Unpacking Contradictory Insights from a Sales Skills Assessment Test

Ed Marsh | Aug 25, 2023

Tl;dr - A sales skills assessment test can help to optimize individual and aggregate sales performance. Often it will report seemingly contradictory findings that can be confounding. One common result? Your top rep can't sell! How can this make sense? Does it invalidate the rest of the results? Let's look in detail.

What Is a Sales Skills Assessment Test?

A sales skills assessment test is an empirical, statistically predictive tool to understand a sales candidate's acumen and proficiency in various sales competencies, their "Sales DNA", and their "Will to Sell." It should accurately predict, given parameters for your market, product and company, a candidates sales effectiveness.

A sales skills assessment test is entirely different than personality and behavioral tests which purport to identify someones "fit" for a sales role.

An accurate candidate assessment is most effective when it's used as the first step in a structured, consistent, engineered recruiting and hiring process. This is especially important in big-ticket capital machinery sales, which have a long lead-time that delays the recognition and rectification of a hiring error.

Using the candidate assessment as the first step also avoids situations where personal preference based on personality factors contradicts the assessment findings.

Why Conduct a Sales Team Evaluation on a Capital Equipment Sales Team?

While a sales skills assessment test is designed to provide an actionable recommendation on whether to interview a sales candidate, many companies wonder about using a similar tool for their existing capital equipment sales team.

After all, if it's like an MRI for a sales rep's ability to perform, and preemptively can identify strengths and weaknesses, then it should be able to understand the same factors of the current team.

That's right - but with a couple differences.

First, since the goal is to optimize the sales function then we need to approach it just like a production line audit. That means each individual function (rep), the ancillary players (e.g. sales operations, marketing), leadership and management, and systems and processes.

A full sales team evaluation does that, providing insights and coaching recommendations for each team member, functional recommendations (how to improve sales coaching) and system recommendations (strength of sales process, recruiting, etc.)

Beyond the individual insights, however, is layers of data that help to diagnose revenue growth symptoms.

For instance, many companies are frustrated by their failure to win business with new accounts - concentration risk exists when a high percentage of their revenue comes from reorders.

Companies also often self-diagnose with a negotiating problem because they often lose deals on price or terms at the end. And unreliable forecasts loaded with deals that never actually close is seen as a "closing" problem even if the real issues are far earlier in the sales cycle.

A sales team evaluation can help to uncover the root causes of those symptoms - again, just like a production line audit.

Likely Surprises that May Make You Go "Hmmmmm"

Like a GPS that recommends a route different from the one you normally take, it's common for a sales team evaluation to deliver some insights that feel wrong. It's important to anticipate that some information may make certain players uncomfortable and seem to challenge certain strongly held opinions and contradict some sales metrics.

A common example is when a company's top-performing sales rep is revealed to have a number of critical weaknesses. Of course, we don't sit down with everyone in a meeting to share unwelcome personal information, but managers will understandably question the validity of all the results when something feels incorrect.

How can this be? How can an accurate and predictive tool purport to contradict years of sales success?

The answer is actually pretty simple.

Often, the top producing sales rep isn't actually "selling" - they're doing account management on a set of accounts they've cultivated for years (or sometimes had turned over to them when an owner relinquished sales to focus on overall management.) They're busy. They're putting projects in the pipeline. They're bringing in revenue. 

They're valuable contributors.

But they're not selling.

That has a couple implications. First, if you try to hire new reps in the image of your long-time account managers, you'll bring in folks who can't bring in new business. Second, when the top performers are appointed as sales managers or mentors, as often happens, they impart "best practices" that won't achieve goals. 

The solution is usually to find a job title and reporting structure that is comfortable for them, preserves their important contribution while protecting their ego and status in the organization, and doesn't impair the rest of the team's performance.

You may find other seemingly contradictory information in sales skills assessments as well. For instance, we often uncover situations where reps insist they're speaking to decision makers on deals, only to discover that they're consistently misleading themselves.

The information isn't always welcome, but for companies that are eager to improve results, it's always helpful.

Planning for Scenarios

There's another reason why a full sales team evaluation can be helpful as we possibly enter a period of economic uncertainty. 

You might need to reduce your sales related costs.

A sales team evaluation can help to make sure that you've got the right folks in teh roles where they can have the most impact, and further provide an empirical foundation for any sales downsizing conversations that the executive team might need to have as conditions evolve.

Hire Better, Manage Better, Sell More

Sales skills assessment tests can help improve sales by both hiring better (candidates who will perform and ramp up quickly) and optimizing the existing team by identifying root causes of sales frustrations and highlighting coaching opportunities.