What’s More Important: Sales or Technical Experience in Your Next Sales Hire?

Making a hiring decision that addresses all needs of your business takes forethought, patience and insight. You may find yourself asking whether you should focus more on sales or technical experience throughout the process, but the truth is, both are integral to success. In fact, research shows that sales experience is more important long term, while technical expertise is more important short term. Let’s go into more detail.

The question plaguing many hiring managers — not just in the Clinical Research and Clinical Diagnostics space but indeed in all businesses — is:

  • Should you hire a candidate with technical expertise and train them in becoming a great sales person?
  • Should you hire a candidate with a strong sales background and train them in technical and product knowledge?

Some say truly good sales people are harder to find than those with technical expertise, being that the ability to sell is an innate trait that can’t really be taught as readily as technical proficiency. Anyone can learn about a process, product, service or idea, but if you can’t sell that same process, product, service or idea to the public, you’re dead in the water. That’s why many believe sales experience is a better long-term characteristic than its technical counterpart.

Technical problem solvers are always doing just that: solving problems. That’s what they do. They work with things, while sales people work with other people. Those skilled more on the technical end of things can sit in a room, put pen to paper, and figure out how to solve your company’s problems, how to bring a product to market, how to get by stumbling blocks in the research or production process. However, you need someone out there on the front lines: someone who can handle the chaos and complexity of the daily grind with the fortitude to fail and get back up again — even in the face of rejection. After all, what is sales but a series of repeated attempts to find success? Personal motivation, persistence, self-confidence, people skills…these are all critical pieces to the sales puzzle.

The sales person’s role in the process is to present a product or service in a clear, concise and truthful manner yet with integrity, says Forbes, and sales people should be in the sharing business, not the convincing business. As such, naturally talented sales people will help the customer make a purchase decision, not make it for them.

Now, before you leave thinking technical proficiency is just an after thought and shouldn’t be a factor in the hiring decision, it’s still important. Just because a candidate is skilled in sales aptitude doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have knowledge of the core competency at stake. By hiring someone with a basic knowledge of the technical aspects of your Clinical Research, Molecular Diagnostics or Clinical Diagnostics business, you are using that as a foundation on which to grow their skills through ongoing training. Sales knowledge makes it all look good.

Finding that strong sales talent with at least a basic knowledge of the technical aspects of your industry or products will generally provide you with the best foundation to build upon. When interviewing, remember to look at past sales performance and solid rankings, as this is generally the best predictor of future success.