David Jacoby

By: David Jacoby on February 11th, 2016

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New Sales Hire: Industry Experience or “Best Athlete”?

Sales Management


Many sales managers debate whether it’s best to hire someone with industry experience, or a “best athlete” (someone with limited industry experience who has exceptional selling skills).

It’s an interesting dilemma. Someone with industry experience likely comes equipped with product and service knowledge, a stable of valuable contacts, and a well-honed approach to dealing with buyer personalities. On the other hand, someone with industry experience can also be very set in his or her ways. And those contacts might not be so valuable upon close examination because they may prefer to continue to do business with the salesperson’s previous employer.

The best athlete, on the other hand, has attributes that align well with your job profile and will likely perform well in any environment. We generally advocate hiring a best athlete since research tends to indicate that people who are good at selling can pretty much learn to sell anything well. That said, there are some scenarios where it makes sense to take industry experience into serious consideration.

  • The learning curve (regarding product features or knowing how to sell to high-level decision-makers) is steep and you believe it will take too long for a new hire to ramp up without industry experience.
  • You sell in an industry with a small, tight-knit network of buyers and your candidate has existing relationships with those potential buyers.

If either of these points is true for your organization, you’ll likely want to at least consider hiring an employee with industry experience in mind. Generally speaking, however, the person who best matches your job profile should be your primary candidate.

Interested in more insight about hiring Sales Managers and staffing your sales teams? Try these articles.

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About David Jacoby

As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.