It’s natural to think that hiring a salesperson with experience in your industry is a good thing. The truth is, however, this kind of conventional “wisdom” can end up destroying sales, crushing employee morale, and threatening the very existence of your company! Our Advisors at Sales Xceleration tell us again and again that hiring a salesperson based on experience in your industry seldom works. Here’s why:
Why Industry Experience Doesn’t Add Up to More Sales
It might seem surprising that industry experience is not that valuable – or that it can be detrimental – for a salesperson, but here’s why that’s true:
The Recycled Salesperson
Salespeople who seem to float from company to company within an industry might be experts within that world, but might not be so adept at sales at all. Think about it. If they are so valuable, why do they move around? Why are they available? Are they really worth the price you might have to pay, especially if they are prone to moving on so frequently?
The Pied Piper Doesn’t Exist
One reason business owners are tempted toward hiring a salesperson away from a competitor is the notion – the belief – that the salesperson will bring customers along. This is seldom true. Customers are human; they don’t like change. When a sales rep leaves, that forces change upon the customer, but unless the customer is truly dissatisfied with the product or service formerly represented by the salesperson, they are not apt to incur more change and tag along.
Same Old, Same Old
Salespeople with direct industry experience are usually expected to hit the ground running, providing speed-to-revenue while helping save on training expense. However, these industry-experienced people sometimes bring bad habits with them and may be very close-minded to doing it a different way “than it has always been done.” Are they likely to become more innovative and energized for the long term just because they switched companies? Probably not.
Your Industry Might Not be as Different as You Think
We hear this one a lot: “My industry is different.” Really? Is the sales process truly all that different based on the products and services in your industry? Are the buyers in your field wired so differently that they only respond to highly specialized industry-specific sales strategies and methods? Does your business need another person who is an expert in your product, services or industry or does it need someone who has an accomplished background in driving new business in any industry? The truth is that while industry knowledge is important, it is not usually the most important criteria in sales success. Our licensed Sales Xceleration Advisors confirm that sales competency and a proven track record in achieving strategic sales goals tops the list of desirable salesperson qualifications. Next in priority is how the salesperson fits in with your existing employee culture. And then comes industry experience. If the first two are missing, however, your sales effort will be in trouble regardless of how much industry experience your new salesperson brings.
Industry Knowledge Can be Acquired More Quickly than Sales Acumen
I’m not just saying this because I am a sales leadership professional; I say it because my experience – and the collective wisdom of our Sales Xceleration Advisors – bears this out: It can take 10 to 20 years to become truly great at sales; but most proficient salespeople can learn enough of the required industry knowledge in three to four months to move the sales cycle to the point where you can bring in an industry expert. What’s more, acclimation to your products and services typically goes hand-in-hand with your normal onboarding and orientation process anyway.
A Better Way for Hiring a Salesperson
What we’ve found in serving hundreds of small- to medium-sized businesses with outsourced sales consulting services is that when hiring a salesperson it is best to expand your search from a talent pool to a talent ocean. Hire the best salesperson you can find. Period.
In general, we’ve found that superior sales skills are transferable from industry to industry. However, it is wise to look for a track record of sales success in achieving goals with the particular types of sales methodologies you are confident will help your company compete and succeed. For example, if you need an inside sales professional, look for an inside sales superstar. If you need someone who can nurture prospects into customers over a long sales cycle, find someone with a history of success doing that. If you need a proven salesperson who can cover a multi-state territory, look beyond the borders of your industry.
Simply put, a top salesperson who consistently achieved over 100% of their quota has the skill set and discipline necessary to achieve the same results anywhere. Beyond this, top salespeople capable of switching industry focus can bring fresh perspectives and creative approaches necessary to expand your sales reach beyond the status quo.
When it comes to hiring a salesperson, you need the best sales talent available, regardless of their industry background. Limiting your search to the “usual suspects” can destroy sales, upset the balance of your company culture, and threaten the survival of your company. On the other hand, expanding your search can land you a superior sales professional who brings years of success based on years of honing their craft. Sales professionals who have sustained success across industry borders not only have transferrable skills; they also possess the kind of adaptability and flexibility necessary to get quickly up to speed and produce results in competitive markets.
To learn more about how Sales Xceleration can help you find and onboard superior sales talent, and establish sustainable sales programs, contact an Advisor today, or give us a call at 1.844.874.7253.