Prospecting Behavior Trumps ‘Sales Personality’

by RaeAnne Marsh

Studies show that having a “sales personality” is only one piece of a complex puzzle. In fact, a recently conducted study found that focusing on personality to forecast sales success is putting the cart before the horse.

“Before personality traits, sophisticated training or financial incentives can even come into play, salespeople must first have prospective buyers to sell to. That means sales prospecting,” says Trelitha R. Bryant, executive vice president of field testing and research with Behavioral Sciences Research Press. The Dallas-based company teamed with internationally noted behavioral scientist and author George W. Dudley to try to predict prospecting activity in salespeople. Bryant notes, “The link between prospecting behavior and sales productivity is well established. Knowing beforehand whether new hires can and will actually prospect comes first on the long list of competencies managers should look for.”

For the study, a sample of 1,627 U.S. salespeople from a variety of sales settings was equally split between those known to generate high levels of prospecting activity and those with very low demonstrated prospecting activity. Using a specialized psychological assessment called SPQ*GOLD®, the researchers measured the sellers’ level of comfort and willingness to prospect for new business. The same test was administered to an entirely different sample of 1,630 salespeople whose prospecting levels were unknown at the time of assessment. Then, using only a statistical model created from the first group’s test scores, the researchers were able to correctly identify 83 percent of the high prospectors and 79 percent of low prospectors in the second group.

“When you can predict sales prospecting accurately, you are in effect predicting sales success,” says Dudley. Acknowledging that prospecting doesn’t guarantee success, he observes, “It’s possible to prospect without selling. But you can’t sell without customers to sell to, and that takes prospecting.”

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