In the past, the safest way to hire a senior salesperson was to select tightly from within the industry. And on a good day, the salesperson would bring you a “book of business” – in more innocent times when personal relationships meant customers would follow a salesperson to different companies across the industry.
Hiring from within the industry works better when it’s a Level 1 sales role i.e. involves a mix of account management, order-taking, fire-fighting, troubleshooting and servicing. Busy, interesting work, that is relatively attractive and mildly stressful at times.
If the sales role involves new customer acquisition, outbound prospecting and business development, hiring from within an industry or sector is not the primary driver of the success of the salesperson. That’s because these roles require new customer acquisition skills, which the majority of salespeople in every sector don’t have or don’t have to a sufficient standard and have no desire to learn.
What’s far more effective is to look for the fundamental skills required to hunt and to close new business, skills which are incredibly scarce, but transferable across sectors, industries, geographies and cultures. These never change; prospect selection and qualification, lead generation, securing meetings with strangers, teaching people why changing is necessary, building the pipeline to withstand losses, a rigid daily routine and being able to move from failure to failure, without loss of enthusiasm.
The easy choice is to select from familiar comfort zones; you’ll get a quicker and usually cheaper hire.
The best choice on the other hand, takes longer and will probably cost you a bit more, but will pay off sooner and for longer.