Industry experience – is it really that important?

Back to hub 21 September 2017

For sales managers struggling to fill vacancies, one of the most frequently-claimed reasons for slow recruitment movement is the lack of experienced candidates on the market. In fact, nearly 90% of small business owners hiring for roles report few or no qualified applicants for the vacancies. But for every week a sales vacancy remains unfilled, the manager – and wider business – loses out on new leads, client relationships and potentially sales. This begs the question: Just how important is relevant industry experience in the world of sales?

While there are key skills and experience levels that are undoubtedly vital to some sales positions, sticking too rigidly to your expectations of how many years a sales person has spent in the industry will likely see you missing out on otherwise qualified and skilled team members. In the world of sales, the most important thing you need to succeed is the right sales DNA. We look at both sides of the argument.

Sometimes, there’s no match for industry experience

While industry experience certainly isn’t the be all and end all for a successful sales person, there are many reasons why a sales person who already has a footing in your industry will make for a sensible hire.

Sales people who have spent time in similar roles will likely have built up a solid network of potential customers who will be invaluable to your business. Organisations lose around 15% of their customer base each year, so new sales people who come with an existing base of customers can be incredibly lucrative.  Those candidates who are new to sales, or to your particular corner of the industry, will typically take much longer to establish their own networks and databases, so any relationships that are already established are an obvious benefit to you.

Experienced sales people will also bring with them a deeper understanding of different target markets and customer groups, and hopefully the ability to target and interact with different audiences. Research shows that 68% of people say that sales representatives who listen to their needs and provide relevant information are more likely to make a difference when it comes to sales time.

This is the kind of skill many sales people pick up on the job, but hiring someone who already has his ingrained level of understanding can lead to shorter training times and a more seamless transition into your marketplace and dealing with your existing customers.

When experience isn’t enough

When you focus too much on someone’s experience levels, you may miss other positive – and negative – elements of their CV and application. If you are too rigid in your approach to hiring based on certain criteria, you could miss out on talented, motivated and hungry sales people who may require a little more training, but could go on to become sales stars of the future. And just because someone has a few years’ experience of selling in your industry, doesn’t mean they have the personality, drive or tenacity required to make a positive impact on your sales team. As a sales manager, you’ll know how important cultural fit and team dynamics are in your sales force, so ensure you’re focusing on these elements as well as experience when you’re hiring.

What’s more, setting strict guidelines around industry experience can dramatically reduce the size of your available talent pool. As you spend more time waiting for the elusive perfect candidate, you’ll leave your patch unmarked and customers without a representative on the ground. You want someone creating and handling leads, dealing with enquiries and making sales as soon as you possibly can. The cost of a bad hire – or no hire at all – can run into the tens of thousands of pounds, so time is of the essence.

What does a star sales person need to have?

The importance of sales DNA cannot be understated when it comes to building up your team. There are a certain set of traits, skills, behaviours and attitudes that your top performers will possess, and it’s up to you to identify these and seek them out from candidates – often, they will be ingrained, as opposed to learned on the job.

For example, a YouGov survey found that listening skills are one of the important attributes of a good sales person – this comes down to sales DNA, as opposed to industry experience. Many of these skills and attributes will be applicable to all sales industries, and many strong performers will relish the opportunity to sell something new, to a different territory or in a different environment. This adaptability and enthusiasm is key for any sales team.

If you need a helping hand in identifying the key factors a good sales person should have to join your team, take a look at our breakdown below:

Key traits: Drive, self-motivation, resilience and an ability to build rapport
Key sales skills: Effective questioning skills, ability to identify needs and sell benefits to customers, closing skills
Key behaviours: Organisation, planning, presentation, positivity

Bringing new sales people up to speed

If you do hire someone who has less industry experience than you’d otherwise have liked to have, there are plenty of things you can do to help bring them up to speed. Start by identifying similarities in their previous roles and building on those. For example, they may have sold to similar levels before or have similar values when it comes to the sales process. Find the common ground between their past experience and their new role and develop from there. Next, invest in training and development to help fill in any gaps missing in your new sales person’s skills. Hold product knowledge sessions and ensure new sales people know what they’re selling inside and out, and strengthen your onboarding process to not only move through the recruitment process more quickly, but also get your new hires up to speed so that they can hit the ground running.

Finally, don’t forget that sales people who have different industry experience can bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to your team. While it’s important to ensure all of your sales people live and breathe your company values and products, pay attention to different approaches and experience that new team members introduce.

For further assistance on selecting, hiring and training the perfect new sales person for your organisation, contact the team at BMS here.

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