Do You Hire Sales Experience or Do you Hire Industry Experience?

This is truly one of the great conundrums of sales management. I wondered about this when I was a sales manager and still do (sometimes) and if you’re a sales manager you may wonder about it as well. Here’s the situation. You work for a company that sells a sophisticated product. It takes a rep four to six months to get up to speed on the industry, the competition, the technical aspects of the product and how different companies will use the product. You have an opening for a salesperson. The territory is remote from the home office.

Here’s the quandry. Do you hire a salesperson who has industry experience or do you hire a sales rep who you know is a sales pro but does not have industry experience? Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Hire a sales pro with industry experience. If that’s possible then do it but it’s not always possible. You may have to deal with non-compete agreements or there may not be any reps who want to leave their current employer. Or, you may have found the ideal person but they don’t want to relocate. Or, as was the case with me early in my career, my boss wouldn’t allow me to use recruiters so it was a real challenge just to find people much less the perfect one.

Let’s clear one thing up now. There are few perfect reps. And let’s face it, time can be a factor as well. As a manager you do not want to wait too long to get someone on board because the longer you wait the longer competition has to make inroads into your customers. So who do you hire? I would hire the experienced salesperson even of they don’t have knowledge of your industry or company products. Here’s why:

1. I would rather teach a rep technical knowledge vs. how to sell like a pro. Believe me, it’s faster.

2. Sales professionals will pick up technical knowkedge faster than a mid-level rep will pick up sales skills.

3. Salespeople without industry experience will find different ways to sell your product because they have no pre-conceived obstacles or other issues that industry experienced salespeople could have. (Here’s an example. This product is over priced, I can’t bring it into X company. I’ve actually heard reps say that.)

4. If you have a big region to manage I do not want to baby sit a mid-level sales person who may have industry experience but needs a lot of sales coaching and mentoring. Yes, that is your job but spending too much time doing that takes you away from other responsibilities.

5. An experienced sales professional will have a bigger affect on your bottom line faster than a salesperson without the sales skills but who has industry experience. Sales professionals make things happen because they are hunters and they focus on customer service and commission dollars.

6. Here’s my selfish reason. Experienced sales professionals make their manager look better. Nothing wrong with that is there?

7. And one more. If you tell a sales professional that it will take four to six months to get up to speed technically they will do it in half that time just to prove you wrong. Gotta love it!

Are there times when you don’t have to hire the sales pro? Yes there are. We’ll cover that in another post.

The Final Thought: The few who do are the envy of the many who only watch. (Jom Rohn)



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