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Long Term vs. Short Term Sales Success: What Drives Performance?

January 17, 2013

Organizations that have taken the plunge and started using personality, situational judgment, and/or cognitive ability assessments in their hiring processes have seen great return on their investment. Not only are these organizations able to focus their hiring attention on those candidates who truly have the necessary skills and abilities for the job, but they have also hired candidates who learn quicker, sell more and turnover less frequently.156752764 sales success

Many organizations are getting to the next level of hiring using these types of assessments and they are asking this question: which personality factors are the key differentiators in job performance?  We know that competencies such as teamwork, adaptability, work ethic, extraversion, and cognitive ability are good predictors of success in sales (and a lot of other professional-level positions). However, which of these are driving early-tenure performance versus performance two or three years down the road?

This is a question of particular interest to several organizations with which we work. Our research and data suggests that different competencies predict success at different times. More specifically, cognitive ability (otherwise known as “general intelligence,” “gma” or “g”) is typically a good predictor of early-tenure performance.  Why?  Because smarter people tend to learn faster and apply what they have learned more quickly (also sometimes referred to as “learning agility”). This is not a novel finding. Cognitive ability is generally considered the best predictor of job performance across industry and position type.

The more interesting finding, however, was that cognitive ability was not the best predictor of performance at years three and four. For these employees, work ethic (or conscientiousness) was the key differentiator of performance. This makes intuitive sense if you think about it. Those people who work hard may not learn as fast but are willing to stick with the job and put in the time to be successful. Essentially we are finding that hard work can negate cognitive differences between employees over time.

So what does this mean for your hiring process?  Both of these constructs are important to measure. However, HR professionals and hiring managers should think about the needs of the organization – do they need someone to hit the ground running or do they need a consistent and steady performer year after year?

When hiring in sales, what does your organization look for in potential candidates? Comment below to start the discussion! 

Paul Glatzhofer Paul Glatzhofer is the VP of Talent Solutions based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI Services LLC. He works primarily with organizations that are implementing global assessment and development systems at the leadership level. Paul’s work includes leadership development, leadership skills training, coaching, leadership and executive selection, turnover and ROI analysis, and ongoing feedback development.