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The Science Behind Hiring Top Sales Talent

The Science Behind Hiring Top Sales Talent

In the cut throat world of sales, the quest to identify the personality traits of high-performing sales-people is almost as old as the profession itself. The outcomes of two recent case studies may go some way towards providing clarity to sales executives and recruiters alike. The first case study was carried out by a small business loan organisation and the second by a large software organisation. Both revealed a strong linkage between sales performance and general cognitive ability, sometimes also referred to as GCA.

GCA is a psychological measure of an individual’s ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is the driving force behind learning, problem solving, and decision making, and, at its core, is a major differentiator in a variety of human contexts.

The impact of GCA on overall sales performance

In the first case study, 40 sales representatives were invited to complete a cognitive ability assessment to determine the impact of GCA on overall sales performance. The results revealed that GCA accounted for over 18% of the difference in sales performance within this group and revealed several significant insights into the relationship between higher cognitive aptitude and improved sales success included higher proficiencies in:

  • forecasting deal trajectories, identify potential objections, and prioritising prospects for conversion.
  • comprehending client needs, thereby expediting the sales cycle through preemptive objection handling.
  • information processing and analysis, resulting in prompt and relevant responses to client inquiries.
  • learning and adaptation, resulting in the ability to easily articulate the features and benefits of new products.
  • continuous learning, leading to better adaptation to changes in technology and market dynamics.

Optimising sales performance to increase revenue

In the second study, 120 sales employees of various levels of seniority participated in a game-based general cognitive aptitude assessment and a personality inventory. Their assessment results were compared with the amount of revenue those employees generated on a quarterly basis.

The results of this study indicated that both assessments predicted job performance for all three roles but, more importantly, candidates who scored better significantly outperformed their peers on revenue generation with more senior employees performing at exponentially higher levels:

  • Account Executives (AEs) who passed both tests achieved almost twice as much in quarterly revenue as those who did not pass both tests.
  • Account Managers (AMs) who passed both tests averaged 70% more in quarterly revenue more than those who did not pass both tests.
  • Strategic Account Managers (SAMs) who passed both tests averaged almost 4x as much in quarterly revenue as those who did not pass both tests.

The Take-aways

The implications of these findings indicate that, by leaning into data-driven hiring practices, including the use of cognitive ability assessments, organisations stand to gain a substantial competitive edge, with data suggesting up to a 4x increase in predictive accuracy of on-the-job performance.

Talent is what drives any organisation’s success and, when each talent decision is approached in an evidence-based way, organisations can achieve tangible, and often dramatic, results. As the sales landscape continues to shift, harnessing the power of cognitive ability testing emerges as a powerful strategy for identifying, nurturing, and retaining high potential sales talent.


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