One of the nation’s leading consultants in the field of personnel selection and organizational development is Caliper, based at 506 Carnegie Center (www.calipercorp.com), which uses assessment instruments to measure potential, personality characteristics, individual motivations, and likely behaviors. The Caliper profile has been used by 25,000 clients to assess more than 2 million employees in a range of companies.
In 2006 the company founder, Herb Greenberg, wrote a book with Patrick Sweeney titled “Succeed on Your Own Terms.” This year Greenberg, who lost his sight at age 10, and Sweeney, the former president of Caliper, have teamed up to write another book, “What You Aren’t Seeing — The Inspiring Story of Herb Greenberg,” a McGraw-Hill Education book. Following are excerpts:
While Herb was teaching at Rutgers, an insurance company approached one of his associates about a possible consulting project. Since it had to do with personality assessments, the colleague asked Herb if he might like to collaborate. Essentially, they were looking for a thorough review of all of the psychological tests available at the time to determine if any of them could predict whether an individual had the innate ability to sell.
Three months later, Herb and his colleague wrote a memorandum that basically said that there was nothing like that in the marketplace. The insurance company thanked them and paid them an attractive sum.
That’s when the lightbulb went on.
Herb and his colleague, David Mayer, sensed an opportunity. There was a clear and enormous need to be filled. And this need had been around ever since someone first tried to sell something to someone else.
“Empirically, we knew that there were not any personality assessments that could accurately predict whether someone could sell,” Herb says. “All we had to do was develop our own assessment. We mistakenly thought that we could do this in a very short period of time and return to the insurance company with the newfound answer they were looking for.
“Historically, the profession of sales has received a bad rap because most of the people in the profession do not have the qualities needed to succeed,” Herb explains. His ongoing studies have shown that the real reason that the sales profession has suffered in terms of prestige is because more than half of the people making a living in sales should be doing something else — for themselves, for their company, for their profession, and certainly for those among us who are unfortunate enough to come in contact with them. They are not cut out for sales. “Because these salespeople do not have a natural talent, they try to fake it, and in the fast-talking process, sell themselves, and all of the rest of us, short,” he says. In their desperation to persuade, they give the sales profession a black eye. They are the reason there are so many jokes about traveling salesmen, and why there are so many negative phrases about the profession, such as “selling you a bill of goods” and “selling out.”
Unfortunately, these are the kinds of salespeople whom we all seem to come across far too frequently. They can make you cringe and want to shout out, “Why don’t you do all of us a favor and get another job?”
Herb and his colleague knew the size of the problem. And they knew there was enormous value in helping solve this problem, as the insurance industry’s overall retention rate for sales professionals, back then, was abysmal. They were losing 60 percent of their salespeople in the first year and 90 percent within three years.
Was there a way for insurance, as well as other industries, to select salespeople who had the highest probability — the inherent talents — to succeed? First, Herb and his colleague would have to discover what distinguished the best salespeople. What qualities do they possess that the others lack? If they could identify those qualities and accurately measure them, they could completely change the selection process — and the outcome-of the sales profession.
To uncover the information needed to successfully sell to someone, Herb and his colleague determined that salesperson needed to start with empathy, which they would describe later in a Harvard Business Review article as “the important central ability to feel as another person does in order to be able to sell him or her.” They underscored that salespeople with good empathy “sense the reactions of customers and are able to adjust to these reactions. They are not simply bound by a prepared sales track.” Salespeople who are empathic are able to sense what customers are feeling, “change pace, double back on the track, and make whatever creative modifications might be necessary to home in on the target and close the sale.”
They continued interviewing sales managers for insights, as well as salespeople who were at the top of their game, those who were average performers, and those who could not quite make it. They also studied the psychological literature. They were seeking a premise, a hypothesis, a psychological understanding of what qualities the very best salespeople have in common.
At that point, Herb says, “I began to introspect a little bit. Looking at myself, I said, ‘Each and every time I close a sale, it’s a real thrill. Not only do I want the money, but it is a personal victory. I feel great when it works. And when it doesn’t, I feel lousy.’”
From there, he says, he began to see what would also be needed besides empathy. “There still needs to be the motivation to sell,” he says, “and the money, though important, is not enough. In other words, everybody wants the money. But the process and the result has to be a kick.”
At that point, he realized there was a dynamic going on between empathy and this inner need to persuade. So Herb and his colleague started scanning the literature for two separate assessments — one that measured empathy and the other that measured an inner need to persuade. “I didn’t have the courage or the knowledge at that time to develop our own assessment,” Herb says. “But I knew how to cobble together a couple of tests that were solid, reliable, and valid.”
What was most important at that time was to create the assessment so that it was not easily faked. Herb explains, “We knew that when people are applying for jobs they obviously will attempt to tell the potential employer whatever they think the employer wants to hear. So most people applying for a sales position will say they would ‘rather be with people than at home reading a good book,’ regardless of their real preference.”
So, rather than going with true-false questions, they decided to go with a forced-choice format, where applicants had to select from among four items which one was most like them and which one was least like them. “It is a format where nobody can claim all virtues or deny all faults,” Herb says. “In addition, the items you do not select end up saying something about you, as well.” Over the course of enough responses, patterns evolved that described the person with an accuracy that has proven to be uncanny.
It had taken them four years, but they had cracked the code and solved the problem that the insurance company had first asked them to research.
They had developed a personality assessment that could not be faked, which measured two attributes that they knew salespeople absolutely needed to succeed. They understood that these were not the only two qualities needed. But if an individual did not have those two qualities, then trying to sell would be like trying to defy gravity.