How To Use a Sales Skills Assessment Test in Your Hiring Process

Ed Marsh | Oct 21, 2022

Tl;dr - Sales hiring is a messy, time-consuming, and often unpleasant task. A sales assessment test can improve efficiency and outcomes. It must be used early in a well-designed hiring process.

Engineer Your Sales Hiring Process for Efficiency and Effectiveness

When you discover an area of your manufacturing that is inefficient or generates defects you probably undertake to analyze the situation, determine root causes, and reengineer the process.

That's second nature.

Do you do the same when it comes to marketing and sales? In many cases, I know the answer is no.

Sales hiring and sales force optimization are particularly challenging for many organizations. But rather than refine their processes, they simply accept them. In production that results in more rejected products and related problems.

In sales, it results in mediocre performance, missed quotas, wasted leads, unreliable forecasts, deals lost to no decision and more.

So what's the key to take sales force testing and sales recruiting from the realm of gut feel and into the realm of and engineered efficient process?

To use the right sales skills assessment test, in the right way, at the right point in your hiring process or sales improvement effort.

Building a Strong Industrial Sales Team

Sales skills assessment tests are important tools in both measuring and improving a current sales team, and in hiring top sales candidates.

The latter application is the most problematic, and therefore the focus of this article.

Do you enjoy recruiting and hiring salespeople? Almost every industrial company executive says "no." It's a distraction from your primary work, it's time-consuming, and ultimately it's a crap shoot. No matter how many sales reps you've hired, you likely experience a "who knows?" moment when you make a decision. 

The solution to both of these challenges - the inefficiency and the unpredictability - is to use a sales candidate assessment test that solves for both.

How Does a Sales Skills Assessment Test Improve Hiring?

An accurate and predictive candidate assessment helps you in two main ways.

First, you automatically screen all applicants in the background, identifying those who not only CAN sell, but those who WILL sell given the specifics of your market environment.

This means that you only invest resources in further review and discussion with candidates who meet the professional criteria. This also helps to guard against unconscious bias since you'll see candidates' names, resumes and identifying criteria after they've cleared an important hurdle.

Second, your pool of candidates is narrowed to those capable of doing the job (with 91% predictive accuracy.) This removes much of the gut feeling from the process. Your interviews and reference checks can leverage insights from the candidate assessment to focus on potentially problematic areas, as well as measure cultural fit, character, longevity, team fit, etc.

In reality that's probably been your hiring process - using resume stats as a proxy for ability. Now you'll have an empirical set of measures on which to rely to dramatically reduce errors in your hiring process.

To realize the full range of benefits - particularly to make your process more efficient - you have to use a predictive sales skills assessment test (vs. personality or behavioral screening) early in the process and consistently. Here are several reasons:

1. You must screen everyone - too often companies try to conserve per/assessment expenditures and wait to screen candidates until they think they're likely hires. Select an assessment that provides unlimited screenings and efficient processing. Work it into automation behind your postings.

2. Labor law is complex, but failing to screen everyone may create exposure and liability. Consult your counsel, and confirm that the assessment tools you're considering are specifically intended for pre-employment use and that selective doesn't create potential liability.

3. Remove unconscious bias by assessing everyone and letting the predictive results guide your next steps unencumbered by any possible influence from resumes (names and details often convey age, gender, race and more.)

4. Save valuable time by only interviewing viable candidates - Some of the greatest inefficiencies in the process of hiring sales candidates involves the process of scheduling and conducting interviews. With a standard approach, much of that is wasted on candidates who will never be able to perform.

5. Traditional unstructured interviews are only 18% predictive of success (same as notoriously problematic resumes.) By assessing candidates before an interview, not only can a structured approach improve effectiveness, but findings from the candidate assessment can guide your interview process to more effectively understand potential weaknesses.

6. You'll hire better-performing salespeople and make fewer costly errors. When you focus your efforts on a narrow group of candidates that will do the job, you're able to focus interviews on cultural and team fit, and hire those who will succeed.

7. Shorter runway to success - a good assessment not only helps to land better candidates (including an analysis of how quickly they'll ramp up) but it provides a roadmap for your onboarding, management coaching, and sales training. This ensures that onboarding focuses on priorities that will help candidates reach net profitability faster.

Using a sales skills assessment test very early in your process improves efficiency and outcomes.

So there are compelling reasons to do so. But habit and inertia are powerful. You might want to keep your current process and just use a sales test later...when you think you've found the right shortlist.

What if You Use a Sales Screening Later in the Hiring Process?

Let's briefly put aside the benefits of early screening with sales tests, and look at the negative consequences of waiting.

There are two notable problems.

First, you may expose yourself to liability in case unfavorable decisions lead to litigation. If you only screen some candidates, not only do you allow unconscious bias to creep in by quickly scanning resumes based on extraneous factors, but you also create an opportunity for some candidates who were rejected without completing an assessment to challenge your hiring decisions.

Second, you'll "fall in love" with some candidate because they're a fellow alum, root for the same team, have the same hobbies, follow a similar career pattern to you, etc., etc.

All of those are patently absurd reasons to hire someone for a critical revenue-producing role in your company. And yet we know it happens.

But what's even worse is to use the candidate assessment after concluding that you've found the right person. Once you're emotionally committed, you'll naturally focus your energy on discounting any negative assessment results. This means you'll waste time on interviews with inappropriate candidates, and eventually you'll hire some who will never succeed - because you like them and you "trust your gut."

And then, taking it a step further, it's unlikely that you'll conclude it was your error. So when it becomes clear that you've made yet another costly hiring mistake, you'll protect yourself by announcing that the assessment is somehow flawed.

Hiring is a Process Just Like Sales and Manufacturing

Imagine your product quality and output if the production floor was an ad hoc collection of random personal methods and preferences!

Imagine your sales results (pipeline, forecasts, etc) if your team each followed their own process (actually many companies don't need to imagine here!)

Successfully hiring great industrial sales reps, sales managers and sales leaders requires a process that is as refined and rigorous as manufacturing and sales itself.

Great process improves efficiency, increases success rates, and reduces costly errors.

A critical step in a robust hiring process is the early use of a sales skills assessment test. This aids compliance with regulatory requirements and DEI initiatives. It reduces time wasted on interviewing unqualified candidates and improves the effectiveness of interviews with others. Finally, it helps guide candidates through faster ramp-up.

But it only achieves these if you use the sales assessment test early in the process.