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New Research on Sales Excuses


Study Identifies First-Place Salespeople

Sales managers have customarily relied on broadbrush personality traits like dominance, sociability and empathy to identify top sellers.  But according to recent research by veteran scientists George W. Dudley, Shannon L. Goodson, and Trelitha R. Bryant, a far better predictor of future sales performance is a salesperson willingness to initiate first contact with prospective customers.  Personality factors all play in sales success, they say, but “the will to persistently prospect is the keystone.  Without it, the other characteristics don’t make any difference.  All you have is a highly trained professional visitor.”


Studies by Dudley and Goodson have shown that sales people who hesitate to promote themselves and their products to prospective buyers sacrifice an average of 15 orders every month.  That hesitation is called Sales Call Reluctance®.  Detecting it before a hiring decision is made, say the researchers, can help managers correctly identify candidates as potential top producers or future liabilities.


Dudley, Goodson, and Bryant looked at a multi-industry sample of 1,043 currently employed salespeople.  Industries represented ranged from financial services and real estate to manufacturing and advertising sales.  Approximately 222 of the salespeople were identified as Very High Producers (in the top 20% of their companies), and 206 as Very Low Producers (bottom 20% of their companies).  Each participant completed SPQ*GOLD®, a 110 question computer scored test designed specifically to detect and measure 12 types of behavioral inhibition associated with sales call reluctance.  Then, using only questionnaire results, the researchers attempted to correctly classify each participant’s production.


Analysis of SPQ results enabled the researchers to correctly identify 65% of the VHPs.  While that’s not perfect, it significantly improved on typical base “hit” rates (candidates correctly identified at time of hire) that can range from 20% to 54%.  Bryant emphasized that even small increases in selection accuracy can save companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted training and unmet quotas.  “In most cases, knowing up front whether a candidate will be able to prospect comfortably saves time, money and frustration.”


Other findings from the analysis include:




Dudley acknowledges that this study flies in the face of current sales selection philosophies, especially those, which favor candidates with high relationship-building skills.  But, he says, today’s so-called client-centered approaches put the cart before the horse.  “The emphasis on nurturing client relationships assumes that salespeople are comfortable with initiating the relationship in the first place.  But many aren’t.  They can’t, won’t or simply don’t make initial contacts with prospective clients in sufficient numbers.  As a result, many salespeople who have become well-versed in relationship building chronically lack new customers to build relationships with.”


Dudley and Goodson are co-authors of The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance® Earning What You’re Worth in Sales (Behavioral Sciences Research Press, Inc.,



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