Field Sales: When Domain Expertise Does Matter. Just Don’t Over-Index.
Imagine you are selling a $100,000+ product and you yourself as CEO/founders have limited knowledge selling to the customer base. You’ll be very tempted to hire someone with a seemingly magical rolodex.
What doesn’t work for sure in selling Big Deals is hiring someone with (x) no domain expertise / rolodex who also (y) has also only sold small (e.g, $10k) deals.
Because reps with a lot of industry experience in bigger deals don’t always quite have the rolodex they claim — but they often can bring you at least 1 or 2 strong leads. At $1k a year, so what? But at $250k a year, those two ringer deals can more than justify the hire.
At least in the beginning, in the first 3-6-9 months.
Rarely have I seen a sales rep’s enterprise rolodex from past jobs really bring in more than a couple of deals. But I have seen those couple of deals alone be worth millions over the lifetime of those customers. I’ve experienced that myself. So my vote is to try both types of field reps in the early days, if the ACV is large.
- Hire the best AE you can find with deep industry experience and see if she can quickly bring in 1–2 strong, qualified opportunities from her network. Even if she isn’t great for your company at this stage … those 1–2 deals may be.
- And also hire the best AE you can find just with general software sales experience at your price point. You’ll lend up hiring a “better” rep here that the one with the rolodex — because you won’t cut her or him slack for the domain expertise.
See who does better. Maybe both perform.
For highly transactional sales, ignore this advice. Too many leads, too much velocity, for the rolodex to matter. And lack of domain expertise per se — you can pick that up in 60 days, if there is enough support from the rest of the team.
But running a quick experiment on if a seasoned AE can quickly bring in 1–2 big names, at least as far down the pipe as a qualified opportunity? It’s not that expensive, not really. Just be rigorous about judging the experiment quickly. That qualified opportunity from her rolodex should come fast if she really built a few strong customers relationships in her past roles. If those 1-2 prospects from the prior days don’t come in fast, they’ll never come in at all.
So judge the experiment fairly quickly, and make sure The Other AE you hire is even stronger in pure sales skills. And don’t just hire one. Hire both. More on that here.