Tl;dr - All sales jobs aren't created equal. All are hard. Some are really, freakin, incredibly hard. A sales hiring assessment must be accurate and predictive - and include specific adaptations according to the difficulty of your market situation. Capital equipment sales, particularly, demand uniquely capable and resilient sales talent. Here's how to select and use an assessment for capital equipment sales.
All Sales Jobs Aren't Created Equal
Cutco Knives sales success stories are the thing of legends. A few folks absolutely thrive in that environment. However, despite their accomplishments, they'd probably fail to mirror that success selling fighter aircraft to foreign governments, or even office supplies to procurement departments in large law firms.
Sales roles vary tremendously based on the environment. B2C consumer goods sold in mall kiosks are different than luxury watches sold in swank stores (or online through certified resellers.) B2B sales vary from transactional products, through semi-transactional services like payroll and cleaning, to the complex like engineered systems or capital equipment.
Selling capital equipment, particularly large ticket systems (>$500K) which require board involvement and CEO approval even in large companies, is a particularly challenging type of B2B industrial sales. And it's getting more so. The major factors which increase buyer indecision (which may be responsible for up to 70% of deals that end in no decision) include high dollar amounts and significant consequences of a bad decision.
A mistake made when purchasing equipment that inherently involves disruption in production for commissioning and training will be high profile. Poor performance will be public and obvious. And wasting the company's money is a grievous error for anyone.
That's what capital equipment sales reps are up against. And that means that enterprise-level, complex sales cycle, machinery salespeople need particular skills that other less demanding sales roles might not. They also need to be unencumbered by weaknesses and headtrash which might not cripple sales reps in less demanding roles.
Therefore it's critical to use a sales hiring assessment when hiring capital equipment sales reps...but not just any assessment, rather one that's tailored to the particular challenges of finding unique reps who can thrive in these demanding circumstances.
Selecting the Best Sales Hiring Assessment
There are many reasons to use a sales hiring assessment. Candidate assessments can make your sales hiring and recruiting process significantly more efficient, accurate and compliant. Using an effective assessment can reduce costly hiring errors.
Because sales hiring assessments can substantially increase the efficiency of your hiring process by identifying candidates who actually will sell, you selectively invest time in interviewing only those to further narrow the field and find candidates who fit your organizational culture. This is important because you can recruit continuously and therefore generally avoid the cost of empty or unproductive territories. Continuous sales prospecting helps prevent peaks and valleys in the sales pipeline and closed/won deals. Similarly, continuous recruiting helps avoid sales lulls that result when you're hesitant to replace underperforming reps or are surprised with empty territories.
But there's a big caveat. In order to realize these benefits and avoid potential compliance issues, you have to use the sales assessment at a specific point in the hiring process.
The candidate assessment belongs at the beginning.
This is different than how many organizations use it. The typical model is to collect resumes, review them for potential candidates, and invite them to begin an interview process. After one or two interviews, when a candidate seems like a good fit, an assessment is used to confirm the analysis. If it does, great. If it doesn't, then people begin to argue with it and rationalize why it's wrong. They proceed with candidates who they're emotionally invested in, and make costly hiring errors.
Using it as the first step also helps to eliminate unconscious bias and to comply with EEOC regulations. And importantly it significantly reduces the interviewing burden. You dramatically reduce the field of candidates - including many who appear strong on paper but who will never sell successfully in your market environment - that you need to speak with. That saves time and eliminates one of the practical barriers to efficient and continuous recruiting.
And there's a second caveat. You have to select the assessment tool carefully. A true sales hiring assessment is substantially different than personality tests or behavioral styles screenings which are commonly used but only 20% and 22% predictive of sales success respectively. Not only are most of these specifically NOT intended for pre-hiring use, but they also screen for very different purposes. They may put a veneer of "sales" language and terms on the results, but they are not predictive of sales success. (You can dig deeper into these topics as follows: Choosing the Most Accurate Sales Assessment Test, 11 Reasons to Use Sales Assessment Tools for Every Candidate, Understanding EEOC Regulations Regarding Pre-Hiring Assessments, Cost of Sales Hiring Mistakes, Creating an Efficient Sales Hiring Process)
Adapting the Sales Hiring Assessment Specifically to Capital Equipment
Circling back to where we started....what makes capital equipment sales different? It's not the personality of your sales rep!!
Capital equipment sales (like any big ticket, long sell cycle, complex sale) is hard. The stakes are high for buyers, the competition is tough, and there are myriad details that will impact the outcome.
As much as we'd like to believe that our technology and support are clearly superior, in many cases buyers will perceive parity between ours and other vendors' solutions. The decision will come down to subtle differences.
That demands 2nd or 3rd standard deviation talent.
Your sales hiring assessment, therefore, must be able to measure a candidate's relative skill against all candidates, and also specific, absolute capability to excel in skill areas specific to the rigors of your job (market, price, competition, sell cycle, role/seniority of the buyer on which you call, etc.)
Many candidates could be strong salespeople, but horrendously ill-suited to your capital equipment sales environment. They might succeed in sales with one or two call close cycles, selling transactional or low-cost machinery, selling to mid-level managers, or selling when there's little competition....but fail absolutely in your challenging and complex environment. You need to know that; and know it from the very get-go.
What skills are especially important for capital equipment sales?
Successful sales reps must be superb at:
- relationship building
- building trust
- consultative sales
- managing large buying teams
- reaching executive-level decision-makers
- selling value
- rigorously following a sales process including continuously (re) qualifying opportunities.
There are also certain characteristics that will plague average talent and of which top talent must be free.
- a need to be liked (which is manifest as a lack of courage in the sales process)
- discomfort or unwillingness to discuss money (particularly large sums)
- a tendency to become emotionally involved (and lose control of reactions)
- a personal buying style that will leave them susceptible to buyers' stalls and put-offs.
The point is that the specifics of your job impact the degree of sales talent required to succeed.
A sales hiring assessment that simply screens for "sales ability" might not actually measure the actual skills and attributes required, and more importantly won't calibrate the findings according to the rigor required for your particular market situation.
You should only consider tools that do so.
Using a Sales Hiring Assessment for Machinery Salespeople
That's a lot of background on how to select, configure and use a sales hiring assessment to filter candidates for capital equipment sales jobs. Done right, you'll efficiently and accurately select from an elite group of candidates specifically qualified for your sales environment.
You'll have to "lash yourself to the mast" and put wax in your ears to resist the Siren's Song urging you to hire the first reasonably qualified candidate, ignore assessment warnings and hire the candidate whose resume looks so perfect, or cut other corners.
And, since no candidate is perfect, you'll have to make informed decisions regarding which weaknesses can be effectively overcome with coaching and training, and which will forever remain and hobble a candidate despite time and investment.
That's all before the interview. A good sales hiring assessment's benefits don't end when you pick up the phone.
The assessment should also inform your interview by highlighting areas of potential concern that you should carefully dissect with preplanned questions and discussion. When you have what's essentially a sales rep's professional MRI, you have diagnostic insights that make your interview far more effective.
And still, the benefits of an assessment don't stop there. The insights will help to structure effective onboarding and training plans so that your super candidate ramps up more quickly and hits higher levels of performance faster.
Applying the Analogous Methodology to Your Current Team
Upon learning of the power of purpose-built sales hiring assessments, companies often naturally wonder about another application - evaluating their current sales team.
Of course, that makes sense. A sales MRI of individuals, and of the team (including management) in aggregate, provide a powerful tool kit to diagnose sales problems, develop effective training programs, guide coaching and move reps to positions better suited to their capabilities (e.g. from channel sales to inside sales.)
The Right Test, The Right Process, The Right Mindset
All the potential value for sales assessments to improve capital equipment sales is only realized if create the right conditions.
That means using the right assessment tool (designed for sales, and adapted to your market specifics), at the right point in the hiring process, with the right expectations, and faith in the efficacy.