Editor’s Note: Dr. Christopher Croner is a Principal with SalesDrive, LLC, and co-author of the book, “Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again.”

We use SalesDrive as part our hiring process here at KiteDesk and recommend it to others to make personality-based hiring decisions. 

SalesDrive leverages more than 80 years’ worth of research in the personality traits of high-performing salespeople. To start, what are some sources you’ve used for your research? How have you implemented this research into useful insights?

We began in 2004 by reviewing every academic journal article on what makes a great salesperson published over the last 90 years. Sources include “Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management,” “Journal of Applied Psychology,” and “Personnel Psychology.” We also analyzed the results of our own psychological assessments and behavioral interviews with sales candidates and the performance feedback of their managers thereafter. This research informed the development of the DriveTest® and Drive Interview® model, helping our clients identify high-potential sales candidates.

Your research is currently being used by over 750 companies. Why is your research so popular?

Sales managers are often frustrated after hiring candidates for “hunter” sales roles who interview well but underperform thereafter. This cycle of disappointment has left many companies searching for an effective tool for identifying high-potential candidates whom they can interview with confidence. Our focus is specifically on the non-teachable characteristics essential for hunter salespeople. Most sales managers are interested in learning about these traits and how to identify them in candidates.

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SalesDrive’s flagship offering is an online sales assessment to identify non-teachable personality traits for sales professionals. What are some different things you test for? How do you identify them?

The three (3) most important non-teachable characteristics we assess are as follows:

1. Need for Achievement – The desire to pursue excellence for its own sake. Salespeople high in Need for Achievement focus on accomplishing challenging goals and then setting the bar ever higher. This is the most important characteristic we assess.

2. Competitiveness – The competitive salesperson has two (2) objectives:

a. They want to out-perform their peers and rank highest on the sales team.

b. They want to win the prospect over to their point of view. Psychologically, they see the sale as a contest of wills.

3. Optimism – The optimistic salesperson is certain that he or she will succeed and resilient when facing the inevitable rejection that a salesperson encounters.

Collectively, we refer to these three (3) characteristics as Drive, the key trait essential for success as a Hunter salesperson. The DriveTest® also assesses the teachable core skills important for most sales positions, including Persuasion, Relationship Skills, and Organizational Skills. The candidate receives a score on each characteristic from 1 (low) to 5 (high).

The DriveTest® measures these characteristics using a question format called “forced choice,” which is designed to eliminate faking. For each question, the candidate sees three (3) positively-worded statements such as the following example:

• I consider myself a leader.
• I have great relationship skills.
• I am very organized.

The candidate must then decide which of the statements is most like them and which is least like them. This obviously forces the candidate to make some difficult choices but gives our client companies a much better sense of their real priorities.

You also have another product, The Production Builder, to help sales managers assess their current sales team. What are some common things you test for, using The Production Builder?

The Production Builder™ is our developmental report for current salespeople. It is based on the same assessment as the DriveTest® and provides the same scores on Drive and the other core skills. However, the Production Builder™ also provides an additional section of development suggestions for improving such teachable characteristics as Persuasion and Relationship Skills, based on the test taker’s unique psychological profile. Our clients find the Production Builder™ helpful for onboarding as well as ongoing development.

Likewise, what are some areas where sales teams tend to need work? Why are some of these skills so hard for so many salespeople?

The key challenge many sales teams encounter is making sure the right people are in the right positions. For example, many smaller companies place people in “hunter” sales roles because they have a track record of success at previous companies that are well-known in their industry. The challenge here is that the candidate’s previous success may have been because of the greater degree of brand recognition and collateral material the previous company provided. The salesperson who did well in that larger environment may have difficulty when those advantages are removed. The key is to make sure the person has the requisite experience and Drive to succeed for you.

The Production Builder helps sales managers target specific areas that need improvement. What are some of the benefits of targeted sales training? What are some of the dangers of unfocused sales training?

Targeted sales training addresses each salesperson as an individual, acknowledging the areas in which they are already skilled and focusing instead on the skills they need to master. For example, if a salesperson is great at persuasion but struggles with time management, I recommend addressing time management specifically.

Salespeople can get bored listening to speeches or taking classes on things they have already mastered. The targeted approach takes a bit more planning but provides much higher-level training results. Specific opportunities for targeting training can be identified with assessments and reviews.

One of the main reasons SalesDrive exists is to help sales managers save time and money while recruiting the best sales professionals out there. What are a few methods for identifying the best sales professionals? How much time and money does a sales manager stand to save, using efficient recruitment methods?

The key to identifying the best salesperson for any given role is to combine a well-constructed assessment with a well-constructed behavioral interview. An assessment such as the DriveTest® allows companies to identify high-potential candidates to move further into the interview process. Then, a well-constructed behavioral interview allows the hiring manager to much more accurately predict whether the candidate has the characteristics necessary to succeed in that role. The best predictor of future behavior is previous behavior. So, the behavioral interview allows the candidate to reveal the consistent patterns of behavior they have displayed previously which allow us to more reliably predict how they will perform going forward.

Regarding money saved, the cost of an underperforming salesperson, including lost sales, salary, and managerial time, can range from 6 to 7 figures, depending on the position.

In 1993, the American Psychological Association published a report that found the #1 quality of successful salespeople was ‘conscientiousness’. Why do you think that is, and how might a sales recruiter find conscientious sales professionals?

According to the five-factor model of personality, conscientiousness includes several facets, including orderliness, self-discipline, and achievement-striving. The achievement-striving portion of conscientiousness is most strongly associated with academic and career success. To find sales professionals with the most important element of conscientiousness, I recommend testing and interviewing for Need for Achievement.

Being respectful is another quality of highly successful salespeople. Again, why is that, and how might recruiters seek out a respectful sales team?

Salespeople who are respectful show that they value their customers’ time and attention. Respectful behavior is important for building the customer relationship and ultimately closing the sale, as customers tend to buy from salespeople they like. Respectful diplomacy is also necessary to close sales with difficult customers or multiple decision-makers. The behavioral interview can be very effective at identifying respectfulness, looking for previous situations in which tact, respect, or diplomacy were important for closing a sale.

Being aggressive is essential, to truly triumph in sales, but it must be handled tactfully. How can a salesperson be forward and driven, without being pushy or offensive? What are the dangers of being TOO aggressive?

Of course, a salesperson who is too aggressive can be seen as pushy and disrespectful, which is detrimental to building relationships and closing sales. The key is to distinguish between aggressiveness and assertiveness.

Aggressiveness is defined as meeting one’s needs regardless of the needs of others. Assertiveness is meeting one’s needs while taking the needs of others into account as well. The assertive salesperson is confident enough to pick up the phone or knock on the door for a cold call and respectful enough to recognize and honor the needs of the person with whom they are speaking. This balance can take time and practice to develop. For example, high-Drive salespeople early in their careers can sometimes be overeager, which prospects may take as aggressiveness. However, a salesperson high in Drive, particularly Need for Achievement, will want to learn from their mistakes and use them as opportunities to improve.