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Industry Experience vs. Sales Management Acumen – Which Is More Important When Hiring A Sales Manager?

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The CEO of a 10-year old IT services company has begun recruiting for a Vice President of Sales role which has seven outside salespeople reporting to it. Of the seven, five have been with the company for more than four years. Most of the salespeople on the team have over ten years of industry experience. The prior sales manager was let go as the last three annual sales targets have been missed.

During the recruiting process, two candidates, Jamie and David, were identified for this position. The CEO likes them both, but for different reasons. And, he has concerns about both.

Jamie has been in a sales role for the last fifteen years in the industry selling for the competition, and quite successfully. She has been a top performer wherever she has worked. However, she has never been in a sales management role and that is a concern for the CEO. While the industry knowledge and connections are attractive, can she build and a team to achieve the desired growth numbers?

David comes from outside the industry, but has a strong track record of building strong sales teams. He knows how to build process, use metrics to analyze sales effectiveness and is a solid coach.  While the CEO is enamored by his sales management acumen, he is concerned about David taking over a veteran team when he has no industry background. Can he get the team to follow him when they know more about the industry than him?

The CEO really likes both candidates, but can hire only one of them. Which one (if either) does the CEO hire and what affects your decision?