Experience is a tricky component to successful sales hiring in that it is often overvalued.  Don’t get me wrong, it is important, but you never want to overvalue it.  The reason is that you can teach new salespeople about your product or service a lot easier than you can teach them how to sell.  A sports analogy (I know, often overused) – it is far easier to teach a football wide receiver what routes to run in your offense than it is to teach them how to run a 4.3 40 yard dash.  Some will simply never run a 4.3.  This is why talent is far more valuable to successful hiring.

This Entrepreneur.com article discusses this point in clear terms:

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention experience, and that is for good reason. When you find a great talent who is passionate about what your organization is doing, experience doesn’t matter. Great people can decipher what they need to learn in order to be successful. Twenty five years in the same industry or with the same company is not necessarily a good thing. It’s much harder to unlearn what you know then learn what you need to know.

Agreed.  The author discusses talent in terms of attitude, competency and mindset in an intriguing manner.  As they say, read the entire thing.

I have been swamped in sourcing activities recently and have decided to push some random thoughts up to the blog.  Here they are:

-Selling for modern-day monopolies (like utilities) is far different than selling in the highly competitive, cost conscious marketplace.  Sales candidates with these backgrounds must be screened for their ability to qualify money.  I have found that skill set lacking in these candidates.

-Why are candidates turning into stalkers?  I realize the job market is still incredibly tight, but I have come across many candidates who simply overdo it.  Sense of timing is an aptitude we assess and I am convinced it is more important now then ever.

-First impressions cannot be overstated.  I try to coach clients to let an interview run its entire course before coming to conclusions.  Still, you can tell this is simply difficult for all of us.

-Slick sells, but earthy makes better salespeople.  Some slick salespeople say the right things, have the right look, present the right topics and can’t sell anything but themselves landing on your payroll.  The longer I do this, the more I am impressed by earthy, sincere salespeople.  The recent shift to relationship-intensive sales has made these salespeople more valuable.

My apologies for co-opting Woody Hayes’ saying, but I am from Ann Arbor and couldn’t stand the guy anyway.  I’m wondering what the Great Recession is going to do to resumes.  What I mean is this – many people have shortened tenures nowadays (especially Gen Y).  3 years is turning into a fairly good tenure for a worker.

This recession has cost millions of people their jobs.  Some will have to start their work career over, essentially taking a “lesser” job and working their way up all over again.  In many instances, they will have to jump from job to job to keep moving up during their now condensed work career.

This fact is going to have repercussions for future sourcing activities.  I have already run into this issue recently when sourcing for a sales position.  An older sales manager was focusing first on tenure of candidates.  I had to quickly point out some of these facts.  He seemed to receive my input at the time, but a day later he was back on the tenure train.

Whatever economy eventually surfaces from this deep recession will contain many, many, candidates who simply lack the traditional employment longevity that was so frequent just 5-10 years ago.

We go after experience-only hiring in that it is overly subjective and wrought with pitfalls.  But that doesn’t mean experience is irrelevant.  There are certain aspects to an applicant’s history that is important for hiring decisions.

I’m currently sourcing for a mid-level, B2B sales position in the Twin Cities’ market.  Although open to less-experienced sales candidates, our customer still requires a certain level of sales experience for the position.

This requirement means that the Best Buy salespeople, car salespeople and other retail-based experience is not a fit.  I am certain there are talented salespeople within those groups, but the mitigating factor is that our client’s sales cycle is long (up to 2 years).  Although I think Lee from our company may have a buy cycle that long, most retail purchases are far shorter, even automobiles.  The onramp for this type of salesperson would be too long to navigate.

The main point in looking at experience is getting an understanding of the sales model(s) the salesperson has sold.  Was it a quick close or extended cycle?  What type of prospecting did they incorporate?  Who was the target level they approached (C-level, manager-level, etc.)?  How was their product/service positioned in the market?

Some of this information can be gleaned from a resume.  I have had a rash of electronics store salespeople responding to an ad.  I don’t have to go much further than the resume to know that I cannot place them into this level position.  That is the time when experience matters.