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Sales Assessment: The Top 3 Sales Competencies

September 18, 2012
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Why do some people succeed in sales and others don’t?  Is there a way of dramatically increasing your odds that someone is going to succeed in a sales role?

While we’ve been assessing salespeople since 1993, about 5 years ago we set out to essentially start from a blank slate and review all of the research we could on predicting sales.  All told, we reviewed over 600 empirical studies dating back to the 1920’s, encompassing data from over 450,000 salespeople.

The Myth of the Perfect Salesperson

What we found is that there is no such thing as the perfect salesperson.  If you’re looking for the “can’t miss” rainmaker who will bring in huge deals in her first month on the job, you’re most likely going to be very disappointed.  The simple reason is that different situations call for different types of salespeople.  It’s as much a matter of fitting the right person to the position as it is having some ideal set of characteristics.

But surely, there have to be some characteristics the define success in sales.  The good news is that there are indeed characteristics that help define sales success.

Key Predictors of Sales Success

There are a lot of theories about what it takes to be successful in sales.  Sifting through the litany of potential success factors is a seemingly never ending task.  However, we did find that there are some individual differences that consistently differentiate between success and failure in a broad range of sales positions.  These aren’t meant to be the “magic ingredients” for a successful salesperson but they do appear to be a solid, stable and manageable base from which to build a solid hiring process.  If you are serious about improving your odds of hiring successful salespeople, you need to include these as part of your assessment process.

The Top 3 Sales Competencies

  • 1.  Achievement Motivation.  The extent to which someone is driven to succeed.  It is usually associated with competitiveness and goal achievement.  Fear of failing is also a component that comes into play here.
  • 2.  Emotional Stability / Adaptability.  The key here is the extent to which the individual can function effectively even when faced with rejection, or stressful situations.  This might also be referred to as “Resilience”. 
  • 3.  Emotional Intelligence.  This is a newer area of research compared with the others.  It’s also a very broad area that encompasses a number of other factors.  The key here is the extent to which the individual empathizes and understands the emotions and motivations that underlie human behavior, i.e. how well they can “read people”.

This isn’t meant to say that these are in and of themselves “enough” to ensure sales success.  Make no mistake, hiring good salespeople is hard.  But, if you don’t include these 3 competencies as part of your assessment process, then you are seriously lowering your odds of success.

 8 Factors to Look at When Hiring Salespeople

Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. was the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Select International, which was acquired by PSI. For more than 20 years, he was a driving force when it comes to designing, evaluating and integrating selection tools into systems that meet the specific needs of Global 2000 organizations. He is the co-author of the business best-selling book, Hiring Great People.