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Research Hub

Candidate Assessments Are Crucial to Finding and Keeping Top-Performing Salespeople

10:20 11 June in Research Hub


  • Hiring top-performing salespeople has become more challenging due to shifting growth strategies, more complex sales cycles, and ineffective onboarding for distributed teams
  • A sales-specific candidate assessment can help – OMG’s assessment identified 72% of top-half sales performers and 100% of bottom-half sales performers

Hiring top-performing salespeople has become more difficult during the past five years

In fact, the percentage of salespeople meeting quota dropped 10% in less than two years – from 53% in 2022 to 43% last year. Also, sales turnover remains a challenge. Turnover for a salesperson within their first year hovers around 30%, 2.5x the average employee turnover rate of 13%. When it costs 150%-200% of a salesperson’s salary, replacement becomes an expensive scenario.

Most companies rely on a hiring manager’s intuition to hire salespeople. Unfortunately, intuition only identifies top performers about 20% of the time. A sales-specific assessment can dramatically improve your odds of success. Results from Objective Management Group’s (OMG’s) Assessment Validation survey show that 72% of “Assessment Recommended” candidates who were hired ranked in the top half of their sales teams within 12 months. None of the “Not Recommended” candidates were top-half performers (i.e., 100% of Not Recommended candidates were bottom-half performers). Furthermore, only 9% of Recommended candidates turned over in their first year compared with 33% of Not Recommend candidates who turned over in Year 1.

Three reasons why hiring a Top Sales Performer in 2024 is significantly more difficult

There are several reasons it’s more difficult to find and keep top performers. Our research points to three dominant challenges:

  • Transition in growth strategies from “growth at all costs” to profitability
  • Longer sales cycle and larger buyer stakeholder groups
  • Onboarding practices that haven’t kept pace with the demands of training virtual teams

Shifting growth strategies have changed the selling skills necessary for success.
During the growth at all costs era, companies invested in sales models with specialized roles in each stage of the pipeline – Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) to generate new opportunities, Account Executives (AEs) to close new opportunities, and Customer Success for renewal and upselling. In this model, AEs didn’t need to be proficient at Hunting (SDRs took care of that), nor did they need to excel at Qualifying opportunities (all customers are good customers). Their most important skills were Presenting effectively and Closing the opportunity. At its peak, high growth companies targeted a 1:1 ratio for AEs and SDRs.

As interest rates began increasing in 2022, companies cut their AE:SDR ratio to closer to 3:1. Now AEs had to generate their own opportunities. Unfortunately, many had not been hired – nor trained – for their Hunting skills. To make matters worse, companies became more discerning about prospect quality (only profitable customers are good customers). Therefore, 2024’s AEs must be more skilled at Selling Value and being a Consultative Seller than in the growth at all costs era.

Longer sales cycles, larger stakeholder groups
Other meaningful changes affecting sales performance in nearly all industries are the length of time it takes to close a deal and the number of buying stakeholders involved in that deal. A survey of start-up companies showed an average 24% increase in the length of the sales cycle from 60 days in 2022 to 75 days in 2023. The sales cycle for start-ups selling to enterprises increased 36% from 2022 to 2023.

Going hand-in-hand with a longer sales cycle is the tendency toward group decision-making. In 2021, 63% of B2B purchases involved more than four people, a nearly 20% increase from 2017. Today the number of people involved in a complex B2B buyer decision typically is six to 10.

Simply put, in 2024 it’s harder for new sellers to become top-half producers because it’s taking longer for all sellers to produce. Even the best-performing salesperson isn’t 100% effective immediately out of the gate. In fact, 40% of companies report that it takes more than 10 months for a salesperson to reach full productivity.

Onboarding Must Catch Up to Today’s Hiring Environment

Unfortunately, most onboarding practices were insufficient, even when most employees were in the office. It’s only become worse since companies transitioned to hybrid or fully virtual teams. Many organizations think a weeklong orientation program is enough to help new hires, including veteran salespeople, learn about the company.

Onboarding is a comprehensive and ongoing process that entails best practices such as a structured training program, clearly communicated milestones, mentoring and continual check-in. For salespeople, reference materials should include a detailed sales playbook, a CRM how-to-guide and company definitions and requirements for each stage of the sales pipeline. It’s also wise to assign a mentor for new employees and ensure regular performance check-ins for at least six months, along with weekly or biweekly one-on-one sessions between the sales representative and their manager.

Onboarding also should include opportunities for interaction with employees across the company. For example, structured onboarding and ongoing collaboration should pair new representatives with seasoned high performers. With more employees working virtually, it’s crucial to find creative ways to give new salespeople opportunities to carry on informal “watercooler conversations” with more experienced salespeople.

Candidate Assessment Screening and Onboarding Are Necessary to Identify and Retain Top Performers

Screening, hiring, and training new salespeople is as complex a process as the sales cycle itself. Yet, savvy companies and sales managers know how to prevail. As proven by the results of OMG’s Assessment Validation survey, companies that use a candidate assessment to evaluate prospective new hires give themselves an edge in finding high performers. They increase their odds of success by faithfully following a comprehensive onboarding process that sets up newly hired salespeople for success and gives them a reason to stay.

Get our FREE guide 12 Tips to Hire and Retain Top-Performing Sales Reps

The OMG Assessment Validation Survey gauges companies’ hiring experience using OMG’s Candidate Assessment within the first year of performance. The survey captures client feedback related to the number, performance, and current tenure of sales candidates who received a “recommended” rating from the Candidate Assessment, along with the performance of candidates who received a “not recommended” rating but were still hired by the company.