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Hiring for Sales: Technical Skills (Industry Background) or Sales Skills?

“Do I hire for sales skills, technical skills, or industry background?”

How would you answer? Hiring for sales is difficult. There are very few people with sales degrees out of college and a large percentage of the sales candidate pool has experience in multiple industries.

In a perfect world, one would find a candidate who possessed all three. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), the business world isn’t perfect, especially sales.

In 2016, a major trend within sales organizations is occurring: retirement, turnover, and needing to onboarding new salespeople. More than half the organizations that The Millau Group speaks with is initially concerned about losing their top reps to retirement and questioning how to fill gaps in their sales team.

I recently spoke with two sales leaders of different industries who asked “should I hire the young, hungry candidate or stay status quo in the “safe” industry experienced veteran who knows the ropes of products and application?”

I answered: “hire the sales savvy, hungry, eager to sell candidate. You can teach application and technical product knowledge, but being process oriented as a salesperson is a must.”

Technical product sales are particularly bitten by this dilemma because of their history of hiring some type of engineer background candidate that understands product function and application. The issue is engineer-minded people don’t often have a “knack” or grip on the “what” and “how” of selling. However, very process-oriented individuals are candidates a sales leader can use to their advantage.

Selling should not be known as an “art” anymore. That’s what causes variation in how salespeople sell and sales managers manage. Organizations need a process to determine the “what to do” and a methodology to determine “how to do it.”

Here are 4 hiring questions to help you determine if the candidate is driven for a successful career in sales

1) What do you do that presents the most value to your customers or potential customers?

2) What do you think is the most common reason you’re not successful at getting the order?

3) Describe an area in selling that you might engage with a manager about or look for coaching on.

4) Describe a situation you’ve been in when you needed to disengage with a customer or prospect.

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Colin Longren

Colin's "secret sauce" to success is focusing on the 20% of sales conversations that bring 80% of the value to salespeople and leaders. Colin sells, facilitates, authors sales workshops, and expands the business for TMG. He strives to continue to hone his craft and also pay it forward. His favorite sales topic to discuss is Trigger Events and coaching salespeople to understand reasons for a change.