Sector Experience – The Be All and End All?

Neil HartleyHiring ChallengesLeave a Comment

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At The Right Five, we deliver candidates for interview that we know have the skills required to succeed as the first Sales hire in a B2B tech startup. We call them Pathfinders. All you have to do is choose the one that “fits best” (we’ll come back to that).

These candidates have the requisite all round sales and marketing skills together with the, less tangible, deep skills necessary to deal with the startup environment. Having the best closing salesperson in the world isn’t going to work if they can’t deal with the lack of structure inherent in the vast majority of startups.

The online assessment and rules engine at the heart of our solution will test your candidates against both the vocational and deep skills. However, classification as a Pathfinder is not dependent on achieving a particular overall score. There are components, such as the ability to deal with ambiguity, that are considered ‘must-pass’. Scoring high across the board but failing a must-pass element will lead to the classification of a candidate as a Non-Pathfinder.

So, what do we mean by “fits best”? That may be a culture fit with the team, or perhaps a dovetailing of skills between your existing team and a particular Pathfinder (you will see all the strengths and weaknesses of candidates via your Client Dashboard).

But what about sector experience? By ’sector’ we’re really encompassing both the industry sector (government, healthcare etc.) as well as expertise of the domain into which you’re selling. How important is it that a candidate has experience of the sector your startup operates in?

For industry sector, if you’re targeting government with a heavily regulated procurement process, then prior knowledge of this is way more important than, say, when selling into publishing companies.

For domain expertise, selling a product that’s all about productivity improvements in full-stack software development is going to demand at least a thorough understanding of the language of discourse if not direct coding experience. Contrast this with a startup offering a solution that improves project team performance. Much easier to pick up the language of discourse, right?

Ultimately, only you can gauge the importance of ‘sector’ experience for the first Sales hire in your startup. However, what is indisputable is that a Pathfinder without sector experience trumps a Non-Pathfinder with sector experience. It’s a common mistake for founders making this first Sales hire that (not really understanding the role, the skills required, nor how to assess for those skills) they fall for what we call “The Rolodex Kid”.

In they come, Big Co. sales experience behind them, n years of over-target achievement and all the contacts you’ll ever need in your sector. The Rolodex Kid is in town! What could possibly go wrong? Well, you don’t have a brand and they’re very used to selling off their Big Co. brand. Nor do you have a Marketing team feeding them leads, or the structure they’ll likely need to support their sales activity, etc. (and etc. is a big word in this context).

The first Sales hire for a B2B tech startup needs to be a Pathfinder. Period. If sector experience is essential then you need to find a Pathfinder with that experience. Whatever you do, do not hire a Non-Pathfinder just because they have a great Rolodex. That’s a pathway to failure.

The question that remains is do you process for sector experience on the front-end or on the back-end of your hiring process? Meaning, do you stipulate that sector experience is essential in your job ad or do you review your Pathfinder resumés in your Client Dashboard to decide which has the best fit with your sector and, if necessary, hold off making a hire until you find a really good Pathfinder match?

Again this depends on how critical that expertise is. We would recommend leaving the door as far open as you can on the front end so that you get a good flow of candidates through the door (don’t forget The Right Five system deals with Non-Pathfinder communications for you). People are busy, really good people are really busy. If you stipulate that 10 years of XYZ experience is essential in your job ad, then you may lose a really good candidate who qualifies themselves out because they only have 5 years relevant experience. How about using terms such as ‘preferred’ rather than ‘essential’ in these situations?

It’s all subjective and specific to your situation. What isn’t subjective is that you need to get a Pathfinder through the door to take up the charge as your first Sales hire and develop that predictable, repeatable, scalable and profitable Sales process that becomes the foundation of your scale-up phase.

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