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Recruit for attitude, train for experience

Recruiting great salespeople from outside the payments industry can be a winning strategy. But there’s an obvious problem: they have no experience of the industry. How do you help new hires to learn the knowledge they need to be effective quickly?

I work a lot in the payments industry, and I’ve seen this strategy work very well for merchant acquirers who want to inject some fresh blood into their salesforce.

Rather than recruiting from other merchant acquirers, payments organisations or even financial services organisations, they have successfully recruited new salespeople from other environments where selling is also complex and long-cycle, for example: recruitment, property, mortgages, leasing, advertising and IT.

This strategy might seem counter-intuitive in some ways but it works for one simple reason. It’s more effective in the long run to ‘recruit for attitude and train for experience’ than to ‘recruit for experience and train for attitude’.

If you recruit great salespeople with the right attitude they will usually take ownership for attaining all the expertise (knowledge) they need to work effectively in their new industry. On the other hand, if you try to develop your time-served ‘industry experts’ into great salespeople, it probably won’t work unless they are great salespeople already – in which case you needn’t have bothered.

Selling requires learned skills, but the majority of a salesperson’s success in the long run comes from their attitude or mind-set, which is deeply rooted in their personality attributes. That’s why you can’t easily train people to ‘learn a great attitude’ for sales, or anything else for that matter.

Although I believe the ‘recruit for attitude’ strategy is the right one for merchant acquirers, and probably most other sales organisations, the potential drawbacks are clear – even with the best attitude in the world, it can take a long time for new salespeople with no industry experience to learn the new knowledge they need.

But working in the payments industry over the past few years, I’ve found it’s possible to significantly reduce the time this takes if you provide very comprehensive training to accelerate the acquisition of the 20% of critical ‘need to know’ industry knowledge that generates 80% of the sales.

You should be able to reduce the time it takes for new recruits to pay for themselves by providing them with a more comprehensive induction training package that will accelerate their learning in key industry knowledge. In my experience, you can probably reduce the time this takes by about half.



Comments: (1)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 02 September, 2011, 20:06Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Great post, that too in an off-the-beaten-track area of sales. We come across a lot of companies who mistakenly believe that product knowledge and / or domain expertise are the most important prerequisites for a salesperson only to realize a few months / years later that selling involves, well, selling, a skill that goes far beyond product or domain. 

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