For years, VPs of Sales and CEOs have been looking for the magic bullet to help select the best sales people, the top 20 percent that bring in 80% of their sales. There are minor industries built on evaluating and testing sales candidates. Including recruiters, testing, and the risk of making the wrong decision, hiring a great sales person can be an expensive proposition.
So with advances in genetic testing, why can’t we test for the genes that make great sales people?
Before you scoff, consider this. There is now genetic testing to help you determine whether your son or daughter may have the genes for the quick reflexes required in some sports and activities. This may help you determine whether or not to encourage them to go for a scholarship in baseball, tennis, and ballet, or to focus on their homework. (Of course you could have them do both in case they were interested in ballet but also inherited the genes to become a professional wrestler.)
Since so many of us want our children to grow up to be sales people, maybe now we can run genetic tests for that?
A study by Dr. Serena Rodrigues Saturn at Oregon State University, suggests that there is now a genetic test for empathetic characteristics such as openness, trust and caring. These are linked to a gene for the brain chemical receptor for oxytocin. The link is so strong that a total stranger, simply by observing someone listen to another person, may be able to guess whether we have this particular genetic characteristic with greater than 80% accuracy. I’ve long advocated for more empathy in sales and business. (Read Lost) Research has shown that people who have this genetic variation also have higher self esteem and better social skills.
In the study, scientists videotaped 23 romantic couples having a conversation. One person was told to tell the other of a sad incident in their life. Each listener had previously submitted saliva for genetic testing for the oxytocin receptor gene. They then showed these videos to a group of 116 people and asked them to determine the level of empathy in the listeners. They did this with the sound of the video turned completely off. The results were that the observers with nothing else but visual clues such as eye contact, head nodding and open body posture identified the most empathetic listeners.
The surprise was that out of the 10 people who were ranked as “most prosocial,” six had the genetic trait for the receptor gene, and of the 10 ranked “least trusted,” nine did not. This is a very strong indication of genetics influencing what we think of as personality.
Empathy is an important element in sales. It’s the basis for listening and understanding. Perhaps our best sales people are genetically endowed? With genetic testing rapidly reaching the sub $1,000 mark, testing could be entirely feasible. On the other hand we could test others for lack of the gene… say some of our politicians, or perhaps your boss. Think of the grief saved if we’d tested Muammar Gaddafi. (Not to suggest a similarity to your boss.) This whole area could be a huge breakthrough.
Not convinced? Look, you knew Tommy Boy would make the sale. How did you know?
I know you’re still skeptical, and I haven’t sold you? Ah, perhaps that’s because I don’t have the gene. But you’re thinking about it.
While you wait for the test, do great things.
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