Improving Topline By Hiring High Performing Sales Personnel Through Scientific Process

It is beyond a shadow of doubt that the quality of a company's sales force plays a crucial role in determining the ability of the company to compete and survive in today’s competitive and evolving business scenario. A super-salesman can increase a company's revenue significantly, while a poor performer can hinder the company's growth, tarnish its reputation and drive it towards losses. Recruiting the wrong person for a sales job will not only lead to unnecessary costs but can also make a significant dent in the company’s financial status, its brand, its reputation and customer relationships. And yet every year we prepare an excel workbook to categorize the Sales team into High/Medium/Low performers. Have we got so habituated to this that we have started hiring low Performers unconsciously? Or is there a way we can identify a High or Low performer at the time of recruitment itself. What would be the impact on our Top Line if every Sales person we hire performs like Top Performer?

Since a Sales Personnel of any company is its torch bearer and has direct impact on Company Balance Sheet, it is imperative that hiring the right person for the role is of utmost importance. The aim of this study is to determine whether personality traits and cognitive ability can be used to predict the job success of sales people in a company at the time of recruitment itself.


Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study was to determine whether Cognitive Abilities (English Language Comprehension, Logical Ability and Numerical Ability) and Personality traits can significantly predict job success of Sales personnel in a company. We also aim to identify the competencies that make people successful in sales to enable hiring new recruits using objective assessment of those competencies

Role of Personality Traits and Cognitive Skills as Job Performance Predictor in Sales Personnel

Post 1990 a large body of scientific researchers have come to believe that Personality traits of a person can predict his/her performance in a Sales role capacity. (Arneson, Milikin-Davies & Hogan, 19931; Barrick & Mount, 19912; Barrick, Mount & Strauss, 19934; Vinchur, et al., 19985). Major findings of these studies was that Personality traits, specifically the Big Five traits of ‘Conscientiousness’ and ‘Extraversion’ was found to be a valid predictor of success for a Sales person in various organizations. Barrick and Mount (1991) showed that, on average, Big Five personality variables were correlated strongly with subjective appraisals of job performance with an average validity of r = 0.26.

There is much evidence to indicate that tests of cognitive ability are strong predictors of job performance in virtually every job studied. Studies by Arneson et al. (1993), Barrick et al. (1993)3 and Vinchur et al. (1998) clearly show that there is a strong correlation between a candidate’s general cognitive skills and personality traits with his Supervisor Ratings, Sales volumes and other parameters of job success.

Aspiring Minds Benchmarking Study

Aspiring Minds conducted a benchmarking study for one of the biggest hospitality chain in India. This study investigated the possible links between personality, cognitive skills and manager rated performance of Sales Personnel in Indian context.

ABC used a multi-dimensional assessment named AMCAT (Aspiring Minds’ Computer Adaptive Test), designed by Aspiring Minds to determine skills and traits that make a successful sale profile, and to set future hiring objectives for its sales force. AMCAT and AMPI (Aspiring Minds’ Personality Inventory) was administered on 78 sales personnel to determine cognitive skills and personality dispositions. The 78 people were drawn from a stratified sample of sales personnel across functions, vintage, qualification and age. ABC managers were asked to rate the sampled salespeople with regard to their sales performance using Aspiring Minds’ Sales Performance Inventory—a five point scale across twenty questions. This allowed for distinguishing the high performers from the low performers within the group.

Aspiring Minds’ Sales Performance Inventory enabled the managers to evaluate each employee on four performance metrics: Sales Disposition, Self-Management, Product & Industry Knowledge and English Communication.

Aspiring Minds Benchmarking Study Findings

AMCAT modules tested the salespeople on three principal parameters—English Comprehension, Logical Ability and Quantitative Ability. At the same time, the personality test module AMPI evaluated the ABC sample on five parameters: Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, Openness to Experience, and Agreeableness.

Performance analysis showed that people who were rated higher by the managers also did well on certain AMCAT scores. For example, high performers came up with high scores in English and Logical Ability section and were also high on personality traits like Extraversion and Conscientiousness, which was in accordance of previous research findings and meta-analytical studies. It came out that the AMCAT scores acted as clear performance indicators for the ABC sampled sales force.


Figure 1: Difference in scores of Top 33% of Performers viz a viz Rest Sales Team

The Mean Score in AMCAT indicated that people who are ‘agreeable’ (those who exhibit social conformity, friendliness, compliance, and altruism) seemed to have better chances to be hired in a Sales role. Aspiring Minds also found that personnel, who are high on extraversion, also happened to be high performers, as their role involves extensive customer interaction and consultative selling. Similar was case with those who scored high on conscientiousness, as they need to be diligent in meeting the sales targets and objectives in line with multiple global validation studies.

The ABC Hotels Sample study also revealed that employees rated high on ‘Self-Management’ are high on Conscientiousness and Logical Ability compared to those low on ‘Self-Management’. The test scores also presented that those who are high on ‘Self-Management’ are capable of working independently without the need for any supervision.

Key to any sales profile’s success is Product & Industry Knowledge. ABC Hotels found that personnel rated high on Product & Industry Knowledge have got high scores in Logical Ability. Globally, Logical Ability has been validated as a strong predictor of on-the-job trainability. Salespeople with high Logical Ability Scores also had shown greater ability to acquire knowledge on the product and Industry. Similarly, personnel rated high on English Communication by their managers also scored very high—nearly 60% higher—compared to the rest.

Summary of Benchmarking Results

The AMCAT &I test brought out that sales reps require higher English Communication skills as client interaction is important for the success of a sales profile.
The Personality traits Conscientiousness and Extraversion emerged as sure-shot predictors of sales performance, which is also proved and validated by multiple global meta-analysis.
Statistically, Logical Ability came out as a strong predictor of on-the-job trainability of sales personnel


Figure 2: Graph depicting increase in Average Performance of Sales employees hired using AMCAT cut offs

Using AM proposed Cut-offs can result into 22% increase in Average Performance of Sales employees which would lead to direct increase in the Top Line of the company.


Given the fact that personality and cognitive skills when combined together can make such a significant impact on the job success of Sales personnel, it seems only natural that a standardized assessment of both of these should be an essential part of every company’s Sales recruitment process. Companies can significantly increase their organizational effectiveness and reduce attrition by using personality and cognitive skills as performance predictors of potential hires to select employees that are predisposed to have a Sales Disposition. This will cut down costly and time-consuming interviews of every job applicant and also help in training need analysis.

The most important conclusion of this study was that the cognitive skills combined with personality assessments can be used to select high performing Sales person. Having said that, personality traits alone should not be the means on which to base selection decisions, instead, organizations can utilize personality testing to complement the traditional methods of screening job applicants, such as interviews and job applications, thereby increasing their employee performance while minimizing costs.