Albert Thompson, general sales manager for Belton Industries, Inc., faced a problem of high turnover of sales personnel. He was led to believe that something was wrong with the selection process and that the selection procedure should be evaluated.
Belton manufactured a wide line of children’s toys and bicycles. Its sales organization consisted of 110 salespeople operating out of seventeen branch sales offices. The branch sales managers reported directly to Thompson. Belton products were selectively distributed to department stores, discount houses, toy stores, bicycle shops, and general hardware stores.
Belton Industries recruited its sales personnel from colleges and universities throughout the country, as well as from other sources. The branch sales managers performed the initial screening interview at college placement centers, and at the branch sales offices in the case of applicants from other sources. The preliminary interview served as an initial “screen” to eliminate obviously unqualified applicants. At the initial interview, applicants judged as “possibilities” were handed a standard application form requesting information such as personal history, education, previous experience, and the like. When the applicant returned the form, the branch sales manager contracted business and personal references by mail. As soon as references responded, a second interview was scheduled.
In the second interview, the applicant was given considerable information about the company, its history, organization, record, products, markets, and, in particular, the specific nature of the sales operation. The branch manager probed the applicant’s habits, attitudes, and motivations and very often, to get a measure of an individual’s ability to react to the unexpected, handed the applicant a pen, ashtray, or other handy object and asked him or her to make a safes presentation “on the spot.” In addition, the branch sales manager fielded any questions that the applicant might ask.
Immediately upon completion of the second interview, the branch manager completed a rating sheet. At this time, he or she forwarded to the general sales manager all materials compiled on the applicant, including the application form, reference letters, rating sheet, and a statement recommending acceptance or rejection of the job candidate. The general sales manager decided whether or not to hire the applicant, then notified the branch sales manager, who, in turn, notified the applicant.
The general sales manager believed that the Belton sales force turnover rate was excessive and cited a recent study by a trade association that reported the industry’s average sales force turnover was 15 percent, compared with Belton’s sales force turnover of 25 percent. More specifically, Belton’s turnover of first-year sales personnel was more than twice the industry average, which prompted the general sales manager to lay the blame directly on the selection procedure.
The general sales manager argued that the weakness could be corrected through psychological testing. He favored installation of a battery of tests, including intelligence tests, interest tests, personality tests, and sales aptitude tests. He thought that the tests would do more than correct weaknesses in the selection procedure, since they would provide an objective measure of a job applicant’s true worth and probable future performance in a less complicated, less costly way. The results of each applicant’s testing program could be compared with standards of achievement for sales personnel in the Belton company and in the entire industry. From these measures, the general sales manager contended, a sounder, more objective decision could be made.
The Belton president, John Wesley, disagreed. He contended that psychological testing had no place in the evaluation of a potential salesperson because testing was haphazard, it was highly theoretical and impersonal, and tests in no way could be substituted for experienced judgment as to the intangible human qualities possessed by an individual. He believed that many employers were using psychological tests as a crutch to. avoid highly subjective selection decisions. Wesley contended that the selection process was not really the cause of the turnover problem. He suggested that if the sales department did a better job of training and motivating salespeople, job dissatisfaction and turnover would be reduced. Thompson agreed to abandon the idea of psychological testing and to concentrate more effort on training and motivation.
Two years later, a revised training program and a stronger program of sales incentives had not completely solved the turnover problem; sales force turnover, at 20 percent, was still well above the industry average. Albert Thompson explained this situation to John Wesley by stating that “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” that the first necessary step in reducing sales force turnover was to identify and recruit prospects with high potential for success. He had noticed that many successful salespeople seemed to have a strong internal drive for success. It was to identify such people that he had suggested using psychological testing. At this point, he sought the advice of an industrial psychologist, Dr. Claude Pfeiffer, who explained that personality types had been defined upon the basis of the needs of individuals to achieve. This need for achievement, or nAch as it was called by psychologists, results from the total environment of the individual from childhood and is essentially unchangeable in the adult. He suggested that Belton should be recruiting individuals with high need for achievement. High n-Ach persons are successful in endeavors that require hard work and perseverance; they feel rewarded solely through their own efforts. Achievement is a means to fulfill their own self-system of values. They, can be motivated by presenting challenges to them—each successfully met challenge tends to raise their own levels of aspiration. Such people are self-starters.
Only a small proportion of the population fall in this high n-Ach category. Psychologists can assess the degree of n-Ach with tests and interviews, but laypersons might find it more difficult to identify this personality trait in the selection process. Dr. Pfeiffer suggested that answers to the following questions would help to identify high n-Ach people. Do they use achievement words like success and accomplishment when talking about their work? Do they seem more concerned with results than with getting along with people? Do they have a track record of working independently? Are they moderate risk takers rather than impulsive reckless types? Do they seem to enjoy challenges or try to avoid them?
Dr. Pfeiffer recommended that Belton Industries concentrate its recruiting efforts on finding and hiring high n-Ach salespeople. However, Thompson had reservations about seeking out and using such people in his sales force.
Source: Richard R. Still, Edward W. Cundliff, Normal A. P Govoni, Sandeep Puri (2017), Sales and Distribution Management: Decisions, Strategies, and Cases, Pearson; Sixth edition.