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Why are sales leaders so hung up on hiring “industry pros?”

By: Andre Greco

January 2024
Welcome to 2024! A new year filled with the joy of increased quotas, new sales compensation
plans, budgets, territories, and everyone’s favorite; new “strategies” pushed down from
corporate. So how do you go about achieving these lofty new quotas without sacrificing the
almighty CRM data entry requirement or the never-ending action packed, PowerPoint slide
driven internal meetings? That’s easy! Just go out and hire the absolute best salesperson in
your industry. Maybe even the top 2 in your industry. Right? Nope, wrong. Easy? Nope, virtually
impossible.

I’ve always been fascinated by hiring managers whose first requirement for even interviewing a
new potential salesperson is industry experience. Please help me understand why this attribute
is critical. After 30+ years of recruiting, hiring, and training salespeople, I still don’t get it. Even
more surprising is that this “experience required” mindset extends far deeper than just sales
managers and leaders.
Internal and external recruiters, human resources team members, and
even executive management; ALL have adopted this mindset as normal and expected. Over the
years I have thought deeply about this situation and the only explanation I can muster is that
those who are acting in the role of sales hiring manager are either too busy or do not have the
knowledge to train one who does not have their industries background and experience.
Let’s face it, training is time consuming and hard. But that’s the job people! Think of it this way.
Even if you bring in a candidate with industry experience, they still need training on your
products, your processes, your policies and procedures and your strategies. If all this training
needs to be done for ANY new salesperson who joins your organization, then why not consider
a different perspective. Let’s look for talent and attitude versus industry experience. Allow me
to borrow a line from Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street. “Gimme guys who are poor,
smart, and hungry….” Of course, in 2024 we need to replace “guys” with “people”, to avoid
being ostracized. But you get the point. It’s not all about industry experience.

Before we address the new way of thinking, let’s first talk about why you cannot simply hire the
best, or even one of the best, in your industry. It’s simple, they are making too much money in
their current role!! Think about it. Top salespeople have developed deep relationships with
customers. They know how their products help to solve end user problems. They know how to
optimize their incentive plan. Why in the world would this professional start from square one in
a new organization? Does it happen? Sure, it does, but it is rare. I have recruited and hired
thousands of salespeople in my career and once, yes only one time, have I been fortunate
enough to hire a rock star from a competitor. That 1 out of 1000’s. Do the math. In this

particular scenario, I happened to have an opening in this person’s geography and the person
had just had a bad internal experience and was going to make a move. I simply got lucky.

Unless luck is your go-to recruiting and hiring strategy, you need to adopt some open
mindedness and new strategies. First, you need to figure out what you need in a salesperson.
If your products require a highly technical sales process, have you considered one with an
engineering background? I know what you are thinking. Black horn-rimmed glasses, high
waters, and a pocket protector. If that is your image of an engineer, you are watching too many
movies. Highly technical products are bought by highly technical people, in many cases,
engineers. Even with as much sales experience as I have, if you put me in front of an engineer
decision maker, I’ll immediately push that sale to the “closed lost” field in my CRM. One of my
earliest sales mentors had a master’s in engineering but was one of the best salespeople I ever
met. He retired as President of a division within a Fortune 1000 corporation.

If your product is commoditized due to saturation and strong competition, considering
interviewing a car salesperson. Think about the job of a car salesperson. Not only are they
competing with other manufacturer’s vehicles, but they also must compete with the dealership
in the adjoining town who sells the exact same product they do. To make matters even more
challenging, every buyer that they come across already knows the price of their product before
they even walk on to the dealership lot. Successful car salespeople have strong transferrable
skills that can be of benefit to any company with similar market dynamics.

Unfortunately, there is more to this type of recruiting strategy than using the big job boards.
The upside is that you do not need to embark on this new recruiting journey alone. Engage the
rest of your organization especially those who are in front of your customers like installation or
service / repair personnel. These team members see your customers every day and they do not
typically interface with the buyer but rather your product’s user. Imagine hiring one of your
customers to sell for you? Talk about one who can speak to the worthiness and value of the
product. They can speak from a perspective different than anyone on your current sales team.
Tell your current employees what you are looking for. Spiff them for providing referrals to sales
candidates who subsequently join your organization.

If you are a small or medium sized business, you can engage your entire organization in your
quest to find new sales talent. All team members need to have business cards. (Yes, the paper
kind)
so when they run across one who could potentially sell your products, they can provide
contact information. I have hired folks who were waiting on me in restaurants, cell phone
salespeople, retail sales associates, and yes, automobile salespeople. Lastly, don’t discount new
college graduates. Recruiting at the local university is typically free and you can find some
amazing candidates. Hungry, aggressive sponges who want nothing more than to start in a
career and who are willing to pay their dues to get to the point where they can call themselves
a professional salesperson.

I place only one caveat on the strategy detailed above. You need to have someone in your
organization who truly understands sales and how to deliver sales training.
If you do not have
this person don’t expend the effort recruiting the “new way” because the non-industry folks
will leave, quickly. Get help. Find a fractional sales leader in your area that can make sure your
new hires stay and experience success.

xceleratesales, #findaprofessionaltrainer, #exceptionalsalesteams, #salestipsfromAndre #fractionalsalesleadership, #salesqb, #hireattitude

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