Industry experience is overrated


I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen this happen.

A company needs to hire a new strategic sales or marketing role. They’re looking for a certain skill set, sure, but prioritize industry experience. They want someone with a long history in the (insert industry here) space, who knows the players and influencers and channels, basically someone who can bring that knowledge and use it to accelerate their early success.

But it rarely works.

Industry experience isn’t nearly as important as most companies and hiring managers think it is. There’s no question a pre-existing knowledge of a particular space can help. But too often, that experience from past years doesn’t always translate to what’s working right now. And if you’re hiring a salesperson or executive based in part on their industry rolodex, that pipeline “halo” doesn’t last very long.

Just because you’ve been in the industry for 10 years doesn’t mean you know how to sell. In fact, your relationships might mask the fact that you aren’t able to replicate those results at a different company.

Just because you know all the trade magazine editors doesn’t mean you can recreate a fundamental marketing plan in an entirely different environment.

More important than industry experience is a solid, proven understanding of the fundamentals of sales and/or marketing. If you understand how to build a customer-centric marketing plan, for example, you’re going to prioritize getting to know the customer first anyway. You’ll already, naturally gain the customer and industry knowledge you need to execute. And your execution fundamentals are going to lead to far better short-term and long-term strategy and results.

Industry experience often feels like the safe hire. But the results after a few months don’t always bear that out.