Understanding the Value of Assessments for Sales Hiring

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A Conversation with Sales Training Industry Leader Dave Kurlan

Part I: What’s In It for Me (and My Sales Organization)?

If you’ve been following this blog or investing in ESR’s research, you know how important it is to have the right people in and managing the sales team as an absolute pre-requisite to any sales training initiative.

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Dave Kurlan, a pioneer in sales candidate screening and sales force evaluation, and the founder of Objective Management Group and Kurlan & Associates, to discuss one of our mutually favorite topics—the value of assessments. Our conversation only lasted about a half an hour, but it was packed with interesting and extremely useful information on an often misunderstood and generally under-utilized component of a sales performance improvement initiative.

I asked Dave if I could share parts of our conversation on the blog, and he readily agreed, so I’ve included some pertinent excerpts here, with additional installments to come—it’s that good.

Dave Stein: The effectiveness of sales force evaluation and candidate screening has been proven; assessment been around for years. Why aren’t more companies doing it?

Dave Kurlan: I don’t know the answer, but I can speculate. Many sales leaders think they have it down. They think they know their existing salespeople and why they get the results they get, even though that understanding is probably very superficial. On the candidate selection side, they think they’ve got selection down pat, but if you look at their records, most are probably finding no more than one out of four to ten people that they hire actually rises to become the cream of the crop. So I think the number one issue is ego—”I can do it myself. I’m supposed to be able to do it myself.”

DS: How do those managers explain the salespeople who aren’t producing?

DK: If you ask them about the folks who aren’t the closers or the hunters, managers go to the default answers—it’s motivation or time management, or lack of effort or practice, but they won’t go to the real issues, because they just don’t know what those are. They think they’re seeing the real issues, but they can’t get two or three or four levels down to find out exactly what’s behind two-thirds of their sales force not filling the pipeline the way it should be filled. Typically, a few people are doing most of the work, while most everyone else has an empty pipeline, or one that’s filled a third of the way, which just doesn’t get the job done.

DS: So this means they’re hesitant to look outside for selling solutions that may help their people sell better, and or to ask whether it’s time to refine the process or bring in a new one?

DK: Exactly, and there are preconceived notions about assessment. There are a number of “personality” and “behavioral style” assessments that have left a bad taste in their mouths, because, while they provide some nice information, it’s not relevant. It doesn’t reveal why people are selling the way they are, or whether this person will succeed in this role or not—it’s just information. So these experiences with assessment have people thinking, well that’s not going to help. And, they don’t know that there are assessments that go wide and deep in a very sales-specific way.

DS: Would you describe your assessment process?

DK: On the development side, if we want to get a sales force to where it should be, or to the next level, or we want grow the organization or bring in more revenue, it’s all about answering questions. Some common questions that CEOs and executives from the top down want answers to are: Can this sales organization execute our strategies, which are changing every month, now? Can this sales force go from order-taking and account management to more proactive hunting and closing roles? Have we been selecting the right people, and if not, what kind of changes do we need to make? Are any of my non-performers savable? If they are, what do we have to do to get them there? What impact is sales management having on the sales organization? What do we need to do about that? Do our systems and processes support the sales organization in a way that helps them rather than making it more difficult to do their job? What kind of ROI would we get from training? What should training consist of? And, it goes on.

On the candidate side, it’s all about being able to predict, with extreme accuracy and confidence, on a consistent basis, whether or not a particular candidate will succeed in a particular role, at the particular company, in their particular industry, calling on their particular market, with that particular decision-maker title, against their specific competition, challenges, and price points. And it’s not a vanilla, “this person can sell” or “this person can’t sell” because one person could succeed in Company A, but not at Company B, based on what the company needs that salesperson to do and what that candidate is capable of doing.

When executives recognize what’s going on, we can drill down and finally understand why it’s happening and do something about it. On the development side, if you identify what the real problems are for performance, it’s much easier to develop your people. If you get the selection part right, then you really don’t have to do anything except manage.

Next time: Part II: Evaluating Your Investment in Salespeople.


Dave Kurlan is the founder and CEO of Objective Management Group, Inc., the industry leader in sales assessments and sales force evaluations, and the CEO of Kurlan & Associates, Inc., an international consulting firm specializing in sales force development. He possesses 30 plus years of experience in all facets of sales development, including consulting, training, coaching, recruiting, systems, processes, and metrics.

Disclosure: Dave Kurlan is an ESR sales training provider subscriber.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Stein
Dave specializes in helping his clients win critical B2B sales opportunities as well as helping them hire the best sales talent.Dave is co-author of Beyond the Sales Process. He wrote the best-selling How Winners Sell in 2004.

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