What is the secret of success in sales? Is it a matter of mastering and applying specific skills, of gaining expertise about a product or service, of getting to know a company and its clients – or is it dependent on possessing certain traits and aptitudes, discernible through psychometric testing?

Certainly, our personality traits impact our approach to our job, our willingness to learn new skills and our ability to build successful relationships. But just how important are those traits as predictors of sales success?

What Is Psychometric Testing?

Psychometric testing has become a booming business in recent years. Used in the context of sales recruitment and training – where the investment can be tailored to the psychological profile of an organization and to particular individuals within it – psychometric tests, as the Institute of Psychometric Coaching puts it, “measure behavioural styles, attitudes and personality characteristics … [that] impact people’s performance in a workplace.”

The Institute of Psychometric Coaching provides a list of typical personality characteristics that employers seek for sales professionals. They include self-motivation, being competitive, taking charge, influencing customers’ opinions and activities, and interpersonal and rapport-building skills. The idea is that organizations can discern these traits and skills in candidates through well-designed questionnaires and other kinds of scientific tests.

The Benefits of Psychometric Testing

Sales Recruitment

In an age when formal qualifications are no longer treated with the same degree of trust, psychometric tests – involving verbal and numerical reasoning as well as personality profiling – can assist recruitment processes by providing additional information on candidates. It can be hard to judge the personality and behavioral traits of candidates in an interview, and by assessing candidates against objective criteria, psychometric tests can help employers make more successful hiring decisions, improving employee retention by focusing on obtaining the right fit between candidate and job role.

Sales Training

Organizations can also use psychometric tests to support sales training and sales improvement initiatives. During a sales training program, for example, they can give individuals insight into their strengths and weaknesses and the behavioral preferences that they may or may not share with others on their team. Prior to the development of a sales training program, they can help determine which employees need training and in which areas.

Many organizations use psychometric tests that evaluate interpersonal communication styles, behavioral preferences and other employee characteristics. Such tests provide a starting point for thinking about how each person can improve and a shared framework for considering the behaviors a sales team might want to work toward.

Sales Management

Psychometric tests can help sales managers navigate the mix of personalities on their team and provide a language for communicating opportunities for individual improvement. In this way, they can help managers develop more positive relationships with employees, based on a heightened degree of understanding.

Furthermore, approaches to management influenced by positive psychology emphasize the importance of giving individuals opportunities to demonstrate their strengths and make the most of their potential. By helping to identify those strengths, psychometric testing can help managers steer team members toward the use of their skills and understand the difficulties they might have in areas.

The Challenges of Psychometric Testing

Psychometric testing offers a range of possibilities to organizations looking to build sales success. Large organizations, in particular, with a specialized HR or L&D team able to implement the tests, may benefit from a systematic incorporation of psychometric testing methods into their sales recruitment, training and management processes.

However, while psychometric tests can make predictions about performance across a range of occupations and job roles, questions have been raised about the validity of personality tests. While cognitive ability tests tend to be successful predictors of performance, the validity of personality testing is more controversial. In an article for Psychology Today, Adam Grant criticizes the wildly popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test because of its unscientific assumptions and reductive tendencies. “We all need to recognize,” he writes, “that four letters don’t do justice to anyone’s identity.”

Even if we were to reject these criticisms, it would be important to remember that there is no clear “better” or “worse” when evaluating the results of personality assessments, and that any company looking to use psychometric testing needs, firstly, to determine the characteristics needed for each job and, secondly, to consider the advantages of having a mix of personality types on a team. Psychometric testing cannot answer these questions; they depend, instead, on human experience and judgement.

Psychometric Testing: Yes or No?

Psychometric tests have much to recommend them to the sales profession, particularly in their application to sales recruitment, training and management processes. As with all tools, however, they are best used in conjunction with, rather than as a substitute for, human insight and experience.

In the context of recruitment, for example, while psychometric tests may help to identify a certain personality profile and job fit, they might undermine diversity – which is actually correlated with organizational performance and innovation, especially over the long term. In the context of training, they might provide a shared framework and promote self-awareness, but how reliable and trustworthy are they as mirrors of who we are? Psychometric testing may support sales success in your organization, but you need to use it with consideration and care, and it may not work for everyone.

What do you think? Would you consider using psychometric testing methods in your recruitment or training process? Do you already use them? Let us know by tweeting us @TrainingIndustr and @LDL_Learning.