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Training Your Sales Team: Pushing water uphill

Group_of_happy_business_people-150x150Does it ever feel like you are pushing water uphill when you are training your sales team?

Working alongside sales teams is what we do – we work with sales leaders to ensure they hire right and narrow the performance gaps within their teams.

A common complaint from sales leaders is how previous investments in sales training failed. When we hear this type of response to training we move the conversation to “who they are trying to train” rather than the sales method(s) they unsuccessfully tried to implement.

This may sound like an obvious question but the reality of the answer can pinpoint the main reason for the failed training initiatives. In many cases, the reason the training has failed to produce results is that a certain percentage of the sales team is not trainable.

This may sound harsh but true! Our team is always amazed to find such poor fits within a sales team. Money is being thrown at the department to get the sales team producing but the results keep coming back the same – below sales targets.

Just as pushing water uphill is completely unproductive; trying to motivate and train the wrong sales person(s) is a waste of time and money.

Simulation Exercises – The Missing Link

 Based on nearly a century of organizational research, we know that a typical selection system can only predict the differences in job performance across a candidate pool with about 40% accuracy. And that’s only if the selection system is well implemented! Clearly, there is a tool missing from the typical selection system!

The missing tool from the typical selection system is the simulation exercise. The simulation exercise is an assessment method that requires candidates to demonstrate their actual behavioral skills in an activity that resembles an actual organizational situation.

Simulation exercises can take on several forms. Some simulations involve mostly written materials, such as a business case. In these exercises candidates need to demonstrate behavioral skills, such as critical thinking and dealing with ambiguity, in order to develop an effective business plan. Other simulations involve interactions with a role player, such as a new potential sales client. In these exercises candidates need to demonstrate behavioral skills, such as building rapport and persuasive communication, in order to make a successful sale. The way you are currently training your sales team is likely not the problem, but the way you are selecting who you hire is!

rsz_powerful-sales-personalityIn most organizations, training a sales teams includes a few processes for screening resumes and checking references, a couple levels of interviews, and if they’re lucky – a couple of tests for cognitive ability, personality, and job knowledge. Evidence-based research has demonstrated that organizations can increase the predictive accuracy of their selection system, and improve candidates’ reaction to their selection process by adding simulation exercises to their selection systems.

The predictive benefits of adding simulation exercises to an organization’s selection system toolkit have long been known. When AT&T pioneered the use of simulation exercises as part of their assessment center program, their program successfully identified 42 out of the 49 entry-level employees who, eight years after the assessment, were successfully promoted to middle management. That is a predictive accuracy of 85%!

The results found at AT&T have been replicated for organizations, big and small, across the globe. A study that amalgamated the results of 34 different simulation exercise studies, found that simulation exercises explain about 20% of the difference in candidates’ performance.  Importantly, a study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that some of this variance in job performance explained by simulation exercises is incremental to the variance explained by lower fidelity simulation (i.e., knowledge tests or interviews). By rating candidates’ ability to take their words (i.e., procedural knowledge and past experience) and translate them into actions (i.e., performance in simulation exercises), organizations gather additional predictive information. In other words, the simulation exercise adds more prediction to the typical selection system because it allows hiring managers to evaluate candidates as they ‘walk the walk’. Training your sales team can be pointless if you are not training the right salespeople.

Traditional Hiring Selection System

rsz_ideal-employee-menu-choosing-job-candidate-23724063With the traditional selection system, behavioural skills are primarily assessed with the interview. Hiring managers can only evaluate candidates based on how they ‘talk the talk’, which reduces the accuracy of behavioural skill ratings. For the unstructured interview candidate ratings are highly susceptible to rater biases. For example, a recent study found that the quality of a candidate’s handshake (i.e., a form of first impression bias) was the largest contributing factor to interviewers’ ratings. It is safe to say there are far more important behavioural skills that organizations should be looking for from candidates beyond their ability to create a good first impression!

Even structured interviews ratings tend to be highly influenced by factors other than candidates’ behavioural skills. Take the typical structured interview question (i.e., the “What did you do?” question). This type of question requires candidates to recall a relevant previous work event, often which occurred several years prior, and be able to describe a detailed step-by-step account of all of their actions. To answer such questions effectively, candidates need to have really good memories. Thus, the ratings of structured interviews capture the candidates’ cognitive ability, which distorts the ratings of the candidates’ on the actual behavioural skills that
organizations are trying measure.

Beyond adding more prediction to the selection system, another benefit to the simulation exercises is that candidates react enthusiastically to them. In fact, candidate reactions to simulation exercises have been found to be more favorable than to any other common selection tool. For example, one study surveyed 390 job seekers who took part in 13 different selection practices, including various types of job interviews, employment tests, and simulation exercises. Job seekers were asked to indicate their reactions to each practice with the following two items: “After this experience, my attitude toward the company would be much more favorable,” and “After this experience, I would be very motivated to further pursue this company.” More than any of the other selection processes, candidates most strongly agreed with these items when reporting about simulation exercises.

rsz_sales-marketing-881926Given simulation exercises add predictive accuracy and improve candidates’ reactions to the hiring process, why aren’t all organizations using simulation exercises? It is because all too often organizations are wary of the cost. Simulation exercises can be one of the more costly selection tools, and are often referred to as the Rolls Royce of selection tools. However, organizations that have added simulation exercises have been rewarded with excellent returns on investment.

Example of Simulation Exercises 

The most recently documented example of the economic utility of simulation
exercises comes from the Dallas Police Department. The Dallas Police Department added simulation exercises as part of the promotional examination to police sergeant.  Due largely to the additive incremental prediction that the simulation exercises added to their selection system, the economic benefit from the program was conservatively estimated to be over $400,000, for a return on investment of over 250%. Similar results have been reported for selection systems used for managerial positions in office settings and sales. Thus the benefits of selecting managers with better behavioral skills through the use of simulation exercises clearly outweigh the additional design and administration costs incurred.

So how do simulation exercises fit into your existing selection system toolkit? Some management gurus suggest that organizations can do away with interviews all together, in favor of just simulation exercises.
However, such a recommendation is naïve. The simulation exercise is a tool that should compliment a host of additional selection tools in your selection system, rather than replace them. In order to find out how you can integrate the simulation exercise tool into your existing selection system, contact a trusted organization simulation provider.

reviewing-resumesWhen we work with organization it is not uncommon to hear hiring managers request “talented” professionals when engaging our firm to assess the potential fit and abilities of the candidate for a particular position. We believe talent is an element of the success mix when hiring but it is not the only factor. In fact I would have to say talent is one of the last things we should be looking for in a candidate.

To explain my point let me take a minute and tell you about research conducted on this specific topic by Dr. Benjamin Bloom.

Dr. Benjamin Bloom of the University of Chicago conducted a five year study of leading artists, athletes, and scholars. Bloom and his team of researchers sought to find clues to how these high achievers developed. This study consisted of anonymous interviews with the top twenty performers in various fields, including pianists, Olympic swimmers, tennis player’s sculptures, mathematicians and neurologists.

That information was supplemented by additional interviews with those people’s families and teachers. What Dr. Bloom discovered is something we can all learn from when assessing candidates for positions within our own firms. What he found was that “Drive” and “Determination” – not “talent” – led to these high achieving professionals success. Many of the top achievers were clearly not the most talented on the team.

So, who would you rather have as a team member when your training your sales team – someone that has the Drive and Determination but not the most talented or someone who has great talent but lacks the drive and determination to accomplish the task? Sales Managers, how many salespeople do you have in your team that have been provided all the chances to be successful but are just not making the numbers? One simple suggestion – “stop trying to push water uphill”!

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Training Your Sales Team: Pushing water uphill
Craig Bissett

By Craig Bissett Visit author's website

Craig Bissett is the President of Hire Results Ltd – the developers of the Hiring Simulation Assessment process. Allowing hiring teams to Test Drive candidates before they are hired.  Craig has been actively involved in the Human Capital marketplace since 1986. He has had roles as a General Manager and Partner with progressive Human Capital firms. In 2002 Craig left his partnership to start Hire Results Ltd. Since then the company has worked with organizations throughout North America through its innovative Hiring Simulation Assessment process. As the founder of Hire Results Ltd., I welcome the opportunity to assist and impact your organization through our Hiring Simulation Assessment process.
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