How Much Sales Experience Do You Really Need?

iStock_000005178212SmallMy next door neighbor, Jack, is putting a new, fancy deck on his house – again! I say “again” because Jack put a deck on his house four years ago. Only, it didn’t quite work out the way he wanted for two reasons.

The first is that Jack, above all things, is a really nice guy. So nice, in fact, that without getting additional bids, he gave the deck job to a close friend of his son who had just started his contracting company. I knew then that the deck was more than the contractor could handle. It took way too long to build. After all, should it really take three guys two weeks (working every day) to build a twenty by forty foot deck? I don’t think so. So now Jack has called in the “A” team to (re)build his deck and it should be finished by any day now.

The second is that Jack is frugal. As a matter of fact, to say that Jack is frugal is a bit like saying the Queen of England is a “little British.” You get the idea. Jack has been known to hire workers who may be the cheapest, but certainly not the best. Last year he hired a real amateur to trim his beautiful trees. Two hours into the project, he had to stop the guy. The certified arborist he hired to correct the damage done had his work cut out for him.

I know some managers who are like Jack. They’ve hired people they know who don’t have the right amount of experience for the job. Or, in an effort to save money, they hire people who don’t have the experience they need but who fit into their budget.


I get asked all the time by sales managers when they are hiring, “How much experience should my salesperson have?” It’s not an easy question because the amount of experience is truly based on your company’s situation.

What do I mean by that? I mean that the higher the stakes for being successful right away, the more experience you should require. For many small companies, there is very little of what I call “sales infrastructure.” There is also a critical need to generate revenue and there may even be cases where there is no sales manager. In these instances, hiring people with more experience is a necessity.

I actually have a formula that looks like this:



  • Large companies have lots of resources to support their sales efforts. So, they can afford to hire people with minimal sales experience. Companies like Oracle, Pitney Bowes, ADP, etc. have the infrastructure in place to hire candidates straight out of college, or with just a few years of experience, and make them successful within a short timeframe. They can also afford to hire ten people knowing they will only keep six.
  • Smaller companies don’t have the infrastructure, so they must hire people who can be successful right away without those resources. They need to hire experienced salespeople and managers. They also can’t afford to hire three people to keep one or two.

Here are the four elements of sales infrastructure:

1. TRAINING: Onboarding new salespeople means giving them more than sufficient product and sales training. Many established companies have a week-long program for product training (depending on the complexity of the solution) and at least that long for sales training.

Even if a salesperson has been successful before, this important component cannot be overlooked. Thorough training in the beginning goes a long way towards guaranteeing immediate sales results. If you don’t have a training program in place, you need to hire a more experienced salesperson who can get up to speed fast.

2. SALES TOOLS: Salespeople need to have the right tools to get their jobs done. (I wrote about this before in “Eating Salad with a Spoon.”) They need presentations, scripts, videos, power points, RFP forms, etc. You wouldn’t expect your CFO to do her job without the appropriate software and reporting systems. Don’t expect your salespeople to “wing it” when it comes to the right tools. If your salesperson must spend time developing sales tools, you need to hire one with more experience. You also will need to adjust your expectations regarding revenue generation if people are spending time developing the right tools.

3. MARKETING SUPPORT/LEAD GENERATION: Marketing drives sales. Marketing infrastructure includes programs that create name recognition, lead generation and fulfillment efforts, trade shows, inbound and outbound marketing, etc. If these components are in place and your marketing department is a “marketing machine,” you can afford to hire salespeople with less experience. If, however, your marketing efforts aren’t strong (or worse, non-existent!), you really need an experienced salesperson who will have the patience to manage both marketing and sales.

4. ONGOING SUPPORT AND SALES MANAGEMENT: There is nothing, simply nothing, more important when you are hiring a sales team than to provide the full time and attention of a manager who can hone their skills, drive their motivation and get great performance. I see top salespeople coming from large organizations because these companies have a veritable army of sales managers, regional managers, and district managers who have all risen through the ranks and are now teaching the new recruits.

If you do not have a solid sales manager or managers in place, then you need to hire an experienced salesperson who can manage himself to the numbers and know what motivates him to reach his goal.

Jack is christening his deck next weekend with a neighborhood lobster and mojito party. He drops his frugal ways and throws a mean party – hopefully for his sake he won’t be doing his deck over again anytime soon. But, from where I stand, I guess I wouldn’t really mind!

This entry was posted in Hiring Process. Bookmark the permalink.