The scientific study of intelligence within the human population dates back over 100 years. In the late 1800’s, Sir Francis Galton studied intelligence by measuring the reaction time of noblemen and how fast they could identify a sound. He wanted to see if mental quickness and other physical abilities were evolutionary advantages and measures of general mental ability. He was considered the founder of psychometrics—the science of measuring intelligence and personality traits using questionnaires, surveys and statistical analysis.

In the early 1900’s, Charles Spearman explained the concept of general intelligence or the “g factor.” He found that general intelligence is a broad mental capacity that predicts high performance on various and different cognitive ability measures. In sales, this could mean the ability to consider more elements as you solve a problem within the amount of time a prospect gives you. The cognitive elements you might need to use for the solution could be a combination of verbal and math skills or, depending upon the product, spatial problem-solving. 

In some industries if I was to design a solution to a person’s problem, I would need a higher level of mathematical understanding. For example, some people fail the testing to be a realtor because of the amount of mathematical problem-solving it requires, and these requirements become greater in commercial versus residential sales.  Others fail to handle the memory and cognitive skills necessary to pass various licensing requirements to sell insurance. 

As Jordan Petersen explains to us and our kids in his YouTube video, some jobs fit us and others do not both cognitively and with respect to our personality traits. Knowing this helps us with our recruiting, coaching and parenting. 

The Right Job for the Right Person

At Sales Manage Solutions, we do not employ IQ testing, but we do provide a Learning Style Survey (or LSS) that compares the scores of best-performing and low-performing salespeople from a series of test questions measuring math, verbal, and problem-solving skills. Using statistical methods, the LSS correlates the importance of these scores related to their individual sales production along with relationships with 9 personality traits measured in the CTS Sales Profile.

Here’s what we know to be true: a person’s math accuracy and speed of response contributes more to them being a higher-producing rep in some industries but not in others. And, it’s the same with verbal learning. Higher levels of verbal reasoning, vocabulary, and diction become more important in one industry but not as important in another. 

The psychometric work completed by various scientists over the last 100 years tells us that people with greater levels of cognitive ability perform better as jobs become more complex. Salespeople with higher levels of general mental ability:

  • Learn faster in the beginning of their employment.
  • Adjust their sales process faster (the questions they ask and their presentations) to new product offerings and benefits to customers.
  • Better handle higher levels of necessary and complex problem solving.
  • Perform better than others as they transition into any higher cognitive requirements of managerial positions

Jordan Petersen, Ph.D. and psychometric researcher and business consultant, tells us in his YouTube lecture, What Kind of Job Fits You, the following:

“You’ve got to know that there are differences in intelligence. It’s really important. If you go into a job and you’re not smart enough for that job, you’re going to have one bloody miserable time. And, you’re going to make life wretched for the people around you. As you climb hierarchies of competence, the demand on fluid intelligence increases, and, unless you want to fail, you don’t put yourself in over your head.” 

Dr. Petersen also goes on to say that this is a hard thing to figure out because intelligence, while important to many job positions, must be considered along with other personality traits like conscientiousness, assertiveness, and others. These must be matched with what helps someone do well in particular job roles like public relations, engineer, teacher, physicist, and salesperson.

Within the sales profession, think of all the different types of salespeople, who they must communicate with, and what they must know to do well. Think of software solutions, medical devices, financial planning, cellular phone sales, real estate, software, and all the various products sold through retail store fronts. 

The Practical Use

Within a scientific system for selecting the best salespeople, consider using a personality assessment along with cognitive testing.  Make sure that you validate these with a validity coefficient derived from accepted psychometric statistical research which looks at the assessment scores of best performers along with their production data for those in the study. 

Validity coefficients above 0.35 are very beneficial, and those between 0.21 and 0.35 are likely to be useful. Sales assessments with high-validity coefficients help you as strongly predictive tools. They will increase predictability when selecting successful sales reps. This means they provide a significant Return On Investment (ROI). 

Here’s some other practical information about those who score high on the cognitive test and maybe even higher than necessary for a particular sales role.

Many studies, show that:

  • Salespeople who score high on social competence and general mental ability, or GMA, achieve the highest sales performance.
  • Salespeople who score high on GMA and low on social competence achieve the lowest sales performance. Scientists in the study called these salespeople competent jerks.
  • The higher the GMA of the salesperson, the more he or she may provide abstract and complex solutions to a customer’s business problem without placing them in a priority of helpfulness to the customer. They end up making it difficult for the customer to understand them and how what they propose will help.
  • Research suggests that highly intelligent people get bored easily and spend more time thinking. A behavior during prime selling time that comes across as laziness.
  • When we see low processing speed and lower scores on a GMA test, the results may be skewed, because we must keep in mind that this may have occurred due to some learning disorder like ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, or an auditory processing disorder.
  • Five things smart people tend to struggle with: 
    1. Smart people sometimes devalue other skills, like relationship building, and over-concentrate on intellect. Make sure they relate to you and others on your team well during their interview.
    2. Teamwork can be frustrating. Make sure they have operated well in teams before.
    3. Smart people often attach a lot of their self-esteem to being smart, which can decrease their resilience when cold-calling or prospecting and lead to avoidance of certain other key sales tasks like following up with customers.
    4. They can get bored easily, so check their resume and see what types of jobs, their complexity, and how long they have been employed in each.
    5. Smart people sometimes see in-depth thinking and reflection as the solution to every problem, when simplicity often is just what a customer needs to make a decision.

Now, I thought you may find this interesting. When I was doing the research for this article, I looked at Quora User comments and 11 stupid things they say smart people sometimes do:

  1. They spend too much time thinking and not enough time doing.
  2. They follow the pack.
  3. They become risk-averse.
  4. They stop trying.
  5. They undervalue social skills.
  6. They fail to recognize their cognitive biases.
  7. They place being right above all else.
  8. They equate education with intelligence.
  9. They underestimate others.
  10. They get wrapped up in theory and fail to see reality.
  11. They are too independent.


To know if intelligence helps a salesperson sell more for your company, remember that those who do best in particular sales or sales management positions possess a certain level of cognitive ability. They are able to pass required testing, handle the complexity of the job, understand the size of the sale and its financing, and relate to the sophistication of the typical customer they serve. Those with high GMA will often learn faster than other salespeople being on-boarded. If they have outstanding social skills and a high GMA, their predicted level of sales performance increases. A certain amount of mental ability is necessary and contributes to high sales performance, and this can be measured with validated testing. 

But be aware of the extra coaching that people smarter than what’s required can bring to you as a leader of a stable sales team and a manager of consistent results relative to company revenue needs. Very intelligent people may leave in a short time and affect retention. They may affect your culture, its teamwork, and get bored in a short amount of time unless they are challenged with the job, the complexity of its tasks, or with the products and services represented. These people may also challenge you to change the ways things are done.

You can check our Recruit the Best System with its validated personality assessments and learning style surveys at While intelligence may be important for a particular sales role, so are certain personality traits, character traits, experience, and their values and beliefs. Several things must be taken into consideration for effective recruiting and coaching. Please call us if we can be of service as you coach your team and increase your effectiveness and predictability at hiring the best salespeople.

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