Should I Hire Technical Skill or Sales Skill?


Finding a salesperson that combines specific technical skills along with strong sales skills is rare. It usually boils down to an either/or, rather than, a both/and choice.

On the one hand, do you need someone who can converse comfortably with a customer engineer, or do you really need someone who can find new business and get more business from existing customers? Clearly, there is a risk on both sides of the equation. You need to clearly define what you are looking for in your next salesperson.

Invest time at the front end of your search. Develop a profile of the skills and personality you need in front of your prospects and customers. Will your new hire spend the majority of their time searching for new business, or will they be deeply involved in technical, product/process discussions, with current customers.

Broadly speaking, you have three options:

Option 1: Go after a candidate with extraordinary sales skills. They could be from your industry, or from an unrelated industry. You want someone to open doors, get appointments and establish relationships. You have technical staff to follow in behind that know your industry, the technology and how it all works. Your new hire will pick up enough technical knowledge along the way to keep them out of trouble and know when to call in reinforcements.

Option 2: Hire a really good, well respected, technical expert from your industry. They know all the pluses and minuses of the every product on the market. The downside is they have neither the desire, nor ability, to find new customers and new markets. You will need a solid support team behind them.

Option 3: Search for the “purple squirrel” who has that magical combination of the first two options. This usually means identifying and then stealing someone from a competitor.

Let’s look at each option in reverse order.

Option 3: Stealing a competitor’s MVP is costly. It is likely that concessions will have to be made. You are betting their MVP can bring a book of business with them. Initial cost will be high as well as some intrinsic risk of developing a prima donna. Also, remember to check for non-compete covenants with their current employer.

Option 2: Signing the industry expert will give you some nice short term media buzz. This option sometimes works in small and medium size businesses where access to the ultimate decision-maker is easier. Gate keepers are minimal, decisions are made quicker and the sales process shorter. If true selling needs to happen, you’ll encounter some problems.

Option 1: Our experience has shown this option to be most successful in the long run. Bringing in the veteran will be a little more expensive, but return on your investment should be shorter. Finding the up and coming younger salesperson gives you an opportunity to train them in your process and culture. Your commitment to training will be critical to success.

Most importantly, begin your search knowing what you want.

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