Sales Testing and a Real Pain in the Groin

Ed Marsh | May 13, 2023

Tl;dr - Many companies incorrectly self-diagnose industrial sales problems based on symptoms. Sales testing is a toolkit to help identify the root causes of sales challenges effectively, and to improve sales development and sales recruiting.

Self-Diagnosis Scratches our Itch but Doesn't Solve Our Problem

It's human nature to want to explain things we observe that don't make sense within our normal paradigms.

This happens often in our business and personal lives. It's one of the risks in data. We tease false trends and insights from data by ignoring outliers and smoothing random data points. We feel first relieved and then empowered because now we know why. 

We feel better, but we're worse off because we start to take action to solve the wrong root cause problem we've identified through our misdiagnosis.

We all do it. I did so, painfully, a couple years ago as I struggled with activity-limiting pain in my groin. It grew progressively worse, first gradually, then rapidly. Having self-diagnosed a groin problem, I tried all sorts of stretching and related treatments and remedies - with no improvement. 

Finally, I gave up on fixing myself and went to an orthopedic specialist to help me solve the groin problem I knew I had.

Except what I knew to be self-evident was wrong.

A quick x-ray, a 3-minute exam, and a knowing chuckle later, he informed me that I was suffering from a severely arthritic hip that would continue to deteriorate until it was replaced.

The problem and solution were completely different than what I had self-diagnosed, and the years of suffering I had endured vainly pursuing my solution, based on my false diagnosis, represented an opportunity cost of activity I had missed.

I often speak with business leaders who express frustration with the challenges their industrial sales teams face in dealing with prospects who have incorrectly self-diagnosed and are resistant to an informed diagnosis and solution to their business problem.

Maybe in moments of quiet reflection, you even recognize situations in which you do this yourself. After all, sometimes we're most frustrated by behaviors in prospects that we're guilty of ourselves.

And it's not just us as amateurs striving for self-diagnosis in areas that aren't our expertise. Often professionals, the experts paid for thoughtful and nuanced diagnoses, succumb to cognitive biases as well. Pattern recognition is a powerful shortcut, as are step-by-step algorithmic diagnosis tools. But those shortcuts are seductive and often lead to quick but incorrect diagnoses.

So let's look at common capital equipment sales frustrations to explore how sales force testing can help identify and fix root causes.

Common Industrial Sales Symptoms

Nearly every industrial sales team has consistent frustrations in common. Typical sales problems include:

  • discounting
  • long sales cycles
  • chronic competitive losses
  • deals lost to no decision
  • too few net new logos
  • high turnover
  • reps missing quota
  • too many quotes that go nowhere
  • inaccurate forecasts
  • pipelines bulging with deals that never advance or fall off
  • customer churn/retention problems
  • difficulty efficiently hiring exceptional sales reps

But these are rarely the actual problems. They're symptoms of deeper problems that business leaders often misdiagnose as the root cause.

Take discounting, for instance. Often companies that are plagued by low margins from frequent discounting self-diagnose the problem as weak negotiation skills. So off they go, seeking some negotiation training. Everyone shows up, absorbs the information, awkwardly tries to implement it, and things quickly revert back to the status quo.

Then execs face a quandary. If you've self-diagnosed the problem as negotiation skills and discovered the training didn't solve it, does that mean you were wrong, picked the wrong training, or are your buyers different and more effective negotiators?

The honest answer is that there's no way to know. You're more likely to stick to your own original self-diagnosis and therefore continue to lament the symptom.

This is why many companies are skeptical of sales training. They might have tried some to improve closing, cold calling, or some other specific tactical skill based on the observed symptoms. And they likely found that it didn't change outcomes. 

Treating symptoms doesn't work. You have to identify root causes and treat those instead.

Using Sales Testing Like an MRI

A competent orthopedic surgeon would know that an arthritic hip often manifests as pain in the groin or rump. Then a quick x-ray confirms their speculation and helps to gauge the degree of deterioration and the appropriate timeline and course of treatment.

Many cases are far less straightforward. The constellation of symptoms is often more complex and may not even be related. Great questions and a curious and open mind will help with differential diagnosis. Sophisticated imaging like CT scans and MRIs supplement xrays.

These help to make and confirm a diagnosis.

Sales symptoms also reflect problems that can be difficult to diagnose properly. Sophisticated instruments can help. Sales testing is an example of a diagnostic instrument for diagnosing sales problems and providing information that will support sales development, training, and coaching.

A predictively accurate sales force testing tool will uncover deeply held self-limiting beliefs and precisely measure various tactical sales competencies. Clear deficiencies can often be identified. Those gaps, individually and in combination with others, will xplain the obvious symptoms of sales problems.

For instance, if a sales rep thinks it's rude to discuss money, they'll be uncomfortable talking about a prospect's budget. If they can't sell consultatively or ask great questions to uncover a prospect's compelling reason to buy, they'll relegate themselves to selling "nice to have" vs. "must-have" solutions. In both cases, they'll struggle to parry discount requests when it's time to close...if they make it that far.

Sales testing can help trainers to understand those underlying issues. It is effective at helping to diagnose the root causes of sales problems. It's also a powerful tool for improving sales recruiting.

Using Sales Testing to Hire Better As Well

Sales recruiting is a challenge. In recent years, just identifying candidates has been difficult. Turnover was high. The costs are significant in recruiting fees, ramp-up time, empty territories, and wasted executive time. And yet companies often hired reps that didn't work out - paying high salaries to get them on board.



ai generated image by Dall E (prompt = "impressionist watercolor of an mri for medical diagnosis"

Now as the market softens, more reps are available, but the challenge remains to identify those candidates who not only can sell but who will sell.

Sales testing is hugely powerful here. These 11 Reasons to use sales testing in hiring candidates cover a variety of benefits that include reduced cost, improved outcomes, and stronger DEI performance and EEOC compliance.

Using sales testing as a routine, initial step in sales recruiting actually pays off during onboarding and ongoing sales development too. With the insights from a sales assessment, it's possible to create a sales development plan that focuses on the areas for improvement that even great sales reps have.

A sales candidate assessment provides a roadmap for onboarding, training and coaching.

Sales Force Testing for Current and Future Excellence

Sales is critical for every company. You have to sell predictably and consistently to thrive.

Yet most sales teams are plagued by consistent frustrations that are symptoms of deeper sales problems. They never get to the root cause and therefore never understand why the symptoms appear or how to reverse them. And then, as they hire replacement reps they sadly perpetuate the same problems.

Sales testing provides a powerful toolset to properly diagnose the root causes of frustrating industrial sales symptoms so that effective sales development coaching and training can improve performance. Testing also provides insights to improve hiring.

The combined ability to improve an existing team's performance and then add stronger talent with each hire is an enormous value of effective sales testing.