The Myth that Industry Experience is Needed in a Sales.

Is industry experience an important criteria for hiring salespeople?

It is a common belief among business owners and senior sales leaders that industry experience is the most important criteria for evaluating a sales candidate for a sales role in their company.  I could not disagree more. Compatibility with your selling environment is much more critical. 

Let’s say you sell commercial integrated security products to institutions.  Is it more important that a salesperson knows about cameras, access control, and intrusion equipment, or that in the past they called on Directors of I.T. and Facility Managers in healthcare, and educational institutions?  If their “Rolodex” is filled with the same decision makers your team calls on, that is more important than knowing how a DVR works with an IP camera.  

If the salesperson does not have 7 years of product knowledge, they will be in a position to be more consultative in the sales approach. Asking more “why questions.”  Talking about the features and benefits of your access control software only commoditizes the product, and doesn’t allow your unique value to shine. Your salespeople are not going to increase win rates or shorten sales cycles by talking about how great your product is. 

Below, I have shared 6 areas that correlate to sales success at your company and carry more weight than industry experience. My partners at Objective Management Group did some analysis and showed how the compatibility competency of our assessment data correlates to the total scoring competency that predicts success.  

Here is the data:


The takeaway from this chart is simple.  Elite salespeople are 41% more compatible with their selling roles than the bottom 50% of salespeople. So what?  Compatibility with how your company takes your product to market, how you pay them, and the overall selling environment supports success! 

Six Key Factors to Compatibility and Your Selling Environment.

Consider the questions you ask when interviewing a sales candidate. 

  1. Sales Cycle. A salesperson might be used to a short sales cycle of under 45-days, and your sales cycle is 10 to 12-months. This adjustment will be difficult for a salesperson.  They are used to winning more frequently. 
  2. Sales Complexity.  A 3 call close requires fewer skills than one with multiple customer stakeholders with different concerns. The complex selling environment requires organizational skills, patience, and ability to navigate politics in an organization.
  3. Money Tolerance.  The bigger the deal size, the more important a salesperson’s comfort level is with discussing budget, and having enough budget.  Some reps believe $1,000 is a lot of money.  If your offering requires a budget of $50,000, this will get in the way of their effectiveness in the new role. Their Sales DNA matters. 
  4. Price Point.  If the sales candidate is working for the low price provider in your industry, and you have a premium product with premium pricing, they will struggle to close deals.  They will have difficulty adjusting to a value based sale, and will keep asking for discounts.  
  5. Sales Culture.  Great sales managers provide a lot of coaching and accountability.  Elite salespeople love this environment.  They hold themselves to a high standard, and appreciate the advantage they get from coaching.  Weak sales people see this environment as “micro-management.” Is your new salesperson coachable?
  6. Compensation.  This is not just about what they can earn, but the structure of the compensation plan.  A rep who is used to a bigger salary than you offer, might not be a fit for a comp plan where they can earn 2x as much with commissions and a small base salary.



Your interview process should be structured.  This means asking all candidates a set of questions to ensure fit and compatibility of the sales role at your company. Structured interview questions are great way to reduce bias in your hiring.  Giving the interviewer the questions and the answers to understand what a good answers is greatly reduces hiring mistakes.   

I am not discounting experience in a highly technical niche.  Industry experience should be a data point in your decision criteria; just not weighted as heavily as most business owners, sales leaders and human resource professionals believe.

If you would like some guidance with creating a few structured questions for your sales hiring, please reach out to me here.  In 30-minutes we can establish structured questions that help you find sales superstars that will be successful at your company.  


In the next few weeks, I doing an Event – A Free 5 Day Challenge to Hire Your First or Next Sales Superstar Hiring.  I will  give you everything you need to go hire a sales superstars!  July 10th to 14th.  You can hold your spot here.