Is Your Sales Force Performing Effectively?

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Author John Towler, Ph.D.

How to assess the skills of your sales force.

We recently attended a high-tech trade show and it led to the most awful sales call we ever experienced. A large show featuring high-tech products and services was in town and we decided to attend. One vendor that caught our eye was a website design firm offering a comprehensive website analysis. Our site has already won a couple of awards, but we were interested in what they might be able do for us.

The reps encouraged us to consider an analysis and told us that even though they were professional developers, their analysis of their own site revealed several broken links and other errors. We thought that this was a strange way to market themselves, but we gave them our cards to be entered in the draw for a free analysis.

A week later, I answered the phone to hear, "Hi David! This is George. “How're doing? I want to drop by, but where are you guys located?"

I know several Georges but this certainly wasn't one of them. He went on to tell me that we had won the contest, had analyzed our website and he wanted to come over to present us with the results. We were intrigued, if not a little puzzled, since they had apparently drawn our business card and been to our website but didn't seem to know our address!

An hour later George appeared and started to talk, and I do mean talk. With a great flourish he tossed a 30-page report on the table and told us that we really needed their services. There was only one copy of the report and several of us, so we asked him to summarize what it said. "I have no idea," he replied. "I haven't had time to read it." As he rambled on, we skimmed the report and noted that we had been given low marks for spelling. "What spelling mistakes do we have?" we asked. "It's all in the report," replied George. A few minutes later, we found the section and noted that the mistakes were not mistakes at all; they were the trade names of our products! We pointed this out to George, who simply said, "Well we can't catch everything." But, we thought, this is why your company wants us to hire you!

George proceeded to tell us that most managers don’t know a thing about web design and needed experts like them to help. "Web masters" he added, "barely understand it themselves." "Not only that," George went on, "CEO's don't understand people who visit their sites and how they think." Neither our web master nor our psychologist CEO who were sitting across from him was impressed by this.

By this time, we couldn't wait to get rid of George; however, we politely asked him for a copy of the report, a list of his services and the fees involved. George told us that he didn't have any promotional materials with him but that he would send us everything we needed to know and a copy of the report. As he left, George's final comment was "You know, most managers want to get out their checkbooks at this point and sign up. But I always tell them to wait a couple of weeks and think it over. You should do the same. By the way, what do you guys do here?"

We never heard from George again and it's probably just as well. However, our sales manager used the experience to show his team what not to do on a sales call. George was unprepared, knew nothing about our business or our needs, was a poor listener, and didn't ask us any questions. He seemed to know little about his company’s capabilities or services; didn't ask us for the order and never followed up. Where did his company find him? Why did they hire him and how long will it be before they figure out that he cannot produce for them?

An effective sales force is one of the key components of any business. Sales people are often the first point of contact with your customers. They are the people who provide a human face to your business and who leverage your advertising efforts into actual sales. People like George do more damage and cost business more money than they’re worth. We didn’t think much of him and the company he represented didn’t obtain our business because of it. Apparently, no one had bothered to research George’s qualifications very well (if at all), before he was hired. How could they have prevented hiring such an unskilled person and losing our business? If they’d tested him first, they probably wouldn’t have hired him at all!

Do you have a “George” working for you? If so, how much business and goodwill is he costing you and your business each year? It’s better to avoid hiring people like George in the first place, but how do you identify the winners from the losers? Hiring top performers from the onset can help ensure that your sales staff will be more likely to be high achievers. Luckily, there are a number of very good pre-employment assessment products available to help employers achieve this. Many of these tools can help to identify the deficits and training needs of your current employees as well. A good sales assessment can help you measure such things as:

Work Experience
Sales Interest
Energy Level
Sales Skills
Customer Service Skills
Business Ethics
Interpersonal Skills
Listening Skills
Follow-up Skills
Closing Skills

Testing your current employees and applicants can augment the strength of your sales team considerably. Internal benchmarks can be established and poor performers can be helped to improve the specific skill sets that they lack. As well, assessment tools enable you to measure against a standardized scale, allowing for easy comparison between individuals and they target skills, aptitudes and attitudes that can remain hidden during interviews. These types of tools are widely used, have been proven to be effective and are legal, accurate and reliable.

Best of all, by pre-testing your applicants, you will be unlikely to ever hire another George again!

David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a management consulting firm based in Kitchener, Ontario. They specialize in assessment products and customized surveys. Please send comments to dtowler@creativeorgdesign.com.

Re-printable with permission.