February 5, 2018 Issue
Q&A with John Hoskins, Co-Founder and CEO of SalesGenomix LLC providing an Online Sales Assessment Test for Sales Leaders to Evaluate and Predict the Success of their Current and Incumbent Talent
Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – February 5, 2018
CEOCFO: Mr. Hoskins, according to the SalesGenomix website, you are a sales talent discovery system. How so?
Mr. Hoskins: We help sales leaders who are recruiting new talent to their organization or have incumbent talent to assess that talent using an online survey. It is completed by the incumbent or candidate. From there we are able to predict for them the potential of that person being successful in a specific sales role.
CEOCFO: Would you give us an idea of what the survey covers and what you are able to predict from that?
Mr. Hoskins: The survey is written at an eighth-grade reading level, so it is not difficult to complete. It consists of a number of true-false and multiple-choice questions. We’ve intentionally made it difficult to determine what the right or wrong answer is. The questions do not seem in any way related to sales or sales management practices, and that is purposeful because the science we use is more of an actuarial science. Similar to how the insurance industry calculates your premium, we collect certain data points and then we are able to statistically correlate answers to clusters of questions and specific skills that we know are related to success in a particular kind of sales job. We view sales as a profession and not a one-size-fits-all job. We profile 14 different types of sales positions, which we have identified from our experience around the world. There may be others, but we think we have categorized the 14 most common types.
CEOCFO: What is the range?
Mr. Hoskins: It can be “inside” sales. Someone might be doing outbound calling in a telesales center or receiving inbound calls from leads that are generated by advertising, marketing and promotion. It could also be a customer service role, because we view service as sales. The next category is “in the field” where people are out physically meeting customers face-to-face. From there it divides into either direct contact, where you are calling on an end-user of your product and they are the buyer, or it could be indirect, where it is a channel or a broker situation. For example, if you are selling mortgage insurance, but you are selling it through a residential title company; you are not calling on the end consumer of that mortgage insurance. You are calling on a bank or title company that is reselling their insurance. That is indirect sales. In the direct category, you have a bifurcation as well where you are looking at people who have small numbers of focused accounts as opposed to people who have large territories. That tends to be the range of options.
CEOCFO: Do clients who work with you recognize there are so many intricacies in sales, and is that why they have turned to you, or are they surprised that you can pinpoint such a wide range?
Mr. Hoskins: Generally speaking, the main reason our clients work with us is because they want to avoid a costly, unforced hiring mistake. In the sales world, it is critical to make the right choice because the cost of turnover is so high due to lost opportunity cost and the direct correlation between that individual’s work and top-line revenue growth. We help eliminate turnover. While there is not a survey or assessment that is 100% accurate, we are increasing the odds that our clients are going to make the right choice. That’s what we help them do. It’s almost like Moneyball. We are looking at certain data points knowing that people who possess competencies in particular skills have a greater likelihood of being successful. Do our clients understand how broad the world of sales is? Often not. They are sometimes very surprised that we have taken a more granular look at the competencies required in different types of sales jobs. That is a little bit of an aha for them.
CEOCFO: Does the structure of an organization, or the company approach or culture make a difference in the success of a salesperson, and are you able to account for that?
Mr. Hoskins: In our case, we cannot measure that. One of the hygiene factors that we talk about with our clients is that we can explore innate talents, characteristics and skills, but we cannot help them understand the corporate fit, the cultural fit and the aligned values fit. There are organizations where oversight is daily, there are metrics and almost micromanagement, and then there are corporations where everything is loose and as long as you are getting your results no one is asking questions. That is not something we measure. However, we do counsel our clients in behavioral interviewing process, suggesting that they find out if the person has been successful before, what type of culture they were in and what they were accustomed to from a hygiene factor point of view. It does matter, for sure.
CEOCFO: When you are doing an assessment, how do you assess when, for example, five questions point yes and five questions point no?
Mr. Hoskins: We measure very few competencies in total for any given role. Our rationale is that we know from our data that in general no one is a perfect match for a role, and all of us have areas of strength and areas for development. When we are factoring in our recommendation, we are looking for someone who has a predominant level of high scores in the skill sets we know lead to success and not an overly abundant number of skills that are low skills. Our assessment is unique in that ours is one of the few if not the only assessment that will make a specific hiring recommendation, which we sum up in three levels. The first level is when we highly recommend an individual, the second is when we recommend them if some concerns can be addressed and the third is when we do not recommend them for the role.
CEOCFO: What is the business model?
Mr. Hoskins: It is an annual subscription model where the client commits to a certain number of assessments that they are going to use. Typically we tell them to estimate that they will probably use 3 assessments for every position they plan to fill. If they have a growth objective of adding 10 people, and they are expecting a 15% turnover on a 100-person force, they would use 25 assessments times 3, thus we would recommend they subscribe to our 75-level subscription. It is a copper, bronze, silver, gold, or platinum pricing model. The range is $199 to $139 per assessment.
CEOCFO: Do you find that many people try to find what answer you want even though theoretically there is no right answer?
Mr. Hoskins: We can tell. We measure what we call “validity scores.” A validity score basically says how candid the individual was in responding to the questions. A high validity score, where someone is excessively candid, would be given to the person who is their own worst critic. Then there are people who are simply candid and balanced. There are those who are very guarded, and they would have a low validity score. We do not factor validity into the overall recommendation, but we do report validity to the decision-maker because someone who has a low validity score may possibly have difficulty accepting their own self-limitations. When it comes to giving that type of person feedback or coaching, the hair on the back of their neck might stand up.
CEOCFO: How has your approach changed, and what have you learned as people have taken your testing and you have been able to make recommendations?
Mr. Hoskins: This intellectual property is now over forty years old, and the database of people who have taken it is nearing 700 thousand people. Statisticians will tell you that 1,200 of anything will measure the world. One of the gurus in this industry is a gentleman in New Orleans named Dr. Charles Handler. He once said to me that a good assessment tool is like a fine wine: it gets better with age and you cannot rush the process. The fact that we have done so many validation studies means we have an unmatched accuracy and reliability that allows us to say we are going to be right if you just use our assessment for your decision-making process. However, we do not recommend that. We recommend that you use our evidence for roughly 30% of your overall decision. We are going to be right 7 or 8 out of 10 times if you just follow our recommendation but there are many other factors that should influence a hiring decision.
CEOCFO: How do you reach out for potential clients, and how do you stand out if someone is looking at companies?
Mr. Hoskins: Our website attracts a number of people. We have very good SEO on Google, so when people are searching for sales assessments, we will pop up on the first page and that helps. We do promotions where we offer useful white papers and advice that people download and provide their contact information. We follow those up to see if they are interested in testing the solution for a hire they are about to make.
The second part of your question is about how we distinguish ourselves. Most of the sales assessments in the world are personality tests, and there are two classes of assessments. There are descriptive assessments and there are predictive assessments. Ours is in the predictive category, and most others are in the descriptive category. A descriptive personality test has face valid questions. For example, I could ask you as a sales candidate when you go to a party if you a) stand in a corner and wait for people to come to you and meet them, b) meet everybody in the room by the end of the night and know their name, c) choose not to go to the party, or d) find one person in the room whom you seek out and spend the entire night with. In your pursuit of this sales role, the candidate knows that employers are looking for someone who is outgoing and assertive, so there is a socially acceptable response if you want to get the job. Which is B. In our case, we would never ask a question like that. Ours are totally non-face valid; there is no socially acceptable response.
One distinction for us is that we are predictive, and we are unmatched in terms of reliability and accuracy of making a recommendation. We are not a one-size-fits-all. Most other assessments are in that one-size-fits-all category. They say sales are sales are sales: if you take this assessment we can tell you if you will be successful in that role. The problem with that approach is that there are many types of sales roles, and they don’t all require the same skills and competencies. I read something interesting recently; we measure skills and competencies that are trainable, coachable, and can be developed in an individual. Personality tests measure personality, and a lot of people say that personalities of salespeople are the same. However, it has been my experience that if you look at any sales organization with 30 salespeople in the room, I believe there may be 30 different personalities in that room. The other thing I read recently is that personalities actually do change. For years people believed that personalities stayed the same. That you are who you are and you will always be that way. It is not true, and they have found now that as people age and mature, their personality will change.
CEOCFO: Would you give us an example of a question you would ask someone?
Mr. Hoskins: People who raise tropical fish do so for A, B, C or D? Now, you might ask what the heck that has to do with sales or sales management. Well, we are an actuarial science. We are not descriptive; we are predictive. In the actuarial world, if I’m selling car insurance and you tell me you are a millennial, living in zip code in Silicon Valley, making $150 thousand a year, driving a red sports car, in a rental apartment, having gone to an Ivy League school with a 3.4 grade point average, none of those things have anything to do with driving skills, but I can tell you what your premium is going to be because I know how many speeding tickets you will get and how many accidents you will have. How? Because insurance companies have big data. What we have is big data too.
CEOCFO: Why choose SalesGenomix?
Mr. Hoskins: Our clients tell us regularly that salespeople are in high demand yet are in short supply. When you are in a situation like that, the candidate flow can be low and the quality of candidates you are going to see can also be suspect. It feels like the good ones are already taken, so you have to be careful and selective in your process. We all know, and sales managers will tell you, that if you hire the right sales people, your revenues will grow. If you do not, they will not.
“Generally speaking, the main reason our clients work with us is because they want to avoid a costly, unforced hiring mistake. In the sales world, it is critical to make the right choice because the cost of turnover is so high due to lost opportunity cost and the direct correlation between that individual’s work and top-line revenue growth.”- John Hoskins
John P Hoskins
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