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Does a “sales personality” guarantee sales success?


Putting the Cart Before the Horse:

Does a “Sales Personality” Guarantee Successful Salespeople?

Researchers say no, cite one critical behavior that trumps personality

Dallas, TX – October 30, 2012 – Attention, employers: A recent study of U.S. salespeople suggests that personality tests “put the cart before the horse” when it comes to predicting sales success.

Years of high unemployment have led to a surge in applicants for sales positions. That’s hardly a boon for employers, who have a harder time than ever singling out potential top producers from the tide of wannabe superstars. With every hire, sales managers are betting that these new sellers will be worth the time, effort, and money spent on training them. The stakes are high: Across industries, 80% of all new sales hires wash out in the first year.

To help tip the odds in their favor, many managers turn to personality-based tests. But despite their popularity, studies show that having a “sales personality” is only one piece of a complex puzzle. In fact, says Trelitha R. Bryant, executive vice president of field testing and research at Dallas-based Behavioral Sciences Research Press (BSRP), focusing on personality to forecast sales success is putting the cart before the horse.

“Before personality traits, sophisticated training, or financial incentives can even come into play, salespeople must first have prospective buyers to sell to,” Bryant says. “That means sales prospecting. The link between prospecting behavior and sales productivity is well established.Knowing beforehand whether new hires can and will actually prospect comes first on the long list of competencies managers should look for.”

Earlier this year, Bryant teamed up with internationally noted behavioral scientist and author George W. Dudley to try to predict prospecting activity in salespeople. A sample of 1,627 U.S. salespeople from a variety of sales settings was equally split between those known to generate high levels of prospecting activity and those with very low demonstrated prospecting activity. Using a specialized psychological assessment called SPQ*GOLD®, the researchers measured the sellers’ level of comfort and willingness to prospect for new business. The same test was administered to an entirely different sample of 1,630 salespeople whose prospecting levels were unknown at the time of assessment. Then, using only a statistical model created from the first group’s test scores, the researchers were able to correctly identify 83% of the high prospectors and 79% of low prospectors in the second group.

“When you can predict sales prospecting accurately, you are in effect predicting sales success,” says Dudley. “The logic works this way: Prospecting doesn’t guarantee success. It’s possible to prospect without selling. But you can’t sell without customers to sell to, and that takes prospecting.”

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