In the latest of our regular DUST polls (Decidedly Unscientific Sales Tally) several hundred loyal readers of the Zero-time Selling blog and visitors to the Zero-Time Selling website gave us their opinion on the following sales question:
When you hire a new salesperson, which of the following is most important to you:
1. Sales Experience
2. Industry Knowledge
3. Rolodex of Contacts
The results of the DUST were as follows:
Industry Knowledge – 50%
Sales Experience – 33%
Rolodex of Contacts – 17%
I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by the results. If you look at them, you would say that it was encouraging that so many people appeared to have their priorities in order. However, my concern is that my loyal voters may have projected their desires onto their answers rather than reflect their actual practices.
For example, it has been my experience that too often hiring managers are easily seduced by the lure of hiring a salesperson with a fat Rolodex of contacts. (Why is it these seem to be the same people wearing the Rolexes…) Part of the attraction is that it provides intellectual cover to the hiring manager when the Rolodex rep invariably fails to meet expectations. “Hey, the guy had incredible contacts with all the customers we want to sell to. What else did you want me to do?” And, perhaps most importantly, hiring a Rolodex is easy for the lazy or timid CEO and Sales VP. It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise serious business people are willing to make a critical business hire solely on the basis of appearances, instead of taking the sometimes uncomfortable step of doing an in-depth interview, reference check, resume scrub and even testing of a sales candidate.
Similarly, it has been my experience over decades of experience hiring salespeople, and advising CEOs/Sales VPs on sales hiring, that it is very rare for a hiring manager to value industry knowledge over sales experience. Except for the instance when the hire is made from within the organization, I have never seen a hiring manager hire an outside candidate with product knowledge but little or no sales experience over the candidate with sales experience but no product knowledge. The issue is one of risk. Hiring managers not only assess the risk of the candidate becoming a successful member of their sales team, they also calculate the personal risk to them of hiring someone that doesn’t pan out. Hiring someone that doesn’t fit the normal sales candidate “profile” takes a manager with conviction and a thick skin. (Even with inside hires, it usually takes a lot of selling on my part to help the hiring manager understand how the upside can outweigh the downside risk.)
As selling increasingly shifts from the field to an inside job, the value of hiring expertise over experience is a debate that is worth having. When your relationship with your customer is one step removed from face-to-face, what are the qualities and characteristics of a salesperson that your customers will value most? My experience has shown that customers value substance and service most of all. Give them an inside seller who can answer their questions in Zero-Time and they don’t care if they ever meet them in person. In this case, what is the value of the Rolodex and what is the value of sales experience?
So, did the voters in this latest Dust-up project themselves onto the answers they wanted? It appears that they may have succumbed to temptation to do just that. But that is okay. Changing behaviors is a process that takes time and we can work on that together going forward.
If you have a take on this issue, I like to hear it. Please email your thoughts to me at [email protected].
Talk to you soon.
Andy Paul is author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales. A sought-after speaker and business coach, Andy conducts workshops and consults with sales teams of all sizes to teach them how to use responsiveness, speed and intelligent processes to increase sales. Enjoy what you just read? Sign up for our regular digest of valuable Zero-Time Selling sales tips and strategies, “Selling with Maximum Impact.”
© Andy Paul 2013