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Sales Associate Skills: What They Are and How to Test Them
Sales associates usually work in B2C retail environments. Throughout the day, they can play numerous roles and employ a large number of sales associate skills. Compared to other sales roles, in associate sales, employees focus less on prospecting new customers, managing pipelines and sales, or dealing with business development. Sales associates are somewhat the interface between clients and sales managers. These employees are crucial for retail businesses because they provide customers with consultation and support and are responsible for others’ shopping experiences. In this framework, we have to know the most important sales associate skills, how we assess them, and what decisions we make regarding pre-employment tests.
What Skills Are Required for Retail Sales Associate Jobs?
As it goes with all jobs, recruiters must test for position-based skills/technical and soft skills. The sales skills overlap across all sales positions. An employee with experience in client acquisition can easily work in a position of marketing or management. A retail sales associate is a person who answers questions, provides assistance to customers, manages inventory, presents the merchandise, convince clients, process payments, and more. For this reason, when we assess and recruit candidates for such roles, we need to identify and assess both technical and soft employability skills. So let’s see the top hard skills and job-related abilities you have to watch for and test!
Technical/Hard Sales Associates Skills
Hard skills in sales include technical, formal, academic skills learned by employees in educational environments, workplaces, training courses, workshops, seminars, etc. It means that recruiters and companies can test for specific ability skills related to the use of software, CRM/POS programs, product/inventory knowledge, objection prevention & management, and so on. On the other hand, we all know how crucial cognitive skills are for job-performance prediction, so you can add a few tests to the pre-employment assessment phase to evaluate the following skills:
- Critical thinking;
- Decision making;
- Information processing speed;
- Cognitive thinking flexibility and control;
- Verbal reasoning;
- Reading & writing reasoning;
- Numerical reasoning;
- Auditory reasoning;
- Work and long-term memory;
- Considerable attention skills, etc.
Depending on the job description and the job candidate profile, you can use inventories and test batteries to assess other cognitive skills. However, if you want to screen candidates and make sure future sales associates will become future rock stars at their job, you can assess their computer literacy skills. After all, in today’s world, some of the most vital sales associate skills have everything to do with computer technology and information processing.
How Else Can You Test Cognitive Sales Associates Skills?
For a more in-depth evaluation of hard/technical sales associate skills, you can also use a data entry typing test, especially for sales associates who deal with client support. Companies and recruiting agencies sometimes employ a multitasking test (but apply it wisely, as it can lead to inconclusive results). Moreover, standardized attention to detail test – crucial sales skills no matter the job title – and more.
As you can see, assessing technical sales associate skills for employment is not difficult. Depending on the job’s roles and responsibilities, you can apply tests and inventories yielding standardized and actionable results.
One of the critical issues when testing candidates for sales jobs is to identify and assess soft skills. You know we are talking about a blend of personality traits, interpersonal skills, a growth mindset, and other subtle characteristics that differentiate talented salespeople from the rest.
What are the Soft Skills in Sales that We Assess?
Soft sales associate skills should be the focus not only of recruiters but also of companies. After all, they are responsible for training and coaching their sales teams. Both hard and soft skills are trainable, but it is always great to select candidates who already display them and use them properly in the retail environment. Let’s see a list of soft abilities, traits, and features of outstanding sales associates that we need to pinpoint and assess.
1. Communication Skills
As you know, we consider communication skills to pertain to personality. We had talked about communication recently when we discussed interpersonal skills. You will understand quickly that many sales associate skills (and all soft sales skills, for that matter) have everything to do with building and maintaining authentic interpersonal relationships.
In sales – especially for beginner sales associates – communication takes all shapes. For this reason, you should assess candidates on all communication dimensions: verbal, written, auditory. Moreover, suppose you hire sales associates who spend most of their working hours in face-to-face interactions with customers. In that case, understanding body language is a crucial component of any in-person transaction.
As you know, some of the most crucial communication abilities include:
- Active listening – especially essential for customer objection handling;
- Negotiation skills – necessary for the entire sales process through and through;
- Assertiveness – for the situations in which sales associates have to deal with difficult customers and engage all their conflict resolution powers.
2. Emotional Intelligence
Understanding clients, emphasizing with them, meeting them halfway, and making the best decisions describes a good salesperson in general. While it is difficult to properly convey empathy and manage other peoples’ emotions in online communications, it is not impossible. Luckily, psychology and human resources have plenty of instruments to assess emotional intelligence objectively, just as they do with cognitive intelligence. As a short reminder, emotional intelligence taps into self-awareness, self-regulation, intrinsic motivation, empathy, and other social skills.
It is clear as daylight that emotional intelligence has a huge impact on sales. Studies report that the World Economic Forum ranked emotional intelligence as one of the most important skills by 2025. It influences professional success, revenue generation, promotions, and employees’ salary increases. Here is what business experts say about EQ in sales:
Emotional intelligence is a valuable skill to have in any career but even more so in the sales industry. In a job that requires the ability to break down barriers with total strangers, overcome objections, build relationships, delay gratification, and make connections, it’s easy to see why the ability to control emotions and respond appropriately is important.
If you want to assess emotional intelligence in general, you have plenty of means. For sales jobs – whether sales associates, representatives, or managers – an aptitude and interpersonal skills test is the shortest way to achieve results.
3. Time Management
One of the most sought employability skills in the retail industry, time management, is a transferable skill you would like to find present in candidates, even if they can train and develop it as they work. Regarding sales associate skills, time management is a deal-breaker for many. Overloaded with tasks and duties, sales associates need to have an understanding of prioritization and habit formation.
In our modern working environments, sales employees have many resources to help them manage time better. Nevertheless, among the many assessment strategies you can employ, time management and simulations are the easiest to use.
Rarely a sales assistant – or any salesperson – will work alone. In sales, teamwork is crucial for success. When sales employees (no matter their roles or ranks) work together, it alleviates pressure and improves job performance.
Even if we have a nostalgic memory of the good old “salesman” pitching products with unencumbered confidence and an infectious smile, things have changed tremendously. We need good teams in any industry and line of work. As opposed to what makes a good team that pushes an organization towards success peaks, a bad team can bring down any company, big or small. An interesting viewpoint comes from Mark Thacker, a Forbes Councils Member. In his opinion,
Good teams are comprised of helpful, collaborative individuals whose team-first attitudes scale to organization-wide success. They work together across boundaries, sharing key information and best practices. They are highly functional, with personalities and communication styles that mesh well and complement one another. This feeds a healthy environment where productivity flourishes. Members of a good team understand and work collectively and collaboratively toward a common goal where group achievement is an important part of individual success.
The examples offered by Thacker continue, but you get the point. Good teams accomplish more, faster, with sustainable results, while everybody has a good time working and growing. Isn’t it a beautiful definition of having a great job?
Assessing teamwork goes well when you design work simulations where you can observe candidates interacting and cooperating. While you cannot make term-long predictions on peoples’ behaviors, you can select candidates who show a significant inclination towards teamwork in the pre-employment assessment stage. Combine direct observations with personality tests yielding results pointing towards teamwork, collaboration, motivation, conscientiousness, and more.
You know you have to assess as many interpersonal skills you need to pick the best candidate for a sales job. But integrity is difficult to identify, assess, and train. Under the umbrella-term “integrity,” you find an entire universe of personal world views, values, personality traits, soft skills, attitudes, behaviors, and aptitudes.
However, when it comes to sales associate skills – and sales skills in general – integrity is a highly praised one. It is one of the many secret ingredients that build beneficial customer relationships, organizational success, and, ultimately, outstanding reputation. You can evaluate integrity in a handful of ways – overt and covert tests, extended interviews, etc.
On the other hand, we recommend using a standardized integrity test to screen candidates and keep on the shortlist the ones you want to see for further testing.
Assessing Sales Associate Skills: The Instruments
Recruiters usually have pre-made assessment batteries for all jobs and positions. Sometimes, they have to combine instruments and expand their evaluation strategies by including or removing some tests. However, we all strive for reliability, standardized results, and actionable outcomes. If you want to hire talented sales associates, we recommend you use our Sales Ability Test. You can use it for other roles in retail and connected industries, but you can start with it and continue with our Sales Personality Test and Sales Predictor Profile. We will discuss them in detail later.
The Sales Ability Test
The test allows recruiters and executives to measure candidates’ overall sales knowledge and abilities. This component helps with hard/technical skills testing. Of course, if you want to evaluate specific skills, you can use separate tests and correlate results.
The Sales Ability Test also has a personality assessment component, allowing you to understand whether a candidate shows traits fitting to a sales role (understanding and connecting to human nature). Lastly, the battery also has a cognitive assessment section. In this way, you can get fast and accurate results you can use to make comparisons between applicants.
If you want to learn more about interviewing salespersons, we recommend listening (or reading) our podcast with Justin Weeder, a sales coach that needs no presentation. As we all know, the interview is an extremely powerful lens through which we can learn more about and understand candidates.
Do not fall into the trap of asking applicants questions related to job experience. In sales, you can hire brilliant salespeople, yet they have never worked in the industry for a day in their life. Beyond traditional interview questions, you should also use behavioral questions. In the right hands, they can offer tremendous insight into a candidate’s personality, behavior, work ethics, values, integrity, interpersonal skills, and more!
Sales is a tough and competitive field. Significant turnover rates are not a surprise to anybody. You need people to deal with different customer personalities, temperaments, and attitudes. To top that, salespeople need to coordinate perfectly with their team members and managers, perform many tasks, learn a lot, and still keep their cool.
Remember that when you hire a talented sales associate, you are looking for the next sales manager, so do not neglect other soft sales associate skills: leadership, motivation, conflict management and resolution, and more!
Did you ever assess sales associate skills? What sales ability test did you use? How would you approach a full evaluation in the pre-employment phase? We would love to hear more about your experiences in the field of sales skills testing!
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