sales hiring assessment

How to Use Sales Hiring Assessments

Posted in: Hiring Salespeople

What will set you apart from all your competitors – even companies in other industries that are actively recruiting salespeople – the following is your formula for success.

Companies’ biggest error is using the wrong personality or behavioral assessment like DISC or Myers-Briggs. DISC and Myers-Briggs both think that’s a bad idea – most significant. And that’s important enough to repeat:

“DiSC is not recommended for pre-employment screening because it does not measure a specific skill, aptitude, or factor specific to any position. We’ve heard of companies who will only hire people with a particular style for certain jobs. This is a misuse of DiSC. We recommend using a pre-hire assessment validated for selection.”
Source: DISCProfile.com

“…It is not ethical to use the MBTI instrument for hiring…”
Source: Myers & Briggs Foundation Guidelines

When the testing company you’re using says, “Don’t use us,” we suggest you listen.

Rynes, Colbert & Brown study of Society of Human Resource Management members found that 84% misunderstood pre-hiring assessments. Behavior and personality assessments should not be used in the hiring process and are only 20% – 22% predictive.

Test Everyone Now – Before You Interview

Doing the correct type of testing at this point reveals a tremendous hiring amount of information you probably would miss with interviews:

  • You will improve the speed of hiring. In a tight talent market, the top talent is off the market in 15 days! (Do you think a top salesperson will wait around while you dither?)
  • You will dramatically reduce time reading resumes and conducting interviews with salespeople who don’t fit or can’t hit quota.
  • You will eliminate candidates who aren’t interested enough to invest 30 to 60 minutes to see if you’re a good fit for each other.
  • You will identify hidden information that won’t appear in the resume, interview, or reference checks.
  • You will identify what candidates will accomplish since 78% of sales candidates’ resumes contain misleading statements.
  • You will add objective, data-driven metrics to your hiring process.
  • You will eliminate positive unconscious bias, especially if you are pressured to fill some open positions.
  • You will eliminate negative unconscious bias. (Deloitte study: removing unconscious bias increased hiring top performers by 25-46%.)
  • You will increase legal defensibility through objective and valid metrics.
  • You will improve decision-making accuracy when a wrong decision incurs a high risk, a high cost or requires expertise that is hard to develop.
  • You will increase retention and reduce turnover due to determining a better fit.
  • You will identify what training, development, and coaching salespeople will need.

According to Forbes, the average cost of a poor hire for a non-sales position is $240K. Factor in lost revenue, customers, opportunity, and the cost of hiring a poor salesperson balloons to $500K – $3 million depending on your business.

Worse, you’ve got to start the hiring process all over again, and according to a CSO Sales Talent Study, you may lose another four months of searching and nine more months of ramping up the salesperson.

CSO talent study shows:

  • Companies that don’t use hiring assessments have 49% quota attainment and 19.8% annual turnover.
  • Companies that use pre-hire assessments have 61% quota attainment and 14.6% turnover.
  • Companies that use a sales-specific multi-measurement pre-hire assessment have 88% quota attainment and 8% turnover.

Most companies don’t consider those costs if they get the initial hire wrong. Measured in that way, testing at this stage is more critical than you thought.

Use the Correct Type of Test

Here’s a summary of the research and science (as well as our experience and other experts’ knowledge) we’ve learned over the past 29 years: Sales success is measurable and quantifiable – provided the test measures the right things. Most assessments (and there are thousands on the market) don’t. Which doesn’t stop those companies from claiming they do.

A panel discussion at a Society for I/O Psychology Conference concluded that four-quadrant personality/behavior assessments (DISC, Meyers & Briggs, and their competitors) did not predict job performance because they are easy to fake and have low validity.
A good pre-hire sales-specific multi-measurement assessment has a predictive validation between 75% – 91%. When you use the wrong assessment, you hire underperforming salespeople and suffer the consequences of that decision.

It may sound geeky, but you need to understand the underlying science. Ipsative and normative measurements are essential concepts in sales selection assessments.

Ipsative assessments identify a person’s strongest or weakest characteristics based on the individual’s “self-impression.” Ipsative tests are great for “self-discovery” and coaching, but you can’t use these tests to compare two people or two candidates.

Normative assessments show whether an individual performs at a level equal to, above, or below comparable standards. Normative assessments measure proven quantifiable characteristics, skills, and abilities. These assessments are well suited to comparing sales candidates.

Here’s an example:
In an online application for a basketball team, one of your candidates is 6 feet tall, and the other is six-foot-six. You ask them both, “Are you tall?” The answer options are “yes” or “no.” Both candidates check the “yes” box. You can report these two people each think they are tall. This is an ipsative measurement.

Since you did not ask, “How tall are you?” you cannot compare one person’s height to another. You do not have the Normative data you need.

While DISC, Myers-Briggs, and many other top assessment tools help assess the communication style, management style, and teamwork of existing salespeople, they’re NOT valuable for:

  • Screen and select sales candidates,
  • Determine a sales applicant’s ability to hit quota, or
  • Compare one candidate to another.

So what’s the perfect sales predictor test?

We wish we could magically announce the one definitive sales assessment that does everything for everybody, but we can’t – because it doesn’t exist. The correct assessment for you will boil down to what you are trying to measure and determine about a sales candidate before you hire them and if it can help you distinguish between a top producer and an average or below-average producer even before the first interview.

Select a Sales Assessment Test Using Quantifiable Criteria

An assessment test should have specific “musts” to identify great candidates. They must:

  1. Have sales-specific questions asked in a sales context.
  2. Be tested on a sales-specific population.
  3. Be validated on a sales population larger than 2500—not on 100 truck drivers or 28 college sophomores.
  4. Be a multi-measurement assessment (not a specific single measurement), meaning it measures multiple sales perspectives, not behavior, not personality, or only skills.
  5. Be customizable to your industry, company, and different sales roles/positions.
  6. Have “predictive validation,” but not “reliability,” “construct validation,” or “concurrent validation.”
  7. Be verified by an independent 3rd party industrial/ organizational psychologist or data analytics firm.
  8. Be able to show you a technical manual (proof of the research above) and the “adverse impact” study.
  9. Measure 200+ sales-specific data points.
  10. Identify candidates who attempt to cheat.
  11. Make recommendations based on your criteria.
  12. Back their recommendation with a guarantee.
  13. Show you how weak/strong your candidate is compared to the overall sales population.

If you don’t use the proper assessment, you will use a flawed tool to select salespeople. Judge for yourself:

Comparison of different types of assessment tests:

Test Type Example Designed to Measure Cons or Limitations Sales Specific Ability to Predict Quota Attainment
Personality (traits) Myers-Brigg (MBTI) How people perceive the world and make decisions. Easy to fake and prone to distortion, not appropriate for hiring. Nope Nope
Behavioral (states) DISC Social style at work/home, team dynamics, communications. Also, help identify how candidates will fit in your culture. Sensitive to emotion, mood and circumstances and state is a style within a context (work vs. home). Nope Nope
Psychological 16PF Questionnaire Candidate mental health and emotional stability. Generally, not allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nope Nope
Career Aptitude GMAT for MBA Programs Strengths, talents and limitations for a specific job. Aptitude may weakly correlate with ability to perform in a specific job. Maybe Nope
General Mental Ability (GMA) Wonderlic Personnel Test General mental capacity, logic, verbal, and numerical reasoning. Vulnerable to discrimination against protected groups. Nope Nope
Emotional Intelligence Emotional and Social Competence Inventory Relationship building, emotional understanding in self and others. Easy to fake. Nope Nope
Specific Skills Data Entry Skills Assessment Core skills mandatory for the job. Limited to a specific job, only useful if the skill measured is critical to job performance and company doesn’t provide training. Yes Nope
Job Knowledge Certified Public Accounting Exam Technical or theoretical expertise in a particular field. Strictly a knowledge test; doesn’t consider learning ability or application of knowledge. Yes Nope
Integrity / Honesty Workplace Productivity Profile Integrity, honesty, ethics and reliability. Negative candidate experience. Maybe Nope
Simulation Web-based Video Simulation Response to specific situations. Expensive and time consuming to develop for your specific sales positions. Difficult on mobile devices. Yes Nope
Multi- Measurement Using a mix of assessments The mix of job performance requirements The wrong assessment or mix of assessments is ineffective. A few yes, most nope A few yes, most nope

Note: Depending on what you are trying to measure, use a mix of assessments for a “whole person approach.” For example, a firm seeking to hire a salesperson to sell research equipment to R&D companies might use a multi-measurement sales assessment to see if they can hit quota. Later in the recruiting process, they could use a GMA to see if candidates can problem-solve with R&D people to come up with a solution.
That’s the homework you and your HR team must do before running an ad. You’ve got to search through the testing company’s technical manual, website, background information or repeatedly ask their sales rep whether their test checks all the boxes. All of them. In writing.

There are thousands of pre-employment tests available. There are hundreds of pre-employment tests that claim to be “for sales” out there.

You want every salesperson you hire to love what they do, love working for you, and meet or exceed their quotas and goals. You want to succeed! To do that, you need to understand the fine print.

We looked deeply at 39 assessments that said they were sales-specific and suitable for hiring salespeople. Because there are new assessments all the time, we didn’t want to publish a chart that might be outdated in a month. We applied the eight guidelines above and found that only three assessments came close to meeting the requirements.

Many of the sales hiring assessments were disqualified because they didn’t have a technical manual. Run away as fast as you can! That means they couldn’t prove what they claimed, and they can’t predict sales candidate success. Also, if you are challenged in court, the assessment without a technical manual is not legally defensible.

How does it work in real life?

Here’s one example of a sales hiring assessment we looked a:

“[Our assessment]… is derived from an integrated model of work-related styles (behavior) and skills. The styles and skills are aligned with specific profiles that individuals leverage when exercising influence over others in common interactions, such as leadership, supervision, training, sales, customer service, and interpersonal communication.”

Notice how this sounds like it is for sales, but it’s not. If you had time to go through the 140-page technical manual, you would see the questions are asked in a broad social context, not a sales-specific context, and it produces a report that uses sales terms to sound sales-specific. In our world, we call that misrepresentation.

Sample size? It was only tested on 76 salespeople, and they sold commercial trucks, jewelry, cell phones, and automotive parts.

Validation? It has Reliability, Construct Validity, Convergent Validity, Content Validity, and Criterion Validity which all sound impressive. But for hiring salespeople, you need Predictive Validation. They have no “predictive validity.” That means they can’t predict how a sales candidate who took their assessment will perform on the job once they are hired.

We hope we’ve made our case. If we haven’t, you’re welcome to contact us, and we can review any assessment you’re considering. But to sum it up, if the test you plan to use wasn’t developed, designed, tested, and predictively validated on a statistically meaningful sales population and then independently validated, you will get nowhere close to the 91% success rate our clients achieve. This isn’t just our opinion. It’s our experience – and the results of complex research.


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