Hiring Sales Talent: Wisdom from a CEO of VISA on Hiring Well

When hiring sales talent – it’s wise to always remember where “experience” fits in the order of priority.  This is one of the most counter-intuitive things that many average CROs/VPs of Sales in B2B SaaS may not get but some of the experienced great ones definitely know.

I was reviewing Trish Bertuzzi‘s book where she mentioned a quote by Dee Hock, former CEO of VISA:

Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.”

This is so true but very contrarian and counter-intuitive to most inexperienced VPs of Sales or CEOs in B2B SaaS who don’t have enough experience hiring sales professionals before:  “last and least, experience“.

A lot of companies and CEOs I advise have done the opposite in their paste – they over-index on experience.

Yet I’ve hired many extremely talented people without any experience who were far better than some peers with experience – I wrote about this in the past.

Note that Dee Hock says to hire for integrity and motivation (and capacity to learn) ahead of experience. “Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.” This is very true.

I would agree that the few times when you should look for experience is when you need existing relationships to sell large enterprise solutions or when you are selling a very specific complex product in pharma or financial services (like some complex securities such as foreign exchange SWAPs that require specializes knowledge).  Everywhere else it’s fairly easy to teach about the industry and the product as well as selling skills (especially the latter – because it is not trained well in many prior jobs anyway).