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Forward . . . Sell!

Research shows that job candidates with a military background

have outstanding sales-related traits
Want a salesperson who will thrive when employers to steer away from individuals with
your competitors are pouring it on? Need relatively little military experience.”
someone who will concentrate on improving
sales of your core products? An individual who Study goals
will focus on quantifiable short-term goals? The main goal of the project was to find and
Seek applications from military veterans. measure differences in sales-related traits
In a groundbreaking research project between two sets of candidates for sales posi-
completed in 2004, veterans who had expressed tions: (1) individuals with military experience
interest in sales careers outscored their non- and (2) individuals lacking that background.
veteran counterparts in measurements of traits The study also measured:
that correspond to those requirements. The HR differences between military officers and
Chally Group, a sales-benchmarks and career- enlisted personnel
development firm located in Dayton, Ohio, differences between individuals who served in
conducted the study with the cooperation of the armed forces for 20 or more years and people
RecruitMilitary, LLC, a Cincinnati company that with 5 or fewer years of service
helps veterans find civilian jobs. Chally specializes in business development,
The project also showed that veterans would focusing on world-class sales practices as well as
excel in working at the heart of the sales process. employment and organizational assessment and
By “the heart,” Chally refers to step (2) of the development. The firm collects data from job
following process: candidates, employees, and customers of client
(1) the pre-sale, which focuses on marketing and organizations, then interprets the data to predict
promotion both individual performance and the market
(2) the actual sale, focused on qualifying and dynamics that the organizations must address.
closing “But in this case, we were our own client,”
(3) the post-sale, focused on customer support said Howard P. Stevens, chairman and CEO of
Chally. “With the military experience receiving
Proceed with caution increased public attention due to the international
Corey E. Miller, PhD, who led the project, situation, we felt we should collect some solid
urges caution in interpreting this last result. “The data on how that experience translates into
research does not suggest that veterans would do civilian occupational skills—particularly specific
poorly in marketing or customer support,” he sales skills, one of our prime areas of
explains. “Rather, they would be less likely to commercial involvement.”
have an advantage over non-military candidates
in those areas than in the areas of qualifying and 250 people, 288 questions
closing.” Miller is a Chally Industrial For data on non-military candidates, Miller
Organizational Psychologist and an assistant and his colleagues used Chally’s archive of
professor of psychology at Wright State studies of more than 150,000 applicants for sales
University in Dayton. Assisting him in the study and other organizational positions. Chally has
were doctoral candidates Esteban Tristan and been building and refining the database for over
Megan K. Leasher. 30 years. Military experience has not been a
Miller advises similar caution in comparing factor in compiling it.
groups of veterans: “When we say, for example, For the military data, Miller’s team
that more military experience translates into surveyed people who were registered in
stronger sales competencies, we are not telling RecruitMilitary’s database of job candidates and
had expressed interest in a sales career. That On “Accountability for core business results,”
database consists mostly of individuals who are the veterans scored 68.72%, and the non-
transitioning out of the armed forces and veterans scored 55.31%, for a margin of 13.41%.
veterans with varying amounts of business On “Focus on near-term results through
experience. Candidates join the database to incremental gains,” the scores were: veterans
access job postings and to make themselves 64.68%, non-veterans 51.87%, margin 12.81%.
available to employers that search the database.
To implement the survey, RecruitMilitary Rex Caswell of LexisNexis Group, a client of
e-mailed messages to candidates who had RecruitMilitary, says that his experiences in
expressed an interest in sales, inviting them to hiring, training, and supervising veterans match
take a free assessment of their sales capabilities. these findings point-by-point. Caswell, himself a
The invitation explained that Chally would Navy veteran, is Vice President of Sales—North
conduct the assessment electronically and then American Legal Markets. He heads the
send participants free summaries of their results. Outbound Sales operation, in which salespeople
“We were delighted to participate with Chally prospect and close new business with small legal
in this project,” said Drew Myers, president of firms via telephone.
RecruitMilitary and a former captain in the The focus on resolving customer problems
Marine Corps. “We have long known that can be traced back to military training, Caswell
veterans possess characteristics that are well- believes. The key is dealing immediately and
suited to sales. Our company regularly places decisively with the problem at hand. Caswell
veterans in sales positions via our on-line says, “Their attitude is, ‘There’s a problem, let’s
operations and our contingency recruiting figure out how to fix it. Let’s let go of what
business. Now we can quantify the linkages happened in the past. I’m here to fix the problem
between military experience and sales success.” for us.’”
The assessment consisted of 288 multiple- RecruitMilitary also benefits from this focus,
choice and yes-or-no questions; Chally used the says Myers. “We hire only military veterans as
first 250 completed assessments for the study. account executives and recruiters,” he explains.
The researchers measured the candidates’ “We need their familiarity with military
responses on 150 scales that Chally had been occupations, military life, and the changeover to
using to compile sales and management profiles a civilian environment. Their focus on resolving
for its clients. customer problems is a big plus.”
The team used a margin of 10 or more “The finding on communication style fits
percentage points as a basis of comparison. For our veterans to a T,” says Caswell. “Our veterans
example, on the scale, “Focus on resolving treat their customers with the utmost courtesy;
customer problems,” non-military sales and, when they ask questions to move the sales
applicants scored higher than 44.17% of all process along, they do so without being
applicants in the Chally archive, the individuals aggressive or abrupt.”
in the RecruitMilitary sample scored higher than A competitive approach and accountability
66.77% of all applicants in the Chally archive, make former military officers highly successful
and so the difference was 22.60%. Based on that sales managers in Caswell’s operation. “First and
difference, the researchers concluded that foremost, they are accountable,” he points out.
veterans are more driven than non-veterans to “They understand and manage to results without
succeed by removing customer barriers to the excuses and without failure. They find a way to
sales process. meet their quotas despite high competitive
obstacles. Additionally, they understand the
Military vs. non-military value of ongoing training. Of all my managers,
Chally also found that military candidates the ex-officers spend the most time personally
have four additional advantages over their non- training and coaching their people to increase
military counterparts. proficiency and results.”
Among Caswell’s sales teams, the morale and
On the scale, “Cordial communication style,” spirit of those managed by former officers rank
the veterans outscored the non-veterans, 65.92% highest. “Sales managers with military experi-
to 49.51%, for a margin of 16.41%. ence take care of their people,” Caswell says.
On the scale, “Competitive approach,” the “They issue clear directives, state their expecta-
veterans finished ahead, 59.12% to 43.02%, for a tions plainly, and work with their people to solve
margin of 16.10%. problems as sales/customer situations change.”
A combination of a cordial style and a enlisted personnel tend to be comfortable taking
competitive approach is the right blend at the time they need to investigate all potential
Guidant Sales Corporation, an Indianapolis- options thoroughly before deciding.
based provider of cardiovascular products such “This research tells me that an officer would
as stents, defibrillators, and pacemakers. Guidant tend to be more suitable for a position that
representatives call on cardiologists, requires quick decisions without complete
electrophysiologists, and surgeons. information,” Miller commented. “An enlisted
“Relationship development and strong sales person might fit a position working with sales
skills are essential for us,” says Jeff prospects on which a great deal of information is
Kordenbrock, Guidant’s Manager for Recruiting readily available.”
and Internal Talent Management, and a former Innovation. Kordenbrock values the ability
Army captain. “Our business is highly of JMO’s to work in an innovative environment.
competitive, and our customers are extremely “We are continually creating new products,” he
busy. We need personable individuals who can explains. “At any given time, nearly two-thirds
keep customers up-to-date on our highly of our revenue comes from products less than 12
technical products, often working within a tight months old. The JMO’s have a desire to learn the
time frame.” products—and the business.”
Guidant has had excellent success with Working relationships. Miller and his
former junior military officers (JMO’s— associates found that officers tend to initiate
lieutenants and captains in the Army, Air Force, friendships in the work environment. Enlisted
and Marine Corps, ensigns and lieutenants in the personnel tend to be more formal, and they
Navy and Coast Guard). “Our reps are on call prefer somewhat distant working relationships.
just like the physicians who are their Thus, officers tend to be a better fit for positions
customers—24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 that require much customer contact—or a “high-
days a year,” says Kordenbrock. “The reps work touch” type of sales work.
closely with the physicians, directly consulting Team play at Guidant is especially important
with the physicians about their patients. So when in geographic areas where there are high
patient needs arise, they have to be there—and concentrations of medical specialists providing
they are. They’re used to that measure of cardiovascular treatment. “We have many
accountability, and the stress that goes along Guidant representatives in these areas,” says
with it, because of their military background.” Kordenbrock, “and they all need to work closely
together. They need to cover for each other when
Officers vs. enlisted one of them is completely occupied but another
In the comparisons between officers and customer needs to see a rep.”
enlisted personnel, the significant scores were: Standards of success. The Chally study
indicates that officers tend to measure their
Decision-making efficiency: success in terms of the goals of their employers.
Officers 51.39%, Enlisted 39.62%, Margin 11.77% Among enlisted personnel, however, there is a
Promotes growth through innovation: tendency to use their own goals. These goals
Officers 55.16%, Enlisted 43.82%, Margin 11.34% may tend to be more demanding than those of
Independent and responsible: the employers.
Officers 65.61%, Enlisted 55.35%, Margin 10.26% Setting high goals is praiseworthy, but Miller
offers a word of caution: An individual who
Need for close relationships/demonstrates works against a high, internally imposed
loyalty and commitment: standard may not focus his or her effort
Officers 60.77%, Enlisted 50.61%, Margin 10.16%
optimally to meet multiple goals of the
Team orientation: employer. “Yet, this may be less of a selection
Officers 57.96%, Enlisted 47.32%, Margin 10.64% issue than a management issue,” he says,
Self-assurance: “because all veterans have high performance
Enlisted 56.36%, Officers 44.41%, Margin 11.95% standards. A good manager will take the time to
help develop individual performance goals to
Decision-making. The Chally team maximize effectiveness.”
concluded that officers are comfortable making At LexisNexis, Caswell reports excellent
decisions when not all options can be evaluated performance among former enlisted personnel.
thoroughly or when information must be “My three sales reps who are ex-enlisted military
organized quickly and intuitively. By contrast, have achieved over 100% performance each year
they have been on the job,” he says. “They The significant scores for this phase of the
exhibited a ‘can-do’ attitude from their first day study were:
on the job. Moreover, their mere presence on a Ability to close in product sales:
sales team has greatly contributed to the team’s 20 or more 54.14%, 5 or fewer 42.40%, Marg. 11.74%
motivation. They are the informal leaders.”
Making formal sales presentations:
20 or more 52.26%, 5 or fewer 39.70%, Marg. 12.56%
Experienced vs. inexperienced
The phase of the investigation that focused on Dedicated to achieving results:
military experience turned up some highly 20 or more 64.44%, 5 or fewer 52.20%, Marg. 12.24%
specific results: For example, individuals with Positive attitude/
more than 20 years of military experience would effectively manages frustration:
tend to use trial closes early in a sales situation to 20 or more 54.33%, 5 or fewer 42.64%, Marg. 11.69%
assess customer readiness to buy. People with 5 Qualifying prospects in a concept sale:
or fewer years of military experience, by 20 or more 54.49%, 5 or fewer 39.08%, Marg.15.41%
contrast, would prefer to wait longer before
asking the customer to buy—to avoid coming Focused on job effectiveness and efficiency:
across as too pushy. This comparison suggests 20 or more 60.25%, 5 or fewer 44.76%, Marg. 15.49%
that individuals with more military experience Takes positive approach to customer concerns:
may fit better into positions in which the sales 20 or more 74.71%, 5 or fewer 63.58%, Marg. 11.13%
cycle is fairly short, and in which buyer readi- Willingness to serve all types of customers:
ness can be determined early in the sales call. 5 or fewer 53.82%, 20 or more 40.11%, Marg. 13.71%
The more experienced group is also
comfortable taking the time to prepare an Focused on quantitative results:
5 or fewer 65.70%, 20 or more 55.18%, Marg. 10.52%
organized, well-thought-through presentation,
while the relatively inexperienced group would
prefer to share information more spontaneously. © 2009 RecruitMilitary, LLC
In addition, the study showed that individuals
in the 20-plus group are comfortable cutting
through administrative red tape to obtain results.
The less experienced are comfortable achieving
results by working within the boundaries of the
system. “We’re not suggesting that the more
experienced individuals would break any rules,”
Miller explains. “Instead, they would tend to get
on the phone and ask the manager for some slack
on a small issue when they are dealing with a
very large customer.”
Military personnel are willing to help their
buddies at work, but the two groups have
different preferences. The more experienced
personnel prefer to share their expertise with
colleagues who have already mastered the basics
and seek advanced learning. The relatively
inexperienced people are comfortable coaching
novices by addressing basic issues.