Is there a correct personality for sales? As I have posted before, my experience indicates that sales is a skill set which can be learned.

As for personality, if we could plot personalities on a bell-shaped curve, those at the extremes would probably have trouble with any job, including sales. Otherwise, people of all personality types have succeed at sales. Sales success and personality simply don’t correlate in any scientific, meaningful way, and anyone who has real experience working with more than a few salespeople has seen this.

In spite of that, there is a HUGE industry built around the idea that you can give a person a test, determine elements of their personality, and then use these findings to predict if they will be a good salesperson or not.

I don’t have the expertise to know if the first part of this idea is right or not – if these tests can indeed determine elements of a personality. I have taken these tests, and the questions often seem kind of odd, but that is as much as I know from my own experience. Take one sometime, and you’ll see what I mean.

Then we come to the second part of the statement – that you can predict if someone will be a good salesperson based on the elements of their personality that are found. I do remember enough from my logic classes in university to know that this part just doesn’t add up.

Many personality tests used for hiring salespeople rely on a core methodology called “benchmarking”. The sales pitch around benchmarking sounds really good at first. It sounds something like this:

“We have analyzed the personality traits of great salespeople (or of your top performing salespeople), and we measure the results of the test takers against this benchmark/model/profile”.

There are a few big problems with this idea! Let’s start with the core logic – first by a silly but illustrative example, then with a formula.

For the silly but illustrative example, let’s say that the benchmark group of salespeople all likes pizza. Does that mean that people who like pizza will be great salespeople? Silly, I know – but that is a demonstration of a flaw in the logic. The logical equation looks like this:

That factor A leads to B DOES NOT MEAN THAT factor B will lead to A.

So we are saying that when A is present (someone is a great salesperson) then B is also present (they like pizza), but that does not mean that when B is present (people like pizza) then A is also present (they are great salespeople).

Personality test companies of course do not test for such silly things, but the logic is still bad. Let’s say that we believe that great salespeople don’t have call reluctance – they are eager to get on the phone. We might then test for people who like to be on the phone as a sign of a great salesperson. The idea here is that great salespeople (A) like to be on the phone (B).

Well, my six-year old daughter also likes to be on the phone…. You can see the problems we are starting to run into here. The same problems come up for all of the factors that are tested. The factors don’t matter, the logic is fundamentally flawed.

So beyond the logical flaw, you have the question of what makes a great salesperson. This is not a simple question, but it is often answered in an (overly) simple way: revenue. If the goal is to hire new salespeople, this approach is also flawed.

Many top salespeople as measured by revenue are making the majority of this revenue from existing customers while most new salespeople will need to go out and get new business from new customers. There is nothing inherently better or worse about either of these variations of selling, but they do require some different skills, and more importantly some different mindsets.

Account management and new business development are not the same. I won’t spell out the differences, but if you benchmark an account manager in order to validate a new business developer, you have further compounded the problems already present from the benchmarking problem.

Personality tests do offer some interesting information. However, they are not designed to predict sales success in a candidate you are considering for hire. Benchmarking is fundamentally flawed, and the elements of the benchmark are often questionable. If the goal is to predict if someone will be a good salesperson when you hire them, personality tests are just not the right tool for that job.

So what can you do to predict a good candidate? I will write that series of blogs in the coming weeks – so stay tuned!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Hi, I’m David Masover. With nearly three decades of B2B sales experience, I work as a private practice Sales Force Development Consultant. I help company leaders understand the root causes of sales issues that keep revenue from growing as fast as it could, and to fix those problems through work with reps, managers, systems, processes, strategies, and tools. You can learn more about me and my work and/or get in touch with me here at my web site www.davidmasover.com/contact/ or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/masover/