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August, 2007
Originally published on The Progressive Distributor online

 
A don’t-get-fooled-again system for hiring salespeople with the “right stuff” to hunt and bring down big game.

You’re in your office with a prospective salesman -let’s call him Jack – in the middle of yet another interview. It seems to be going well. Jack is brimming with enthusiasm. He seems smart and friendly. He’s saying all the right things. He even comes highly recommended by a longtime friend.

The problem is, you have been down this road before, only to be burned by clever pretenders. You’ve watched their motivation fizzle after a few months in the trenches. And since prospects don’t show up with “I am a sheep in wolf’s clothing” stenciled on their lapels, you’re a little worried (OK, a lot worried) about being fooled, again, by a skilled actor who just can’t cut it consistently in the rough and tumble world of sales.

“Winning salespeople always share one critical psychological trait, and that characteristic is drive,” says Dr. Christopher Croner, co-author along with Richard Abraham of “Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again: Selecting Candidates Who Are Absolutely Driven to Succeed” (The Richard Abraham Company, 2006, ISBN 13: 978-0-9741996-1-0, $19.95).”Drive can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t. Candidates who lack it shouldn’t even make it to the first interview. And unfortunately, even if you’re using an aptitude test right now, it’s probably not hitting ‘drive’ as hard as it should. Most don’t.”

So what’s a leader to do? The best answer, say the authors, is to assess candidates with a focused one-two punch: 1) have them take a new drive-based personality assessment called DriveTest, developed by Croner, and 2) interview them using questions and techniques that are specifically designed to probe for the elusive D-word.

The new 45 minute online sales test predicts with over 70 percent accuracy whether a candidate has the right stuff. The sales test/interview combo brings that number to over 90 percent. Croner and Abraham explore the subject of sales DNA in greater detail in Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again. Here are just a few of their insights:

 

Understand the Landscape of Drive

Eighty years of research and experience tell us that top producers share three key, non-teachable characteristics:

  1. A need for achievement. This is a burning desire to excel that is self-sustaining and virtually insatiable. Picture Tiger Woods, who can never win enough.
  2. Competitiveness. Top salespeople compete with everybody at everything. In fact, they are so competitive, they even see their customer as a competitor in terms of a test of wills.
  3. Optimism. This is the most subtle characteristic. People can jump up and down and act optimistic, but that’s not the point. Real optimists deal well with the inevitable rejection they experience in sales. Non-optimists take rejection personally, and tend to break down under its pressure.

“These all add up to what psychologists call drive,” notes Abraham. “Without it, the chances of someone succeeding as a hunter/salesperson drop to less than 10 percent.”

 

All Sales Aptitude Tests Aren’t Created Equal

First of all, says Croner, most sales tests currently in use aren’t designed to measure drive above all else. Furthermore, they consist of yes or no questions. Savvy test-takers can often discern which answer the test-giver is looking for. They simply give the “right” answer, whether it’s actually true of them or not. Croner and Abraham’s DriveTest solves both of these problems.

“This is the first test to focus on drive with such intensity,” explains Croner. “It’s tough and it’s sophisticated. Instead of yes or no questions, each item consists of four statements, all of which sound positive, and asks the candidate to rank them from ‘most like me’ to ‘least like me.’ It is extremely difficult to guess the politically correct answer, which, of course, drives pretenders crazy.”

On the off chance that an underperforming salesperson slips through the test, the Drive Interview will almost certainly catch him. For the best possible results, an industrial psychologist should conduct this focused two-hour interview. But any interviewer can greatly improve his or her skills by reading Croner and Abraham’s book and practicing the 3 Ps formula: Planning, Probing the Past, and Patterns.

“Planning means conducting a job analysis to determine what skills you’re looking for: whether you need a hunter or a farmer, for instance,” explains Croner. “Probing the Past means exactly what it sounds like – you explore what a candidate has done in the past rather than asking philosophy questions, which speak to aspirations. Finally, you structure your process to connect individual questions into a web of patterns which, once identified, are virtually sure to reemerge when the candidate comes to work for you.”

 

Hiring the Wrong Candidate is a Costly Mistake

It’s better to hold out for a driven salesperson than to settle for a warm body. Croner and Abraham have developed a calculator that demonstrates the terrible toll of hiring marginal salespeople. “One of our clients has estimated the cost of a single bad sales hire – taking into account recruiting, training, managing, and lost opportunity – is $1.4 million!” says Croner.

“Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of the population will score high enough in ‘Drive’ to meet our hiring criteria, so there are not enough strong sales candidates to go around,” he adds. “But while it may take several rounds of testing and interviewing to find the right person, trust me, the numbers say you are way better off holding out for him or her than you are compromising and constantly turning over mediocre talent.”

So why do so many companies continue to hire bad salespeople? For one thing, people get complacent and just don’t want to do the hard work of creating a high drive sales force. Also, finding candidates through the “old boy” recommendation network is a system that fits like a comfortable slipper. But Abraham says he’s convinced misinformation is the biggest culprit.

“If CEOs, entrepreneurs and sales managers truly realized that there is a scientifically proven method to zero in on those rare people who are born to sell, they would have to take advantage of it,” he says. “Once you understand and recognize that drive is the key, it changes everything. This is exactly the kind of approach NFL and NBA owners use when determining whether to hire million dollar players. They test and they test hard.

“Remember, success in sales is contingent upon many things, including a good product, intelligent management, and logical compensation,” he adds. “But it all starts with an athlete who can run fast enough and jump high enough to have a chance to succeed in one of the most difficult things in commerce . . . persuading a customer to part with his or her money.”

 
 
Christopher Croner, Ph.D. is a principal with SalesDrive, a psychology based sales management consulting firm. He developed the SalesDrive assessment test, including the Drive Model of salesperson motivation. Using this system, he has helped numerous companies to hire and develop top performing salespeople.

Richard Abraham is a speaker, writer, and consultant to many Fortune 500 companies. He has held several chief executive positions, including CEO of Prime Group Realty Services and president and co-founder of The John Buck Management Group. He is author of the highly acclaimed book, Mr. Shmooze: The Art and Science of Selling Through Relationships.