People are creatures of comfort, they stick close to what they know, and who they know, and will often go out of their way to stay in their comfort zone. Staying within your comfort zone can have a negative repercussions when hiring sales people, this is especially so for manufacturers, the trades, product specific companies, and other sectors where “product knowledge” is deemed to be important.
In many of these environments, the hiring managers will tend to look for people with product knowledge rather than sales ability. Their reason is usually rooted in the theory that it will be hard to teach someone all the ins and outs of the product. You can understand why, they know the product; they understand what the product does, and how it fits in the buyer’s shop. At the same time they have a perception that sales is about being personable and having the gift of gab, so when they find someone who can talk product, they see a good sales person.
Many have never sold, yes they may have taken orders, responded to market demand, followed up on trade show leads, or responded to tenders, but they have not out and out sold. I mean sold, as is in identifying targets, creating an action plan to engage with the right prospects, converting leads to prospects, and prospects to clients. As a result of their distorted view of sales, they hire product specialists, who run around the country side like a solution looking for a problem, and not unlike the blind squirrel who runs into a nut sometimes, these product folks too run into enough customers and call it selling.
For long-term success these hiring managers should be doing the opposite, hiring qualified and successful sales people, with product knowledge being very much a secondary factor. Of course all within reason, you wouldn’t heir a successful sales rep from Best buy to sell Gearmotors or power drives; but there is no reason not to hire a successful rep form the wireless industry or IT integrator to sell the above motors or drives.
It is much easier to take someone who is a good seller and teach them the product. Good sellers by nature have two attributes. The first is a blend of curiosity winning, they want to and like to learn how they can take something and see how it can help the client and their own company profit from it. The second is the ability to differentiate on things other than product specs. In an age where most leading products have over 80% overlap in features and specs, knowing the product and regurgitating it just like the next guy will not deliver sales, or deliver them at a discount, which is just not good for margins.
Since many hiring managers were themselves product guys in sales clothing, they will teach the rep what they know, which is product, perpetuating a cycle that address product knowledge, but not sales. So you end up with a product guy teaching the rep, all things being equal, what can he or will he teach him? What he knows of course, which is product, not really evolving the skills of the reps or the fortunes of the company. On the other hand if you had a product guy working with a good seller, you can truly create something that is greater than the sum of the parts.
One other important factor to remember, product guys, like anyone else, will stick to their comfort zone, and that means they will usually call on and try to sell to the “user”; important yes, many of them are influencers, strong influencers. But in an age where all spending is scrutinized, and decisions are made based on business benefit rather than product specs, you need a seller who can work across the buying organization, from top down, bottom up, and side to side. The one consistent comment I hear from executives in product driven companies, is that their reps are not calling on the right people. Doing that right takes an understanding of sales, not product.