Today, companies experience a complex economy with multiple product features and benefits to the customer. In this new age space, an essential part of sales success is the ability to learn fast and then to translate knowledge into an effective consultation. This leads to profitable sales and loyal customers who make smarter buying choices.

General mental ability (GMA) or cognitive testing has been around since 1904 when Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon developed the first modern intelligence test. It shows whether or not people can engage in complex tasks and how fast they can absorb information and use it to put together solutions that work.

But, what does the research show? Does testing candidates in this way predict their ability to sell for you at acceptable levels?

Research Facts

  • GMA predicts occupational level (from laborer to salesperson to nuclear engineer)
  • GMA predicts a person’s sales or performance in any job
  • High GMA reps must be challenged or they may leave
  • Validity increases as jobs become more complex.
  • There is substantial validity at all job levels
  • A large validity exists for faster learning on any job
  • GMA matters for both learning and performance (regardless of tenure)
  • GMA + Conscientiousness Interviews + Validated Personality Testing = Superior Performance Predictability

Knowing the mental ability of a person does help you select higher performing salespeople, if you combine this knowledge with other selection factors. Highly intelligent salespeople do create higher profits and a stronger brand and they can do it faster. But, you must consider “the entire person.” As Bertua, Anderson, and Salgado argue in their research, “In the case of sales occupations, additional moderators may impact on the validity of GMA tests.”

The Whole Person
Some intelligent people do not get along with others. They do not have the necessary social skills to help them listen with empathy and understand a customer’s situation. They cannot portray the nonverbal cues that show they hear what’s a person says. Because of this, they cannot present a customized solution that builds customer trust in the outcome.

Research shows that intelligent salespeople on some sales team have lower sales if the do not have the social competence required for relationship building with various customer personalities. Researchers, Casciaro and Lobo (2005), label these salespeople as “competent jerks.”

High GMA candidates may also have low achievement drive (goal-orientation) or a less than conscientious approach to getting results. In some high-activity and fast sales cycles, some do not have the sense of urgency to keep sales activity at an acceptable level.

Research shows the GMA is an important predictor of sales performance. Make sure you know how fast they will learn as compared to a general occupation or as compared to the best performers in your industry. Finally, remember to test and interview for conscientiousness, a concern for others and social competence before making a hiring decision.

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