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Finding and Keeping Sales People Who Pass the Test

Using assessments and customized performance management tools to reduce turnover.

January 8, 2002
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Lanier Worldwide, Inc., had for years been known primarily for the high quality of its document-management solutions. Its fax machines, copiers, and other business-document machines were consistently popular and in use throughout the world. So popular, in fact, that today Lanier offers not just the machines themselves but also a comprehensive portfolio of business solutions that includes services, products, and applications for local, national, and global organizations.

As an industry leader, Lanier needed a sales force that was capable of addressing the needs of companies of all sizes and configurations. The right salesperson had to be matched with the right job.

But that particular match game wasn't working as well as Lanier had hoped. Too many salespeople found themselves underqualified for the jobs they were being asked to do, and as a result, turnover among the sales force was unacceptably high.

Wonderlic, Inc., plugged the leak in two short months. With 64 years of experience in providing companies with recruiting, assessment, and retention solutions, Wonderlic was able to tailor a series of processes and procedures for Lanier that resulted in a much more stable sales force, happier employees, and the most intelligent use of each person's capabilities.

"Lanier's new model is consultative sales," says Jennifer Dembowski, Ph.D., a senior consultant with Wonderlic. "They're not just selling fax machines and copiers anymore, but business processes, and that requires a higher competency in salespeople than it ever has before. People were being fast-tracked into sales positions and didn't have the ability to learn the product, to work with the customer, to problem-solve."

After an analysis of the sales positions, Wonderlic made two recommendations to Lanier: implement the Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT), a measure of cognitive ability and problem-solving skills, and adopt the Comprehensive Personality Profile, an assessment of personality traits and factors.

"Once we identified those appropriate tests for employees, we tested individuals and collected data from six different sales jobs in the field," Dembowski says. "We also helped Lanier put together a customized performance appraisal -- something that was shorter than what they were using before, and that focuses on the core competencies for the job."

From this information, Wonderlic was able to set "target hiring ranges" -- scopes of competency that were acceptable to sales managers -- "ranges that really matter in terms of success and the bottom line: the amount that people sell each month, the adjusted commission and cumulative monthly earnings, and performance appraisal -- how managers rate these people," Dembowski says. "We were confident empirically that when you use a particular hiring range on a test, this translates to actual results, and that you're going to get people who are going to be better earners and higher performers."

For managers who want a quick snapshot of a potential employee, Wonderlic customized a piece of software that assigns a single-number score to a tested individual. "You just read the test scale scores in the software and it calculates an overall score such as 'recommend,' 'marginally recommend,' or 'recommend with caution,'" Dembowski says. "And if a manager wants more in-depth interpretation, he or she can always go back to the original results for more details."

How happy was Lanier with the solution? "They were so pleased," Dembowski says, "that they decided to go with a phase-two study with their customer-service people and managers and administrators at the home office, along with a couple of telemarketing units in Florida. They used the same model as we did with the sales force, and now there are 14 different job profiles with which to compare candidate scores."

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