Saturday, January 24, 2009

How To Avoid A Cloned Sales Force

Writen by Bill Lee

When I accept a consulting assignment, I insist on administering psychological tests to each of the managers and salespeople in the organization before I arrive on site.

I am no stranger to psychological testing. I majored in clinical psychology in college, worked in a clinical environment in my first job following graduation and brought testing with me when I joined the business world.

Psychological testing is about the closest thing to a crystal ball I have found to predict future behavior.

Don't misunderstand me, psychological testing is not perfect. It is not as accurate as, say, a blood test. However, it is by no means inaccurate, either. In fact, when I review an employee's psychological testing results with them, most are amazed at how much insight I have into their strengths and weaknesses from the way they filled out the test.

In my company, we have tested over 44,000 people, so we believe our success models are second to none.

I believe you will agree with me that it's important that managers take hiring seriously. After all, most managers resist terminating employees long after they have given up on them. Plus, when you consider that personnel-related expenses make up between 60% and 70% of most company's total operating expenses, it just makes sense to take the time to do the job right the first time?.

In the absence of testing, most managers make hiring decisions based on their gut feelings. They also tend to hire people in their own image. This is not to say that there's anything wrong with the manager's image, but it is not wise to hire everyone with the same or similar psychological characteristics because this causes cloning. And cloning creates inertia in an organization.

Psychological testing probably won't tell you much about a person you won't learn after knowing them for six months to a year, but by gaining insight into a candidate's talent and temperament before you put them on the payroll, you will save yourself both a lot of heartaches and money.

While psychological testing is not dirt cheap, it's one heck of a lot less expensive than making a hiring mistake. All managers have learned that it costs thousands of dollars when a hiring mistake is made, and that doesn't count all of the lost opportunity. So compare that cost to a couple of hundred dollars for a series of pre-employment tests.

What's your track record been at changing people? If you're like most managers, you are a miserable failure when you try to persuade or browbeat someone into being someone they are not; that is, when you try to get people to operate against the grain.

We're all more effective at our jobs when we are able to be ourselves and operate with rather than against the grain. Here are some of the natural characteristics we look for when hiring salespeople who have the highest odds of turning out to be "keepers."

1. Personality characteristics. Anyone can sell, but the odds of sales success are the highest when you hire a salesperson with the following personality characteristics:

• High drive
• Outgoing and persuasive personality
• Strong sense of urgency
• High energy level
• Attentive to detail
• Innovative
• Good verbal skills
• A natural willingness to live up to commitments.

2. High economic values. This is especially true if your company pays its sales force all or in part via a sales commission. If salespeople are not "hungry" they will not be motivated by an opportunity to control their income.

3. Strong work ethic. Willing to work the hours necessary to get the job done.

4. Passionate about the profession of sales. Genuinely enjoys all aspects of selling, loves people and is willing to work hard on their sales skills.

5. Industry experience. Note that we've listed experience last, not first. A track-record of sales success increases the odds of success substantially.

When it comes to your sales force, it is especially important to make sure that you have the right people on the bus. Taking business away from the competition without having to resort to using price as a weapon is a lot easier when your people possess the right talent and chemistry to get the job done.

Bill Lee is author of "Gross Margin: 26 Factors Affecting Your Bottom Line" ($29.95) and "30 Ways Managers Shoot Themselves in the Foot" ($21.95) plus $6 S&H for the first book and $1 for each additional book. To order, see Shopping Cart at

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