I just moderated a panel where the topic of hiring industry experienced technical people for sales positions came up. I also recently had the same discussion with several clients.

Why are many sales organizations interested in moving technicians into sales jobs? I suspect it is because the job market is so tight that it is difficult to find and attract quality salespeople.

Key Question: Do you think it is easier to hire a great salesperson and teach them your products and services? Or is it easier to hire a great technician and teach them to sell?

I am always going to come down on the side of hiring the best salesperson you can find. Then…

  • Provide them with your products’ and services’ key differentiators from the perspective of the client.
  • Equip them with stories of success.
  • Arm them with the best most comprehensive list of questions to ask to enable them to truly understand the issues, the problems and the compelling reasons to do something, and do something now.

Other Considerations:

  • Do you have the infrastructure to teach someone to sell from scratch?
  • If you are considering promoting a technical individual to sales and they fail in sales, what happens? Can they go back to their old position or will that be too embarrassing? Will you now be down two individuals?
  • Will you feel obligated to make them successful and harm other salespeople on your team in doing so?
  • Will you have the patience?
  • Will they have the grit to hang in when the going gets tough?

Better Options:

  • Increase your recruiting efforts to find more top-quality salespeople (call us – we know what to do).
  • Pay more for better salespeople. As long as you are diligent and precise in your hiring practices, and have a culture that attracts the right kind of sales talent, you can pay up because your turnover will not be high and your sales will increase (we can help with this too).
  • Examine your sales managers. Do they need upgrading to attract, coach, and retain the best sales talent? (oh yeah, we can help with that too).
  • Charge technical people with upselling or cross-selling your products and services and see how that goes. Be sure to set goals and requirements.
  • Have “Sales Engineers” support non-technical salespeople. Get the finest salespeople you can to ask the majority and best questions they can of prospects, then have them bring in the technical expert “Sales Engineer” to provide expertise and credibility.

If You Do It Anyway, Watch Out:

  • Be careful of the technical person who just wants to make more money. Most everybody on the outside looking in thinks that selling is easy. “It’s just about making friends and talking to people, right?” Wrong.
  • So, beware the individual who wants more money and more freedom to manage their own time, but does not realize the countless hours it takes beyond a “normal” workday to generate adequate sales. Look out especially for the person who believes sales is easy and will give up when they aren’t having immediate success.
  • Most individuals have only encountered sub-par salespeople. It is likely that any technical person who is not skilled at selling consultatively already – in asking great questions and in listening deeply – may not understand how to sell in today’s environment.
    • They won’t know that it isn’t about trying to convince people to buy your products and services because they are the best.
    • They won’t realize that just telling prospects about your features and benefits won’t convince them to buy.
    • And if they are comfortable being the technical “expert” in your arena then they may suffer from needing to be the “know-it-all.” They may not work in sales.
  • While technical experts with industry experience might be viewed as having credibility and can earn trust and respect, can they influence the prospect to say “yes”? Can they hang in there when the prospect tries to stall or brush them off?
  • Frequently, technically minded individuals are very meticulous in their purchase style so they don’t recognize that the prospect might be fibbing and trying to blow them off when they say: “Let me do some comparison shopping and I will get back to you. I like what you have but I just need to check the boxes.”
  • If you are interviewing technical people for sales roles, you need to be incredibly expert at behavioral interviewing. Don’t convince a technical person to go into a sales position. Challenge them as to why they would be successful. Ask what exactly will they do to produce enough opportunities to create success? Go deep on the questioning. Beware stumbling across someone who you like and comes from the industry but has no tangible selling success.