What really matters more than anything else for business development success? (Sales aptitude)

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You most likely don't need/want someone like this to develop your AEC business. There are better ways,

Sales training consultant John Asher has written a book: “Close Deals Faster” and one of the perks of my work is that I receive free review copies for evaluation. Asher, like many consultants, has written the book to promote his other services, but he has focused it in the sweet spot for many of this blog’s readers: The sizeable, successful business serving business-to-business markets, which hopes to grow even more. (This type of business also, not surprisingly, can support the kinds of fees that Asher would charge for consulting and training services.)

The book contains a combination of new and old ideas. This week, I’ll be exploring some of the concepts and outlining some thoughts of my own on the topic, because sales/business development is one of the least-understood areas within the AEC environment.

To start, what is the most important factor in determining sales success? The answer: Sales aptitude, “part of our innate personality,” Asher writes, adding “it alone accounts for 50 per cent of sales results, based on a meta-analysis (summary) of large-scale validity studies by numerous personality assessment companies.”

There are four other qualities required for sales success (which I’ll share in the next post), but let’s start with this one.

Simply put, if you don’t hire the person with sales aptitude, you will almost be sure to bang your head against the wall in frustration in achieving any sort of useful results. No matter how much you “train”, if the innate ability isn’t there, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.

What goes into sales aptitude? There are nine traits, and you want your salespeople to either have — not have — them:

  • Intensity/drive (high)
  • Need for independence (high)
  • Assertiveness (high)
  • Recognition (high)
  • Need to analyze (low)
  • Self-protection (moderate)
  • Need to serve (moderate)
  • Trust (moderate)
  • Optimism (high)

Variations in some of these categories won’t be a kiss of death, but if you have someone who really needs to analyze everything, is negative about life, and has low assertiveness, for example, the person should not be hired for a sales career.

There are personality tests to assess for sales aptitude. Asher, not surprisingly, recommends one he sells. These profiles can be quite expensive, especially for smaller businesses, and their cost to me is an unnecessary barrier since they are mostly automated and should be inexpensive to deliver.

If an aptitude test is expensive, the tendency is to leave it to the end of the hiring/evaluation process, after you’ve screened resumes and conducted at least preliminary interviews. To me, this is a frustratingly inefficient way to go — you should have the personality data BEFORE you go to the interview stage and ideally should be able to screen all first-stage applications with a screening tool even before looking at the resumes.

I found an answer to this problem with a former consultant who allowed me an unlimited use licence of his personally developed aptitude evaluation tool, which I validated from the next best option, an online resource provided by salestestonline.com. This service is much less expensive than some of the other personality test tools out there, but you still won’t unless you have a crazy budget be able to use it for everyone who expresses interest in your career opportunity.

One other point about sales recruitment: Really good salespeople are rarely looking for work, so if you advertise openly and candidates respond, you will want to find out (truly) why they are unemployed or eager to change companies. (There can be situations where things turn sour at an established business, calling good representatives to want to move on, of course.) Often you’ll find your best results with people in your own organization looking for advancement or through your networks/community relationships.  In my opinion, an inexperienced person with the right aptitude is a far wiser hiring choice than someone with years of experience, questionable aptitude, and dubious references.

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