Why it doesn’t matter and what you need to look for instead.
Have you ever noticed how sales recruiters always seem to be looking for someone with industry experience? Maybe you also prioritize industry experience over Sales DNA…
Yet, when it comes to hiring the best salespeople, it’s important to note that experience matters less than you might think. In fact, there’s evidence that industry experience, while it may help, could actually be a bad thing.
Read on to discover how you can avoid making a costly sales hiring mistake.
Why sales experience is important.
There are different kinds of experiences you could get with a company, and in the context of sales, they include having sold a product or service before, selling in a certain type of industry (e.g., tech or education), or working for a specific type of company (e.g., multinational corporations or small businesses).
Sales experience is not just about closing deals or having a full contact list. It means knowing your customers and their needs inside and out so you know what they’re looking for and can solve their problems. At its core, sales is all about helping prospects navigate the sales process and get to a “yes!” for your company.
The most successful salespeople are also able to go out and “hunt” for new clients and accounts – they aren’t content to rest on what they’ve already established.
While industry experience is one of the most common requirements for sales jobs, it isn’t necessary! It may be detrimental. Let’s talk about why…
The difference between true sales and account management.
There is a difference between sales and account management. And there are two wildly different skill sets needed to optimally perform these roles.
“Sales” is what occurs when a potential customer wants or needs your particular service or product. They may seek you out, or in most cases, a salesperson or your marketing strategy will let them know that your business is the solution to their problem. Think of this as a “hunt.” It is an active process that has a finite endpoint (the successful closing of the deal).
Account management is what occurs after the client, customer, or prospect has made a purchase. It is the nurturing, strengthening, and deepening of the relationship that keeps them content and happy to buy from you over and over.
Most people who claim to have industry experience in sales really have experience working as account managers. Unfortunately, in our experience, it’s unlikely they can transfer their skillset into bringing in new business.
If you don’t generate enough sales by bringing in new accounts, you will be unsuccessful in scaling your business, no matter how good your team is at managing the current accounts you have. For this reason, it is unwise to trust that someone with only an account manager skill set will be able to successfully perform in a sales hunter role.
Just because a potential sales hire comes from your industry doesn’t mean they can sell!
It’s a common misconception that if you’re in a particular industry, you’ll automatically have sales experience. Many times I’ve seen sales candidates who seem great on paper and even did well on our hiring assessment, only to have them be a huge disappointment when the first phone screen rolls around.
The reason is that selling is a particular skill set – either you have it, or you don’t! While someone may have picked up some skills, intuition, and knowledge of the industry while working at their previous employer, it doesn’t mean they have the strong Sales DNA required to go out there and sell.
You can teach someone about your industry and your unique selling proposition, but it’s very hard to coach someone who has weak sales DNA.
Their ramp-up time may be shorter, but can they effectively communicate with your target audience and sales leadership?
Depending on your target audience, you might find that your prospect doesn’t care to talk on a technical level with your salespeople. With that said, we often find that most salespeople with industry experience are only able to talk with prospects at a technical level – based on how much knowledge they have about the industry vs the strategic things the prospect truly cares about.
I like the saying “It doesn’t matter what you know. It only matters what your customer knows and cares about.” If you hire someone with extensive industry experience, and they want to demonstrate their expertise to a group of decision-makers who are focused on strategy, metrics, and the bottom line, you have a serious communication issue on your hands!
Additionally, new sales hires with previous industry experience may bring in a lot of bad habits. Worse, they may show up with a chip on their shoulder, not looking to be a part of the team you have built.
It can be hard to get them to do things your way. They think they’re the expert, and can oftentimes be difficult, if not impossible, to manage. This can create serious issues for your sales team and can lead to feelings of resentment, anger, and frustration for all parties involved.
Most of the time they will bring over existing relationships…and that’s all they’ll ever do.
They won’t get out there and hunt for new business. They lack the skill set to get out there and create relationships with new clients. Sure, the contacts they initially bring in may offer you a temporary boost, but what happens in a year or two?
As we discussed earlier, most likely if they have industry experience, they were acting as an account manager, not a salesperson. If they don’t have the skills to go out and find new business, the loss of one of their clients can have a disastrous effect on your revenue, and they won’t be able to fix it.
It’s a recipe for stagnation at best, and declining revenue at worst. You are much better off having someone without any contacts who has the ability, desire, and drive to continually bring in new clients so your business can continue to scale and grow.
What should you look for in a sales candidate if you aren’t hiring on industry experience?
Business owners must understand the unique role sales candidates play in an organization, the specific needs of their customers, and the importance of the work they perform. Sales representatives must also be able to effectively communicate and sell to buyers.
Candidates must demonstrate a high level of interest and enthusiasm as well as the ability to adapt to change and deal with the unexpected. A solid understanding of selling principles, sales cycles, and business models is essential for any sales professional.
Following our scientifically backed sales hiring process ensures you end up with only the best candidates, regardless of the level of experience they may have within your industry.
It’s important to know that not all industry experience means what it seems. You need to know what industry experience matters when you’re hiring a new salesperson.
If you find yourself with a candidate in your hiring pipeline, who has significant industry experience, but you’re unsure whether they’ll be the right person, contact me here. I’ll be happy to set you up with a free trial of our Objective Management Group assessment.