Guest Column | November 8, 2021

Embracing Sales Mediocrity: Sales Assessment Systems

By Jay Valentine, ContingencySales

Sales Frustration

One of the more entertaining reads comes from “sales gurus” pushing to transform salespeople into bureaucrats. Names like Bob Apollo who pitch twenty-somethings and their sales managers on LinkedIn come to mind.

Their sales advice is always about how to evaluate, rank, score, train each salesperson. Guess what? They have a sales training offering just for you.

This is complete nonsense from people who never made big money selling. This is the advice from sales grifters who want you to hire the mediocre who need their training.

One of their recent pitches is for Sales Assessment Systems. Probably a referral fee in there.

You have seen these evaluations.

Perhaps before a first interview, you had to fill out half a dozen pages with questions like “if you had to choose a car color, would it be gray or black?” “Are you more comfortable speaking with a policeman or a doctor?”

They claim to have done thousands of such assessments creating a database against which you can measure your candidates. You will be told their clients achieve raving success with their systems. Right!

Let’s take apart these arguments with some real data you ought to try yourself. First, let’s look at the premises.

Sales is an uneven game.

In almost all industries, 80% of revenue is captured by 20% of the sales force. This works from Girl Scouts selling cookies to B2B sales reps with cutting-edge artificial intelligence systems.

Great sales reps are not better than mediocre ones, they are infinitely better.

CEOs bringing new technologies to market understand how that lone wolf sales rep, a bit hard to manage, brings the deal that changes the company’s trajectory. That never happens with the mediocre sales rep. Ever.

Sales assessment systems are meant to cull the high achiever, lone wolf who can deliver the game-changing new customer. Why would management ever use such a system?

Great salespeople often loathe management, so they skip it. They can make 100 times what their manager makes in a fraction of the time.

Sales management attracts mediocre sellers.

Perhaps they can’t sell, but they sure make Salesforce reports dance. They love sales meetings and use “revenue enhancement” systems sales ops types purchase to track every useless detail.

Sales bureaucrats, particularly for large companies, fear the “big hitter” because they cannot manage them.

Sales assessment systems are built to find the mediocre salespeople who will deliver just enough; never make the game-changing play. They can be managed, predicted – they never threaten.

Sales assessment systems are the foundation for training systems; thus they are pushed by the over-the-hill gang who prey on the unwary. Of course! After assessment comes you guessed it! Sales training, and more sales training.

Here’s a test to run yourself.

We were bringing a B2B software product to market. Successful sales reps made $500,000 to over a million dollars a year.

We were hiring new sales reps and the HR department said we had to use their new sales assessment system.

OK. Give us six questionnaires we said!

We attached made-up names for each.

We gave five of them to our top producers, changing their names.

One person was the Rookie of the Year, selling more B2B software than entire offices.

Another was the top revenue producer in the 25-year history of the company. This person was number 1 or 2 every year over 140 sales reps. Several others were top performers, in the top 10 every year. One was a generally mediocre rep, low energy type.

We filled out the forms and sent them to HR.

A week later we had a call with the VP of HR.

She said we could NOT hire any of the five who only we knew were already top producers. She said one of them, the top guy in 25 years, was borderline sociopathic.

The only one we could hire was the mediocre one.

So that’s it for sales assessment systems.

Rather than listening to over-the-hill sales gurus, take these assessments and give them to your top people, see if they would recommend hiring the top talent you already have.

Probably not. They don’t need useless sales training.

About The Author

Jay Valentine is the CEO of ContingencySales, bringing disruptive technology to market without early venture capital.