Hiring Dilemma: Sales Skills Vs. Technical Expertise
Question: Which of these two choices is more likely to result in an effective salesperson:
• Hiring someone with technical expertise and training them to become a salesperson,
• Hiring someone with sales aptitude, and training them in the product knowledge and technical aspects of the job?
Answer: That’s simple. I think you are almost always better off hiring someone with sales aptitude and educating them in the technical part of the job.
Number 1: In any population of people, there are far more people with technical aptitude than there are with genuine sales aptitude. So, good salespeople are harder to find than good technicians. That’s one of the reasons why a good salesperson earns more than a good technician.
Number 2: Sales is a more difficult job than engineering, technical repair, or any of the other highly technical professions. Technicians invariably work with things, and things have reliable and known characteristics. Salespeople, on the other hand, invariably work with people. And each individual person is an ultimately unknowable combination of thoughts, feelings, values, goals and beliefs – incredibly complex. Now add together a group of people in the context of a business, and you have a very difficult and complex situation, full of unknowable variables.
If you can find someone with the qualities to handle this chaos — the discipline to work an unsupervised effective work week, the personal self-image strong enough to withstand daily rejection, the personal motivation to press on no matter what – then believe me, training them in technical details is the easy part.
Number 3: Technical people who become salespeople almost always view their job as essentially uncovering technical problems to solve, and then proposing solutions to those technical problems. While this is a component of the job, it dramatically limits the salesperson’s effectiveness.
Those of you who are familiar with my “peeling the onion” analogy will recognize that “technical problems” are very near the surface of the onion. As long as a salesperson views his/her job as that of finding solutions to technical problems, they’ll never penetrate to the heart of a customer’s goals and motivations.
While technical problem solvers are working at the surface of things, the professional salespeople are working with their customers on systems and partnerships.
The largest sales I ever made were always at deep levels in the organization, where systems, corporate philosophies and values were more important than technical issues.
Number 4: Finally, from a very pragmatic point of view, it is easier to educate someone in product knowledge and technical applications than it is to train someone in sales skills. Ultimately, product knowledge and technical issues are just knowledge, and knowledge can be acquired. Sales, on the other hand, requires a complex combination of aptitudes, motivations, beliefs, concepts, skills, processes and tools. You are far better off hiring someone who has the raw material to develop into an accomplished salesperson, than someone who has gained knowledge, but doesn’t have the aptitude.
Having said all that, I have one last thought. Don’t think that just because someone has sales aptitude they don’t need instruction in the competencies that make one an effective salesperson.
Just like any other profession, there are specific competencies that effective sales practitioners practice. You can make a person’s success in sales far more likely by seeing to it that they are trained in those competencies and then stimulated to continually develop their skills than if you expect that they will learn by trial and error.
I’m often asked if I can make everyone into a good salesperson. My response is that I can help everyone sell better. However, to reach the superstar level, you have to have the aptitude to start with. For example, on a scale of one to 10, I can take a one and help him become a three. I can take a three and help him become a five. I can take a seven, and help him become a 10. But I can’t make a one into a 10.
If you want 9s and 10s, you have to start with the aptitude. You are almost always better off hiring someone with sales aptitude and educating them in the technical part of the job.
Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales educators. He’s written nine books, presented in 47 states and eight countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine, and visit his blog. More than 1,000 sales managers have been trained in his Kahle Way Sales Management System and his Sales Resource Center has online training programs to get every salesperson closer to being a 10.
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