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Time is the Answer: How to Improve Sale Force Performance

By Michal Matukin

Many researchers, such as Daniel Kahneman or Gerald Zaltman, proved that declarative data is not always able to reflect ambiguous opinions or differences in human attitudes. In effect, many innovative methods have been introduced to identify what is truly appealing for customers, making market research more reliable.

For almost 20 years now, our team has been successfully applying neuro tools to various marketing dilemmas - from strategic positioning to in-store activities. In addition, we have recently ventured into new fields, harnessing the power of neuro research to better predict human behavior in all areas of life. Last year, in cooperation with the biggest Polish financial institution, we applied our proprietary Reaction Time (RT) method to a sales force performance measurement and enhancement program. Not only did we test hundreds of sales agents on self-assessment attributes, but we also combined those results with agents’ individual sales records. Thus, our analysis pointed out attitudes relevant to actual performance and - thanks to RT - allowed us to indicate whether those attitudes were deeply rooted among sales agents.

Time to predict behavior

Explicit measures capture conscious opinions, the question that arises is whether these declarations are consistent with a person’s emotional, unconscious beliefs. Professor Russell Fazio (2001) proved that attitude strength might be indexed using a reaction time paradigm - the more rapidly an attitude is expressed, the greater its strength. What’s more, the stronger the attitude, the more certain people are about it and this certainty is crucial to guide behavior (see: Fazio & Williams 1986; Fazio, Powell & Williams 1989).

Time to discover which values really stand behind sales efficiency

A top-performing sales agent has to be a self-confident person who effortlessly creates relationships with other people. This generic skill should be backed with other essential characteristics. Sometimes though, it’s hard to name those few key features that make all the difference. Our client had one of those very long lists of virtues they would seek in every sales agent. Yet, they turned to us for help in determining which of those features truly matter. 

This issue is important for all companies that require highly developed social skills from their employees. They devote a lot of resources to establishing the “attitude vs. performance” matrix in order to recruit and train effectively.

Time to time emotions

Over 500 of our client’s sales agents completed our short online survey that consisted of 60 statements regarding various areas: the product (e.g. I am proud of the product I sell), relationships with clients (e.g. I understand clients’ needs), self-esteem (e.g. I am a professional sales agent), self-development (e.g. I am eager to learn new things), work-life balance (e.g. I have time for my family) and of course their sales skills (e.g. I can work under time pressure). The agent’s task was to mark whether he/she agrees or disagrees with each statement. The final list of values was designed based on the client’s policies, our experience in testing emotional motives and the expertise of Piasecka-Żylewicz - one of the top coaching companies in Poland. We knew that rational declarative answers were important, but we wanted to assess those responses in the context of the time needed to mark the answer. It allowed us to identify aspects in which sales agents truly believed and those where it was just lip service.

Time for results

We divided the sample by agents’ sales records. Sales wise, all surveyed agents were classified by our client as ”average or better”. The goal was to determine what truly differentiates the best sales reps from the rest of the field. Thus, we selected the top 10% best performing agents (superior agents) and the bottom 10% (average agents). Declarative scores brought no surprise at all - for both groups they were similarly high without significant differences. It showed that agents’ declarations are not enough to find a factor that differentiates selected groups. Yet, RT gave us and our client a much sharper image of what makes true highfliers stand out from mediocrity. 

The chart above shows that top-performing agents were definitely more certain about almost all of the tested areas.

Even if average performing agents declared that they have a good relationship with clients or that they know the product they sell - the strength of those attitudes was only moderate, whereas superior agents were fully certain about their own opinions. It had an impact on their on-the-job performance - if agents’ claims were not backed up with emotional certainty, then such a lack of conviction would resonate with customers, weakening the relationship and resulting in lower efficiency of sales.

Both groups also declared that they had high sales skills and self-esteem but again only the top performing agents were sure about it. It seems that sales performance will be higher if a given agent has deeply rooted high self-esteem and truly believes in his or her own sales skills. ”To claim” is clearly not the same as ”to believe” and RT can indicate that subtle, yet meaningful, difference.

Time to act

Thanks to our research we’ve identified the most important values that should characterize superior sales agents. Next, we created a unique mobile app that utilizes the results of our project as benchmarks. Our client can use this app during the advanced stages of the recruitment process to identify the true potential of new sales agents. Finally, based on the results, our client has introduced a program called “Top Salesforce. From Good to Great”. It is a 24-month long performance enhancement program, charged with a series of workshops and policies prepared by HR experts and coaches. The focal point of the program is to increase sales efficiency by raising the level of conviction of sales agents in all areas deemed essential to business success, as identified by NEUROHM’s RT-based methodology.
This case proves that reaction time as a measure of certainty can, and should be applied not only within its ”comfort zone” of marketing but also in all those areas where filtering doubt out of declarative answers might bring researchers a step closer to discovering the true motives of human behavior and predicting its outcome with higher accuracy.

This article was originally published in the Neuromarketing Yearbook. Order your copy today