A new year often means the implementation of new sales strategies. However, as the Bank of England reports, the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is the latest disruption to sales expectations for many sectors.
For recruiters, this intensifies the need to find talented salespeople. In a year in which many industries hope for a return to pre-pandemic sales, finding the right talent is critical in uncertain social and commercial conditions.
David Bernard, the founder of behavioral assessment firm AssessFirst, believes assembling successful sales teams means reimaging the traditional salesperson model—and embracing the diversity it brings.
How do we predict sales results in an environment dealing with chaos? In the past 6 months, we have seen confident predictions of sales upturns, only for hopes to be diminished by reports of higher taxes, disrupted supply chains, increased cost of living, and new COVID variants.
These continually shifting consumer and market conditions can reduce strategies and sales targets to guesswork. For many sectors, there is no precedent, little reliable data, and no comparable disruption to make sales forecasts with certainty.
How can those trading in, say, travel or events be assured that what they are selling will not abruptly become unsellable? In the medium term, they can’t. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) recently downgraded its forecasts, with full recovery now not expected until 2024.
And in North America, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) has amended its return-to-normality forecast for events to 2023. Who can say when these might change again?
That’s why, when considering how to plan sales goals for the new year, we need to think less about strategy and more about personnel. The talent of our sales teams is the only assurance we have.
The science of selling is changing. Capitalizing on fluctuating sales opportunities at high volume must become an industry norm whereby sales projections are unreliable. This requires finding talented candidates to relentlessly deliver results.
The Sales Development Representative (SDR) Recruitment Process
The question that sales recruiters must ask is: “Does the recruitment model optimize finding outstanding salespeople?” Let’s briefly consider the typical process.
After posting a job description, you’ll have found interviewees based on education, experience, and satisfactory responses to any questions posed. Then, in the interview itself, the candidate will provide answers to questions such as:
- What are your motivations?
- How do you handle rejection?
- How do you feel about cold calling?
- Are you experienced with customer relationship management (CRM) software?
- Can you give me a 30-second sales pitch?
In this process, it is likely that, rather than comprehensively examining the candidate’s skill set, you are instead submitting to unconscious biases. This is not something that should evoke shame in recruiters. But recognizing we are all subject to these biases is the first step to better sales recruitment.
Rather than uncover talent, it might be fair to say that the traditional interview and recruitment process is largely an exercise in finding archetypes that satisfy our bias-led preconceptions.
Indeed, it is probable that we all have a similar image of what a successful salesperson looks like: an extroverted alpha male, dressed formally, possessing a certain exuberant attitude and an easily identifiable “drive.”
Think of how sales personnel are depicted in popular culture (the hyper-masculine team that surrounds Leonardo Di Caprio’s Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, for example), and we begin to understand the prevalence of the archetypal salesperson.
The power of unconscious bias in the hiring process shapes the makeup of a sales team in such a way that, should you observe a random sales team, its limitations would be instantly apparent. Around 60% of that sales team will likely be male.
Hiring in a way that (unconsciously) conforms to certain biases, however subtle, limits the discovery of talent. If we are to maximize sales opportunities, recruiters need to find more women with the skills to sell. Presently, they are overlooking a significant talent pool.
Sales recruitment has recognized the value of diversity much slower than other sectors. In the last decade, the number of women in sales has increased by only 3%—and fewer than 1 in 5 sales leadership roles are occupied by women.
If we do not recruit in a way that identifies and rewards traits aligned to successful salespeople, then goals will be missed, and trade is at risk.
What Makes Successful Salespeople, and How Can We Identify Them?
Personality traits may differ depending on what is being sold and how you wish to sell. A car salesperson, for example, may need a certain skill that business-to-business (B2B) sales teams may not.
However, if we collate key studies with our data at AssessFirst, then clear patterns emerge. Some of these have been surmised by Harvard Business Review and David Kurlan at Consumer Think. Those who succeed in sales will have the ability to:
- Engage customers. Deeper relationships with a select few is more productive than volume.
- Build strong colleague relationships. Sales staff absorbed into the business hold wider product/company knowledge.
- Embrace workload. Salespeople content to work outside office hours develop better client relationships.
- Listen and ask. This requires a natural curiosity to solve problems that may hinder a sale.
- Talk about money. Talking openly about costs, fees, figures, and transactions is difficult, but for top sellers, it’s essential.
Identifying these traits presents us with a distinct behavioral profile. And using this data-backed insight in the recruitment process widens the talent pool from which we can assemble proficient sales teams.
Our data, aligned with reports such as those published by Harvard, defies the archetypal salesperson. Rather than the ultra-aggressive, masculine alpha male, we instead should seek likeable, patient communicators who approach sales with diligence and a have genuine care for the client.
The best salespeople enjoy supplying solutions for clients and take gratification from being available to them whenever they are needed.
At AssessFirst, we used our artificial intelligence (AI)-led platform to build a behavioral profile of elite salespeople to eliminate bias in the recruitment process. Spencer Ogden, a London-based recruitment firm, utilized this profile when hiring for sales staff.
After 6 months, by focusing on behaviors displayed by the best employees, it hired 20% more female workers than previously. The behavioral profile had widened the net and found talent otherwise overlooked.
By prioritizing traits over CVs, sales recruitment is optimized for what will be a crucial year for many sales sectors. Data insight, then, could be the difference between the termination, survival, and flourishing of sales teams in 2022.
David Bernard is an entrepreneur specializing in the prediction of human behavior. In 2002, he founded innovative AI recruitment platform AssessFirst just 30 days after obtaining his master’s degree in quantitative psychology. A firm believer that the traditional way of CV-based hiring is both broken and biased, Bernard is passionate about the performance and correct placement of talented people.