Identify Top-Performing Sales People Before You Make the Investment

A recent study found a 58% increase in organizations integrating predictive analytics to measure and grow sales. If you can measure who is most likely to perform in a role, then how might that affect hiring, organizational performance, sales team success and overall company success?

Many of you have already concluded that your sales team can be defined into categories such as “performers” and “nonperformers.” The following case study is guaranteed to provide insight into how you could hire and manage your sales team to perform going forward.

The Scenario

A well-respected and growing company has representatives in several states, and they sell products directly to producers. This team is made up of people with various sales and education backgrounds, tenures and levels of industry and product knowledge. Management is seeking to investigate why some sales reps continue to meet or exceed goals while others do not.

The Analysis

The organization decided to evaluate the top 20% and bottom 20% of its sales group to improve its understanding of employee performance differences. Items of evaluation included experience, customer loyalty, proven performance record, previous work experiences, education and industry knowledge. Unfortunately, the result of this evaluation was inconclusive. In one situation, a proven sales rep with strong customer loyalty and success was struggling to perform. By comparison, a less experienced recent graduate with minimal technical experience and no customer following was meeting or exceeding sales performance measurements. This begs the question: how could this be?

This organization (as with most crop input sales companies) prefers to hire the “seasoned veteran” with a proven track record and customer following. Be honest. That’s what we look for in a resume, right? So, what makes one rep likely to succeed versus the other? And what are the shortcomings?

Desiring to obtain conclusive results, one additional factor needed to be evaluated, and it proved to be most evident in dividing the organization’s sales group into “performers” and “nonperformers.”

The Rest of the Story

After all the work of initial analysis, the company still had no answers. At that point, it realized a key factor was overlooked in the organization’s hiring process, and it had nothing to do with items a manager can identify on a resume or discover by checking references.

Within the last 18 months, the company had evaluated its sales group using a behavioral assessment. It benchmarked its sales group dynamics and defined the “ideal” future hire. The company used this tool to identify strengths and weaknesses in a candidate’s style, but it continued to focus on the characteristics of past performance, product knowledge and customer following to make final hiring decisions.

With the first analysis being inconclusive, the organization went back to those data and made an amazing discovery. The current high-performing and low-performing individuals were clearly grouped together.

Had this company used its behavioral assessment tool as part of its hiring and decision-making process, it could have prevented hundreds of thousands of dollars in hiring mistakes.


Predicting Success: the factors separating the top 20% from the bottom 20%

Within the top-performing group, 100% were high in traits related to dominance or extroversion—see charts at left—and were characterized as “persuasive sellers” or “direct sellers.” These are the behavioral strengths that are most natural to them. These are fluent communicators who have hard-charging spirit, relish innovation or fast-paced work environments and tend to be impatient for results. Furthermore, 100% of this group also had a style that was eager to take charge, initiate, command, launch high energy, drive and rise up to challenges—see charts on this page.

However, in the underperforming group, 80% of this group was high in traits related to pace. They were characterized on their profiles as “dependable/productive” or “cautious/requires proof.” With these traits, they seek stability in their work, enjoy routines, are risk-averse or require predictable environments, appreciate rules and need accuracy. All of this group also had a style that was characterized as supportive, loyal to completion of tasks, steady and committed to a supportive or customer service demeanor.


Note that the style required for success in this case study is specific to the organization’s sales strategy and market conditions, and those conditions will vary by organization. Conditions that affect your ideal style include current market share and if the goal is to maintain or grow. Styles would also be different in an organization that has a consultative approach versus a business approach, or how much an individual can be creative in a role versus follow a specific protocol. The key is to match the behaviors to the job needs. Sometimes, needs change over time. This creates a need for a different type of person as the organization grows and roles adapt. 

In fairness to the “nonperforming” group, it’s not that they are bad employees. The fact is that they are not matched to the right job, and if they would be put into a position or organization that required their characteristics, then it is likely they would become performers.

The challenge of the organization in this case study is unfortunately very common in the ag industry.

Hiring decisions based on past performance are a gamble with a low rate of success. However, what many don’t realize is that even more money is lost while trying to determine if the performance of an individual can be improved, without understanding if his or her style is even capable for the sales approach required. 

Pressure on your margins in a highly competitive market and an underperforming employee’s potential impact on your organization give little room for error in hiring and making personnel management decisions. Integrating an analysis tool into your recruitment and hiring process will not only improve your hiring success, but it will also add up to affect the success of your entire organization.

The Agricultural Retailers Association recently partnered with Ag1Source to help ag retailers improve their recruiting and retention efforts through the “Destination Employer” program. Find out how you can apply analytics to your organization’s hiring practices by contacting Mike Koenecke at [email protected] or (620) 327-0320. More information is available at