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Assess your sales executives
How to Conduct Sales Assessments
Choosing the right sales assessment tools; by Mark Blezard
When is a test not a test? When it is an assessment. If this is the only take-away you get from this document, fine. Understanding this point will steer you in the right direction for conducting a sales assessment programme, from start to finish. But let's dig a little deeper.
Candidate preparation: it is vital that they understand the ‘test versus assessment’ point too. Whether you are running assessments as a pre-hire tool or benchmarking existing sales staff, they need to know that this is not a test that they can fail, irrespective of how you plan to organise candidates by the outcome.
The more relaxed your candidates are pre-assessment, the more accurate the results will be. This is true for all assessments, from our sales skills modules to more complex psychometric options. Most run on a timed model in which the candidate must answer, score and organise statements in a given time. So it stands to reason that if they are flustered from the beginning, their results will be skewed.
We recommend a pitch similar to, “ This is not a test that you can fail. This is an assessment of your strengths, which in turn might allow us to match you to a colleague with a different skills gap for mutual benefit. It also shows us how we can better support your career progression.”
Sales recruitment without an assessment means that you are relying on guesswork.
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Or, in the case of a pre-hire assessment, “This is not a test where the prize is the job. It is an assessment to help us understand whether you can go straight out with your peers on day one or if you need pre-sales training and, if so, which areas we should cover in order to ensure your career progresses as quickly as I am sure you want it to.”
And, of course, our favourite, which is to emphasise the correlation between sales skills and their income. This usually gets buy-in fairly quickly.
So, which assessment programme should you select? There are hundreds of options out there, so this can seem a bit daunting. However, it is fairly easy to break down.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of assessments:
1) Sales skills (hard, trainable skills).
2) Psychometric analysis (behaviour assessment). Many assessments mix skills and psychometric analysis together.
3) 360 assessments, which are largely an evaluation method via anonymous feedback.
There is no harm in mixing two or three different assessments, so long as you are very clear on which one serves what purpose. And, don’t forget the effect on the candidate. Too many lengthy assessments can have a negative impact on the candidate’s motivation. Once again, communication between the assessor and assessee is essential.
Sales Skills Audit falls firmly into category one: assessment of hard, trainable, selling skills. The advantage of these types of assessments is the fact that you can have an immediate impact on sales performance. If you find a skills gap, it can be plugged right away, whereas inappropriate sales behaviour traits are nigh on impossible to fix permanently. People tend to revert back to old habits when it comes to behaviour.
However, we are certainly not criticising psychometric modules. You just need to understand how you are going to interpret and use the results. What does ‘good’ or ‘appropriate’ look like for your organisation and the sales role you are either hiring for or managing? Reviewing our “Understanding Sales Roles” series of Directional Selling Manager’s Notes may prove helpful here. See part one for sales techniques, part two for sales account management and part three for sales leadership.
Make sure the assessment tool you choose is easy to read and decipher.
Having decided upon what you want to assess, the most important point to consider next is validation. How well is the assessment validated and can the results be trusted? This is critical for all types of assessment used throughout your organisation but never more so than in sales. The cost of poor sales performance goes far beyond just missed income.
Most assessment providers will allow you to trial a few assessments before you purchase. However, do not fall into the common bear-trap of assessing the assessment whilst assessing yourself! Most assessment modules will kick out tainted results simply because your attention will be split between analysing how the assessment works whilst also being concerned with how you will fare. Of course, it is understandable to desire a clear insight into what you are about to put pre-hire candidates, or perhaps your entire global sales force, through. However, your own assessment will not help you validate your chosen provider. Nor will testimonials (at least not completely), although they can prove extremely useful in supporting your intuition.
The only way to fully validate an assessment is on your own staff. Here at Sales Skills Audit, we recommend two or three members of a sales team where the sales manager has an already clear understanding of their position on the ‘sales skills spectrum.’ This is where a sales skills assessment is often easier to implement, as you can select someone with a strong sales training pedigree, an intern or junior and someone who sits in the middle. With this approach, a good, correctly validated assessment tool should spit out reports that match the profile of your ‘test pilots.’
“Sometimes, top sales performers can mask sales skills gaps with great results from key accounts.”
Once you have chosen the assessment service, it is key that you follow it through and have a clear understanding of what the actions post-assessment will be. If you are running pre-hire assessments, be clear on your policy. If everyone loves a candidate and their interview was wonderful, but they score poorly in a skills assessment, what will the action be: not hire, or hire and run on a sales training programme during their induction week?
If you use an external sales training agency, make sure they are engaged with the programme and understand the sales competencies you are assessing. It is essential you have sales training material that aligns to these competencies, otherwise, you will struggle to fix any gaps identified.
And just as you started, communication is key. Candidates will want, rightly so, to see their results, so be prepared for one-to-one sessions and for how you will handle, perhaps, a poor report in a positive light. Sometimes, top sales performers can mask sales skills gaps with great results from key accounts. This is fine, but just imagine how much more they can earn if some essential sales skills gaps are fixed.
Until you actually start assigning assessments, you cannot map the ‘sales L&D journey’ for your executives.
Finally, having chosen an assessment service, make sure you use these new tools. Sounds obvious but until you actually start assigning assessments, you cannot map the ‘sales L&D journey’ for your executives. Think of it like sailing a boat. You know where you want to go but until you place a pin in the map, you have no idea of where you are or which way to turn.
So use these tools to navigate your organisation to greater profits. It is generally accepted that hiring a salesperson based on a good quality, single-factor pre-hire assessment will deliver performance benefits of up to 14% revenue increase, simply because you will be hiring ‘best fit’ talent. Our clients report sales uplift of between 10-15% post-assessment programmes, so coupled with a pre-hire strategy and you have a pretty good ROI when investing in sales assessment!