Where Are All The Good Salespeople?

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Author David Towler

Use screening tests to identify sales talent.

For nearly a decade, sales representatives hold second place as the hardest positions to fill in Canada according to ManpowerGroup’s 10th annual Talent Shortage Survey.

41,700 Canadian employers were asked “What is the one job you are typically having the most difficulty filling?” Sales representatives were consistently in the top five of the ten most difficult positions to fill since 2006. Approximately 32% of employer also reported having trouble recruiting good employees in general. Over a third of the respondents blamed this on either a shortage of available applicants or a lack of technical competencies in those who did apply.

According to ManpowerGroup’s survey the hardest jobs to fill in 2015 were:

1. Skilled Trade Workers
2. Drivers
3. Management/Executives
4. Technicians
5. Sales Representatives
6. Engineers
7. Administrative Assistants
8. Labourers
9. Accounting & Finance Staff
10. Teachers

I’m not surprised. ManpowerGroup’s findings mirror what we hear from our clients all the time. Sales can be a difficult job, but it can also be very lucrative. Everyone has experienced a pushy salesman or someone who only cares about you until they get your money and we all know what’s meant by the term “used car salesman” and “buyer beware”. Historically, sales people haven’t always had a great reputation.

The Globe and Mail’s Jason Tchir also focused on this problem in an article just last week. In the article, Hugh Munro, the director of Laurier University’s MBA program where a sales training program will begin this fall says, “Getting people interested in a sales career can be a tough sell”. Munro notes that many people are first exposed to sales roles when working in retail sales. They often dislike it and quickly seek other career paths. Tchir reports that the problem is even more pressing for small start-ups who require both experience and technical skills. He and Munro suggest that the sales game has changed and that a different type of salesperson is now required. They and ManpowerGroup agree that employers need to recognize that using the same old recruitment practices won’t yield different results.

While it might be true that more specialized or technical knowledge may sometimes be required, the fact remains that successful selling is a skill set and one that comes more naturally to some than to others. Everyone has things that they excel at and things that they naturally tend to avoid. There are specific combinations of skills, aptitudes and personality traits or competencies that all productive and successful sales people share. To be effective one still requires some experience and an interest in sales, along with ethics, drive, persistence, communication skills and a genuine interest in people and customer service. It doesn’t matter what they’re selling or to whom. The skills involved in the process are the same and at the end of the day, ‘sales’ is still ‘sales’. Everyone knows that sales representatives are often a little bit full of it (or themselves) and are frequently hail fellow well met types. It’s a truism because that’s a part of their makeup as a result of the innate personality traits that make them good sales people.

Although finding enough applicants may sometimes be a challenge, figuring out who can actually perform is often much less difficult. Those who rely only upon traditional recruitment methods or behavioural interviewing or who jump on trends like Emotional Intelligence are overlooking other indicators.

Employers should always be looking at new practices but there are still tried and true methods that shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater in a rush to be more current. Testing for an applicant’s skills, aptitudes and attitudes can be done, quickly, cheaply and effectively. The items above are all things that can be measured accurately and which are highly predictive of future success.

In addition to the hundreds of other skills assessments available to recruiters there are specific tests designed for identifying successful candidates in a wide variety of sales environments. Whether one is hiring for sales roles in an entry level, retail, call center, industrial, inside, healthcare, team leader or management capacity, there’s a screening tool that’s designed for the purpose. They’re intentionally designed to help measure things like:

• Business Ethics
• Closing Skills
• Conscientiousness
• Diplomacy
• Drive/Energy Level
• Extroversion
• Independence
• Influence
• Initiative/Cold Calling
• Listening skills
• Motivation
• Negotiation skills
• Persistence
• Professionalism
• Reliability
• Sales Interest
• Sales Potential
• Technical Orientation

Product information and procedures can be taught, and people can be trained in sales techniques but those who excel at it naturally will outperform the rest. No matter who you hire there will inevitably be a learning curve before they’re fully up to speed but if the successful candidate is already known to be a go-getter, is motivated by success and has a strong propensity for sales activities, it’s likely that the adjustment period will be shorter than average.

Shortages of suitable candidates will occur at times but screening for the skills and abilities that one knows are proven to result in a successful hire can always be done. There’s no reason to hire by guesswork or to take on someone else’s rejects. Whether you’re hiring for entry level positions or for more senior roles there’s an assessment tool available to help you separate the wheat from the chaff. Firms like Creative Organizational Design carry more than 2000 titles that cover dozens of skills and over 55 that are specifically designed for screening sales candidates. We can’t find your candidates for you but we can certainly help you determine which ones will be more likely to be successful.

Creative Organizational Design has 100s of assessment tools designed to help employers screen out other people's rejects, assess skills, aptitude, attitude and 'fit' within an organization. For more information about the options available and help selecting the best tools for your needs please contact us. David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a firm offering nearly 40 years of expertise specializing in employee assessments and which has over 2000 different product titles available. Please send comments about this article to dtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

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