Which is more important – sales ability or sales experience?

The answer in most cases is probably both, but what if you have to choose?  We would argue that capability over experience should drive recruitment decisions and these are the main reasons why:

  • Experience is only a record of the past whereas ability is a signal for what is to come.
  • Is 10 years’ experience really that or is it just one year 10 times over?  During interview you need to look for evidence of progress and development through the period. Confirm your understanding while taking references.
  • Experience of what and in what market? Is their experience absolutely relevant to your proposition and market?  Beware a candidate who may look ideal because they have worked for a company doing similar things to you and in a similar market but this does not allow for what can be significant differences in style, culture and principles.
  • Equally as important as ability are attitude and aptitude. It is common that sales people are recruited for experience and skill but when they don’t perform it is often attitude that causes them to be terminated.  So, do it the other way around; recruit for ability, aptitude and attitude and you are less likely to be disappointed.  Tools from such as Thomas International support this assessment process during recruitment.
  • That same suite of tools can be used to support development and to support a structured appraisal process. This drives individual training and development plans and provides an important and valuable input to on-going development programmes.
  • All new recruits, no matter how experienced, are raw material that you have to mould through a thorough induction and on-going development if they are to deliver at peak levels for you and themselves. If you do not mould them, they will mainly remain the same person that joined you; continuing to do what they have always done and in the same old way.
  • Finally, there needs to be a direct relationship between what you expect of them and how you reward them. The variable element of a rewards package is designed to drive people to perform as you require and as such has an impact on behaviour.  Review reward schemes frequently to ensure they match the current business needs.