Would Your Sales Teams Pass the Marshmallow Test?

Marshmallow Test

In the early 1960’s, Walter Mischel, professor at Stanford University conducted the infamous marshmallow test.  Mischel and his team of researchers tested four year old children on their self-control, a skill often referred to as Marshmallow Testdelayed gratification.  Each child was presented with a marshmallow and given a choice:  eat this one now or wait, and enjoy two marshmallows later.

His research showed that children displaying self-control at a young age achieved more success as they moved into adulthood.  They typically scored 200 points higher on SAT scores and enjoyed more professional and personal success.

So what does grabbing marshmallows have to do with hiring good salespeople?  Perhaps everything.

Here are three places where poor self-control impact sales outcomes. 

#1:  Prospecting.  The sales manager works with the new hire on designing a sales activity plan that insures a full sales pipeline.  The new hire is pretty good at executing the sales activity for the first month.  Then the need for instant gratification kicks in.  The marshmallow grabbing salesperson  doesn’t take the time to calendar block time for proactive business development each week.  The only plan being followed is the ‘what am I going to do today’ plan.    Prospecting efforts are inconsistent and so are the sales results.

#2:  Skill Development.  The salesperson connects with a prospect; however, the conversation is short, stilted and non-productive.   Marshmallow grabbing salespeople don’t and won’t take time to practice and hone their selling skills.  The salesperson possessing delayed gratification skills will put in the work of practice to earn the reward of a conversational and relevant sales call.

#3:  Major Account Selling.   Elephant hunting takes time.  There is no room for instant gratification in the pursuit of large deals.  The high self-control salesperson puts in the time on pre-call planning, designing effective questions and value propositions to uncover the gaps in the competitor’s services.   They take time to meet with multiple decision makers.

The marshmallow grabbing salesperson looks at the work required in pursuing the big deals and give into the pull of instant gratification.  They pursue low hanging fruit, rather than big deals.

Apply self-control and design several interview questions to test for delayed gratification skills.   Let your competition hire the marshmallow grabbers.

Good Selling!

Category : Sales

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About the Author: Colleen Stanley

Colleen Stanley is President of SalesLeadership, a sales training and consulting firm. She is author of Growing Great Sales Teams, and writes a bi-monthly column for business journals across the country. For more information, co

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  1. Josh

    September 14, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    I have not thought about using the Marshmallow test to grownups. It is a good indicator on ones personality though.

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