Predictors of Job Performance in Inside Sales

A new study, which takes a look at the skills that impact success among inside sales professionals, provides insight for companies recruiting and hiring for inside sales positions.

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Study Background

Koru, a leader in predictive hiring, and AA-ISP, an international association dedicated to advancing the profession of inside sales, announced study findings at LinkedIn Talent Connect. Relying on the latest assessment science and artificial intelligence (AI), the study aimed to discover what mix of the Koru7 impact skills (grit, rigor, impact, teamwork, curiosity, ownership, and polish) and other signals predict successful hires in sales roles – specifically early career roles, such as business development representatives (BDRs), account executives (AEs), and sales managers.
The study looked at employees from ADP, CallSource, ClickSoftware, FedEx, Microsoft, Oracle, PayScale, Thomson Reuters, and

Study Findings

Overall, the study finds that key skills, such as grit, impact, rigor, and teamwork, are important for high job performance in the sales industry.
Specifically, the study finds that BDRs typically share a common pattern of grit, rigor, and prior project management experience. On the other hand, high-performing AEs have profiles more tuned to their particular company, but these profiles often emphasize teamwork, impact, and prior project management experience. Sales managers consistently show higher teamwork, impact, and grit – combining many of the best traits of high-performing BDRs and AEs.
“This research reveals exciting, actionable patterns that sales teams can use to hire 20 to 30 percent more top-performers. ROI potential from hiring to a predictive profile is typically $2 to 4 million to the bottom line for a 50-person sales team,” said Josh Jarrett, co-founder and chief product office of Koru.
Data-specific highlights from the study include:

  • Top performing BDRs are “project managers” who combine a gritty work ethic with analytic rigor and a well-rounded academic background. High performers are:
    • 84 percent more likely to have held hardworking, mid-level extracurricular leadership positions in college like VP/manager/treasurer/secretary of a school organization.
    • 82 percent more likely to have worked previously in project management roles, 9 percent less likely to have worked previously in sales, and 31 percent less likely to have worked in customer support.
  • Top performing AE profiles vary significantly by company, though most successful performers focus on driving impact and interpersonal communications to succeed:
    • 40 percent more likely to be Communications majors and 92 percent more likely to have taken courses in Theater.
    • 60 percent more likely to have worked previously in project management roles, 1 percent less likely to have worked previously in sales, and 62 percent less likely to have worked in customer support.
  • Sales managers combine the best skills of BDRs and AEs and are distinguished by their high levels of teamwork, impact, and grit:
    • Communication and teamwork trump analytical rigor and quantitative skills. Sales leaders are 1.8 times more likely to have been Communications majors.
    • Athletes make good sales leaders. Sales leaders are twice as likely to have played sports in college, than BDRs and AEs (whereas athletes were less likely to be top BDRs or AEs).
    • Grit as demonstrated by persistence and attainment. For example, sales managers are 44 percent more likely to have persisted in extracurricular activities for more than two years. They are also 49 percent more likely to have worked 10-30 hours per week in college.

“Our research with Koru offers invaluable insights into how companies can successfully hire the right employees in this digital sales evolution and innovation economy. Finding and recruiting talent is difficult in and of itself, so making a poor hiring decision just compounds the issue and results in missing sales goals and quotas. The specific insights and clues uncovered by Koru can help favor the odds of hiring a high-performer,” said Bob Perkins, founder and chairman of AA-ISP.

Bottom Line

Companies can use these findings to better source, screen, and hire more top performers. They should look beyond traditional hiring sources like business majors with prior sales experience to tap into new sources of talent. They should also integrate impact skills into their hiring, through assessments and/or more structured interviewing. In particular, companies should emphasize grit and rigor at the BDR role and add in teamwork and impact for quota-carrying AEs and sales managers.