She interviewed well. Had a hot track record. Now she doesn’t perform. What
happened? What happens next?

You can lead some people to sales training, but you can’t force them to sell.

Sales SkillsIt is unlikely that you would purchase a new machine that you knew couldn’t produce the parts you expected, so why would you hire an employee who wasn’t prepared or willing to do his or her job? Time and time again, organizations replace inefficient equipment with new equipment because it is more expensive to convert and upgrade it than replace it and purchase a new one. But when it comes to people, organizations expect a few hours of training and a pat on the back to inspire the timid to cold-call, the cooperative to compete, the cautious to innovate and the high-strung to relax. Sometimes a good person is just in the wrong job.

Susan Hipo was hired away from a well-known Fortune 500 company. Her new employer just acquired a new line of products and hiring someone with Susan’s experience made a lot of sense.

After several months on the job, sales targets were missed and it was apparent that forecasts would need to be adjusted. Now nearly two years later, it is the same-old story with Susan.

Her manager, the Vice-President of Sales, how has in her hands new information that clearly demonstrates reasons why Susan is not performing. And based on this information it is clear that the personal changes she will be asked to make may extract a worrisome physical and emotional toll on her. In fact, the physical stress on her is already high. The stress to deliver what is expected is already noticeable.

In her former position, she sold the number one brand in the industry. The brand is a household name. Her new position required her to break into new markets, gain market share, without giving away the store to make the sale.

In her former position getting appointments with senior level decision makers was easy. In her new position, the only way to get their attention was wining-dining-and-golfing. Unfortunately, travel and entertainment budgets were slashed and getting appointments and fighting through voice mail and email had to be done the old-fashioned way – call, call and call again.

At her former company, training was a high priority. The company had a proven sales method and expected their salespeople to follow it. At her new company, there was no single sales process and Susan was expected to customize each presentation to the needs of the client. Susan was uncomfortable improvising and had to be prepared before she’d make any sales call or presentation

Her biggest challenge however came with prospecting and closing the sale. With her number-one-brand former employer, she represented the name everyone wanted on his or her shelves. With her new company, prospects needed to be convinced that her new brand would move off the shelves more quickly and produce better margins.

With a number-one product, sales is more about managing the account and keeping the customer happy. Opening new accounts and breaking into new markets for her new company is about getting appointments, asking for the order, negotiating the sale (as opposed to making the sale but giving up all the profits), and closing it.

Susan struggles miserably with the three areas of the sales process that might involve confrontation or taking a “no” – prospecting, negotiating and closing. And that is why Susan is not meeting her or her company’s expectations. Think about it. Her manager certainly is. If he knew then what he knows now, would the company have made the decision to recruit and hire Susan? He doubts it.

So the next obvious questions come up. Susan is in the position now.

1. Can Susan learn how to prospect, negotiate, and close? Yes.
2. Can Susan master the skill? Yes.
3. Will Susan become more successful? Possibly.
4. A better question is how long will Susan do it? And that answer based on case study after case study about behaviors of effective and ineffective sales people in highly competitive markets is that the change won’t last very long.

Certain personality traits and behavioral tendencies impact the performance of people in specific jobs – sales, management, front-line, professional. That’s a fact. Many managers, however, question the validity and reliability of testing and continue to trust their gut and experience when it comes to selecting, coaching, training and disciplining employees. For Susan’s boss, the information that he just received is two years late. The decision to hire might have turned out differently because now it is likely Susan will be displaced and lost revenues and sales opportunities are gone forever.

Organizations have to worry about whether the results from the gut and experience are reliable and consistent whenever you use humans as a part of any evaluation process. People are notorious for their inconsistency. We all have different interpretations of the same experiences. We are easily distracted. We get tired of doing repetitive tasks. We daydream. We misinterpret. We are interrupted.

That is why successful placement only occurs one out of seven times when using the interview alone, while those organizations that use appropriate behavioral, interests and personality tests can increase the chance of a successful placement to as high as three out of four.

Veiled and often times failed attempts to bolster vanishing profits has left many sales and management teams filled with people possessing mediocre or mis-matched skills at best. While companies cut expenses and look for ways to improve efficiency, they needlessly ignore that several employees are and will be mismatched to a job. While this strategy to “do our best with what we have” may be efficient, it is clearly not an effective long-term strategy.

Ira S. Wolfe is founder of Success Performance Solutions. He is the developer of CriteriaOne™, the Whole Person Approach to matching, managing and motivating employees. For more information about CriteriaOne and other pre-employment and training assessment and programs, contact Ira at 717.291-4640, email him at iwolfe@super-solutions.