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How Sales Talent Uses Sales Assessments in Sales Hiring

We started using sales personality tests here at Sales Talent in March of 2002 to help me answer a vexing question. For the first time in my career, I had a recruiter on my team that was failing despite doing everything I asked of her. At the prompting of a mentor, I had our entire team take Caliper’s sales assessment to see if our under-achieving recruiter was simply not “cut out for sales.” The short answer, according to Caliper, was that she wasn’t. Not even close. More importantly, the Caliper assessment correctly revealed that the top performers on our team possessed strong sales aptitude. It also explained why our failing recruiter was willing to work so hard at a job that she was ill-suited for. We felt like kids with a shiny new toy.

Sales Assessments – Sales Hiring Shortcut?

Flash forward fourteen years, and we still use and believe in sales personality assessments. We’ve also come to understand their limits as a black and white predictor of sales success. Until we understood these limits, the sales assessment results gave us a false sense of confidence. That false confidence prevented us from interviewing candidates as thoroughly as we otherwise would have. To this point, we have observed several clients implement sales assessments only to see the quality of their sales hires go down. Their managers commited the same mistake that we had by using these assessments as an interviewing shortcut.

To be clear, sales assessments provide valuable data about a potential hire’s sales potential. How you interpret and use that data is where you can gain a benefit or get yourself into trouble. Just as important as what they can measure is what these tests can’t. Drive. In the words of George Tucker (creator of The PEAC System), “some people simply have so much drive it doesn’t matter if they’re not suited for a job.” The opposite is also true. Some people are ideally suited for a job but lack drive. We explain why drive is critical in a sales hire in our eBook How to Hire Top Sales Performers.

Which Tests Do We Use?

We use four different personality tests: Caliper, PEAC, FIRO-B, and Grit to evaluate a potential recruiter for our team. The first two tests are sales oriented and the second two we use for a specific insight into the person’s hard wiring. We go to these lengths for two reasons. 1. Each test gives us a specific insight into the potential fit of a candidate. 2. We gain a more holistic understanding of how to best support and develop that person should we ultimately hire them.

It has been our experience that the value of each assessment’s findings increases with the number of assessed hires that we have real-world sales data on (both successful and unsuccessful hires). To expand our database of assessments, we’ve given these assessments to Sales Talent hires from our past and other top performers from our industry. Without a base of dozens of successful sales hires to compare against, blindly taking a sales assessment’s thumbs up or down hiring recommendation is problematic. The Sales Talent team illustrates this point. Not one of our current recruiters was recommended as a “match” by Caliper, yet all of them are top 5% producers when compared to their peers in the sales recruiting industry. With that noted, let’s look at how most assessments work.

Making Sense of Assessments.

The graphic below (taken from H.R. Chally, a Caliper competitor) illustrates the challenge with assessments. Most of the data you’ll receive doesn’t predict job performance.

Caliper, for instance, provides a score of 1-99 on 40 different personality dynamics such as a person’s “assertiveness,” “energy” or “urgency.” The score represents what percentile a person is for that dynamic relative to the general population. To complicate matters, many of these dynamics work in tandem to strengthen or reinforce each other. They may also work to cancel each other out. A specific example would be “urgency” and “anxiety.” Adding in high “anxiety” to a person that is also high on “urgency” is like adding fuel to the fire which may be a good or a bad thing depending on the dynamics of your sale and your environment.

Despite the complexity of interpreting Caliper’s assessment, I much prefer this tool to other, more simplified sales assessments such as the PI. The PI paints with a broad brush by grouping related dynamics together into one score. Because of this, you’ll never uncover which specific dynamics are critical to hiring success. The PI’s results also reveal little insight into how to manage and motive a person should you hire them. Finally, the Caliper is one of the more difficult assessments for a potential hire to “game” or match their answers to the needs of the job.

Whichever assessment you use, the key to using them correctly is identifying which of the dynamics must be present (or absent) and it what amount. Many qualities, such as ‘thoroughness” as an example, work best for us when they are in the middle of the range (30-70).

How We Use Sales Assessments for Our Sales Hiring.

We use the information from these assessments primarily to gain a more complete picture of the person (strengths, weaknesses, how to lead them, etc.). Very little of this data gives us a Hire or No Hire result. There are, however, a few specific ingredients that we have found in every successful hire we’ve made. 

Although higher scores aren’t necessarily better, I prefer extreme personalities as they tend to do extremely well or extremely bad. Extreme personalities also tend to reveal whether you hired your next superstar or made a mis-hire quickly once you’ve hired them.

To help make sense of all the information our assessments give us, we group the related “dynamics” (explained above) that we look for into general categories such as sales aptitude and process/structure. By looking at related dynamics scores as a group, we gain a fairly complete picture as to a person’s overall strengths or weaknesses in a given category. Areas of concern uncovered by the assessments are addressed through follow-up questions that we add to the interview process.

How We Vet Concerns Raised by an Assessment.

Let’s look at a real-world example of how we vet concerns. One of our most successful hires had an “urgency” score, per Caliper, of 45, which was below our bar of 60 (out of 99). After each interview step, we noted how quickly he responded. We also dug into this topic with his references. Without fail, his response time was excellent, and his references went out of their way to speak to his responsiveness. Conversely, we have eliminated candidates with strong “urgency” scores that failed to display that behavior during the interview process. 

Helping to make sense of how to incorporate assessments into the greater interview process is a chart (shown below) found in an excellent HBR article, The Best Ways to Hire Salespeople.

Sales Talent’s evaluation process weights our structured interviews more, and assessment results less. One additional tool/step that we have in our interview process is requiring potential hires to document their sales numbers. I discuss this topic in detail in our eBook on How to Hire Top Sales Performers.

Using Sales Assessments at Your Company.

Unless you have a wealth of top sales performers to assess at your company I advise that you start slowly with integrating sales personality tests into your interview process. Given how hot the current recruiting market is, tossing out potentially viable candidates is a quick path to unfilled positions. 

In my experience, sales assessments should be used to answer two questions. 1. Does the person in question possess general sales aptitude? 2. Are there any red flags the assessment raises to address during the interview process? This is all you can ask of an assessment until you have enough data to isolate which traits are required in your sales role.

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Chris Carlson

My name is Chris Carlson and I’m the founder and President of Sales Talent. This blog grew out of my desire to document and share what I’ve learned in my two plus decades of sales recruiting and leading Sales Talent. We post a new blog once a quarter on the 3rd Thursday of every January, April, July and Oct. These posts are aimed at sales professionals and leaders that speaks to talent selection, team building, or career advancement. If you have a topic that you’d like my take on, please reach out to me.

You can find Chris Carlson on LinkedIn or contact him directly at:
[email protected].