature and bench-marking process is just as effective with non-sales roles. And of course, when you buy blocks of our tests you can use them for as many different roles as required.


This is another great feature that won’t be that exciting if you are only planning to use the occasional test. On the other hand if yours is a large or growing business then a huge consideration should be whether it is scalable around your needs. Whether you are testing across the country or around the globe, your sales testing system should be flexible enough to contend with many differing roles, whether for sales or otherwise. With you’re able to give specific managers access to all, or just some test results, so people see what they need to see. This leads to good hiring decisions made quickly.

Reporting Capabilities

With you can, at any time, output historical test results into Excel.   This means that as time goes on you have all the information required to analyze test results against other information such as sales results or other key performance measurements.

Multiple Languages

Our sales assessment test is available in the following languages: English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and Chinese. A simple drop-down menu at the testing page lets candidates select the language of their choice. Nothing could be simpler or more convenient to test candidates in various languages.

Legendary Support

You may not have a question and you may not need any help but if and when you do, our response time and customer service are truly legendary. If you call there are real humans here to assist you. If you leave a message we call you back, soon. Emails are all replied to quickly and clearly.   You are never left in the lurch waiting for answers and wondering when or if someone will get back to you.  I challenge you to compare our service to anyone, anywhere and you will see for yourself.

I do hope you have found this article helpful. I would be very pleased to hear from you in order to answer questions about our sales personality test and to learn about your specific hiring challenges.

Introverts and Sales – Go Ahead and Hire that Introvert*

images-4*just make sure they have these other traits

There are many myths and misconceptions about which personalities are appropriate for a career in sales. Having talked to thousands of hiring managers about the personality types they are attempting to hire, we’ve encountered, on a first hand basis, many of these misconceptions and misguided ideas.   A common view relates to introversion versus extroversion. Specifically, that if you are introverted you are not suitable for sales.

Many of these managers hold on to these mistaken ideas because they lack a fundamental understanding of basic trait drives, temperament and motivation. The result is that their view of sales candidate suitability is hinged on one single trait drive, in this case, whether one is either introverted or extroverted.

Because of their simplified view of personality, they miss the main point, which is that you cannot tell very much about a person’s suitability for sales (or any other job) based on any single trait drive. All humans have multiple trait drives. Therefore, what really matters is how all of their various trait drives work in combination.

Using extroverts as an example, take hunters compared to farmers. Despite the fact that the kinds of sales roles for which they are suitable are basically opposites, they actually share significant similarities in some key areas of personality. Specifically, they are both extroverts and they both have a sense of urgency. What makes them so different in sales style? It has everything to do with the trait drives where they differ, hunters being much more assertive and much more independent than the farmers. When these differences combine with and impact the similarities it means they come off in a completely different manner and have completely different sales strengths and weaknesses.

Given that we are talking about sales, the most obvious concern with introverts is of course related to all aspects of how they will interact with customers and prospects.   Aggravating the situation is the fact that many introverts also tend to have a great fear of failure, are very passive-reactive as well as lacking in drive and assertiveness. Please understand me, these are not ‘bad’ traits since there are no ‘bad’ traits. It is just that when combined with their interaction style they are usually more suited to other kinds of roles or possibly some highly specialized sales roles.

There is a type of introvert, though, that can be very successful in many sales roles. In particular, they are very effective in roles where they are selling services and products that I would describe as more ‘technical’. IT, financial products, things that are typically sold to engineers, architects or other technically oriented customers are among many examples. They are often highly effective in these roles, since they tend to be quite naturally consultative and tend to have a firm grasp of their subject matter. They are perceived as less ‘salesy’ and more as an expert or a problem solver. Their style is often quite effective when selling to very senior level prospects as they have a very businesslike and no-nonsense demeanor that tends to mesh very well with these type A analytical customers.

So what are the other trait drives that contribute to the success of these sales introverts? Like the hunters referenced above, these introverts have a very high level of assertiveness. Additionally, they are very impatient, which is where their sense of urgency is derived from. As well, like most introverts, they tend to also be quite perfectionistic. As a ‘package’ of traits it means they are not only highly driven by the need for achievement but also very strongly motivated by a fear of failure. They tend to not only want to get things done but they are also very meticulous about details and getting things done ‘right’. Systems and procedures are important to them so they tend to create them for themselves if they are not already in place. They are skeptical of others so they tend to be very hands on and very work focused to the point that they are often thought of as workaholics. In fact, many sales people who have this style are successful not because they are the best ‘natural’ sales people but because they just out work their peers.

These are the introverts you want to hire for sales. Unfortunately, interviews are not where they can highlight their natural strengths, with the result that sales hiring managers will often pass them over. Hiring managers can be particularly gun shy about hiring this type if they have hired the ‘wrong’ type of introvert in the past. In these instances the old saying of ‘once burned twice shy’ comes to mind.

Unfortunately many sales hiring managers rely too much on face-to-face interviews. In the case of interviewing introverts they are doing a disservice not only to themselves but to many candidates as well. Why? Because, there is no realistic way in interviews to discern the difference between the introverts you should hire, and those that you definitely should not. Of course, this is exactly why you should use a sales personality test!

I do hope you have found this article helpful. I would be very pleased to hear from you in order to answer questions about our sales personality test and to learn about your specific sales hiring challenges.

Sales Testing – Faux Hunter-Closers and How They Fool You

images-2One of the things that all hiring managers seem to agree on is that interviewing sales people is largely a hit and miss affair. Even the most savvy sales hiring veteran will admit to being fooled by sales candidates who looked and sounded great at the interview but who ultimately turned out to be sales failures.

Many of these hiring mistakes can be chalked up to the candidate ‘playing the role’ based on what they believe you are looking for, which of course means that during the interview you are seeing the ‘act’ rather than the ‘true person’. As I have often pointed out, this role-playing should not be thought of as the candidate being ‘dishonest’.  On the contrary, it is just what job candidates quite naturally do since they want the job. Unfortunately, even though we tend to rely on interviews, they are, in the opinion of most experts, a flawed vehicle for obtaining true insights into potential sales success.

While it is true that candidate role-playing is not cheating in the true sense, it is still something that the candidate is conscious of doing throughout the interview process. The purpose of this article is not to talk about the above-mentioned candidate role-playing, nor to address, once again, the inherent flaws in job interviews. What I wish to describe is a second way that you, and other interviewers, are frequently fooled when interviewing sales candidates, and in particular when you are hiring sales closers. In these instances you are deceived because you have misread and misidentified the traits and behaviors you are witnessing right before your very eyes. These candidates are not playing a ‘role’ but just behaving transparently and being themselves.

To understand these situations it is worth noting the specific trait drives that account for the success of hunter-closers. Their success is derived from a special combination of high assertiveness that is coupled with a high level of extroversion. This trait drive combination can be likened to, ‘an iron fist in a velvet glove’. What I mean by this is that they can be very warm and outgoing due to their extroversion but due to their high assertiveness they can apply considerable pressure as well. Prospects tend not to feel the full extent of this pressure because these sales types tend to deliver it in such a warm and outgoing manner. It is this same combination of high assertiveness and high extroversion that also makes them great sales hunters. The high extroversion enables them to quickly warm to and relate to different personalities. As well, their high level of assertiveness equips them with a ‘thick skin’, enabling them to absorb the rejection that is inevitably a big part of sales hunting.

So how do they fool you? These ‘faux hunter closers’ do have the high sociability/extroversion of the real hunter-closers. In fact they are extroverted to the extreme. But the critical piece they are missing is high assertiveness. Unfortunately, their very high level of extroversion, sociability, empathy, tends to create the impression that they are assertive and self motivated. In truth, they are anything but! Matters are complicated since their extremely outgoing nature means they are very much in their element when in job interviews and hence they know what you want to hear, what to say and how to say it. In your role as an interviewer you are at a serious disadvantage!

Hire a person of this type for a hunting-closing role and it can often take a very long time to realize and accept that you’ve made a hiring error. Why? Because while they may make the calls, (remember they are social so they do love interaction) the truth is that their interactions are really more in the vein of passive, warm, public relations. Calls will be made, but with very little or no purpose in mind. This is because the critical assertiveness of the true hunter-closer is the critical missing piece.

Many managers have hired this type and have spent untold sums of money and have wasted hundreds of hours of management time trying to turn this kind of situation around, in the mistaken belief that the problem was a lack of skill, training or experience. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, ‘you can’t train away a hiring mistake’.

Does the above scenario sound familiar? If it does, I’ll bet it was expensive! Are you aware that our sales test can eliminate this problem?

If you’re interested in learning how our proven sales test eliminates this, and other sales hiring mistakes I would enjoy hearing from you and having a frank and open conversation about your specific hiring challenges.

Sales Personality Testing – Misconceptions About Successful Sales Personalities


A big part of our work here at involves talking to hiring managers about what personality traits are required to be a success in the sales roles for which they are responsible. A common element of these conversations is my attempt to have the client describe for me, in their own words, the ‘perfect person for the role’ in terms of style and personality traits. In the course of these conversations, clients will typically provide a wide ranging and highly diverse description that is rich in both relevant and irrelevant descriptors. That’s okay because my job, and part of what they are paying us for, is our ability to sift through this information since we have such a long history of job analysis under our belts.

One of the interesting things about these conversations is that the client often tells me what they don’t want their sales people to be like. Which brings me to the subject of this article.

For example, you would be amazed at how often clients will actually say “I don’t want a used car salesman” or “I don’t want a life insurance” salesman. I have had enough of these conversations to realize that this is their short hand or coded way of telling me that they do not want to hire sales people that are overly pushy, sleazy and unethical among other not so nice attributes. We have all seen these clichés on TV and in the movies so many times over the years that I’m sure that I don’t need to go further to spell out for you what it is that they mean.

What’s most interesting is that the facts tell a story that totally contradicts the widely held assumptions and preconceived notions about the sales people in these roles. In two recent studies of top performing sales people, one of top insurance sales people and the other of top auto sales people, our findings show that the top performers are anything but the unethical, slimy and pushy types that the public and many hiring managers assumed them to be. In fact, if these managers knew what the facts actually revealed many of them would say that these were exactly the type of sales people that they wanted to hire.

Despite the fact that the studies looked at top performers in two different industries there were a lot of shared traits between the groups and, as mentioned, these personality traits are not what is widely assumed.

Specifically, our studies show that a very high percentage of these top reps are very altruistic in mindset and are therefore not particularly motivated by commission, ‘winning’ or closing the deal. Instead, and surprisingly, they are primarily motivated by the need to help or to be of service to others. They are a conservative, careful and helpful group who tend to follow the rules and procedures and follow up with prospects very diligently.   They are anything but pushy and overbearing. Instead they are careful to do their research in order to determine the prospects needs and to thoroughly answer the prospects questions, provide information and to address any concerns. Rather than overtly pushing the prospect for the close they hang in there until the prospect is ready to ‘buy’.

One should definitely not assume that just because this style of sales person has proven to be very successful in these two companies that this sales style will work in all companies within these two industries. As well, just because a sales person has come from, and perhaps been successful in, a particular industry you should never assume that they have a sales style that is specific to all that are successful in that industry. Sales roles can and do differ dramatically from company to company within an industry. This goes a long way to explain why a sales person can be a flat out failure in one role and a great success in another, sometimes even within the same organization.

Almost every hiring manager agrees that the overwhelming reason why sales people fail is because the sales person’s personality is poorly matched to the sales role for which they were hired. It has been my experience that a lot of these mismatches are avoidable by properly analyzing the role from the perspective of it’s personality and motivational requirements. Often, this vital step either does not get done properly or is not even done at all. Without this step being performed sales people get hired with no true sense of whether they are a good fit since obviously they are not being measured against a consistent and relevant set of criteria. Talented sales people are interviewed and even hired, but when you’ve hired the wrong talent for that role the results are typically very disappointing for all concerned.

One of the great benefits of using is our thorough analysis of your sales role(s). The results of this analysis is that we clearly identify the specific sales traits that you need in your sales roles in your company. This is particularly powerful when we test a sampling of your top performing sales people in order to create your unique Target Profiles. The resulting Suitability Rating scores of your sales candidate’s test results are then highly predictive of future sales success.

If you would like to learn more about how this process works or if you have any questions about what we do and how it might be of benefit I would be pleased to hear from you. I promise to be very frank and straightforward in any of our discussions.