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Do You Have Experience Or Experiences?

by David Brock on September 4th, 2014

I spend a lot of time interviewing candidates.  They may be for sales or management roles.  Past work experience, what they’ve done, and what they’ve taken away from those experiences are important to me.  I, also, spend a lot of time mentoring people, helping them grow and build their careers.  Experience and experiences are important–but they are different.

Usually, they present me a rich array of experiences.  These days, I see people may have 6-8 jobs in the past 10 years.  They present the experiences positively:  “I achieved quota 8 of the past 10 years.”  “I was the top rep in ……”

They describe the movement from job to job.  “I kept getting better opportunities…..”   Sometimes, “The company was really struggling and most of the sales force was laid off…..”  We’ve all been through those.

But I keep going back to the number of jobs they’ve had in past years, and regardless how great the opportunity has been and how great the performance has been — even when verified, I wonder, “Do they have experience or experiences?”

I believe each of us needs a certain amount of time in a role to know the results we claim to have produced are truly what we have done.

Think about it a moment.

We join a new company.  However experienced we are it takes us at least 90 days to find out where the bathroom is and to start to understand what we sell, to who, and how things get done.  We may have been lucky and inherited a bit of a pipeline so we have some deals to work on, but if we are in a complex B2B environment, we have to start prospecting, qualifying opportunities, and closing deals.  To do this systematically and repeatedly–knowing we can make our numbers will take 9-18 months.  So it generally takes a year or more before we can start producing results at the right levels.  Yes, we may be lucky and get some deals earlier, but we’re not interested in luck, we’re interested in consistent, sustained performance.

And then there’s the question, “Can you do it year after year?”

So when I look at people who’ve average times in a role of 18-24 months or less, I wonder, “Do they really have experience?  Have the proved themselves?  Can they consistently produce results?  What happens when they get their teeth kicked in?”

Recently, I was coaching an ambitious sales person.  She had been with some hot mid-stage technology companies.  In the past 4 years, she had been with 3 companies.  She said that she kept finding great new companies and opportunities to grow.  She could point out a lot of things she had done with the 3 companies, she was very articulate about deals she had done and how she won them.  But I was worried about her.  Was she sticking around long enough to really prove herself—even if only to herself?  Was she collecting a lot of experiences but not building experience–the ability to consistently perform, the ability to deal with adversity and overcome it.  Was she having the opportunity to fail, learn from it, learn how to recover from it?

I’m not going to bring up the loyalty argument here—many managers would naturally be concerned with, “Will this person be loyal and stick around long enough?”  It’s a fair concern, but if we are to have it, we have to also be “loyal” to the people we recruit, committing to them if we expect them to commit to us.  I’m not going to get into that here.

For me the real issue from a personal point of view is, “Has the person really been fair to themselves, are they building deep experience?”  We don’t build experience moving job to job.  We build experience over time in one role.  We know the results we have produced are a result of our efforts, not luck, not the work of the person immediately before us.  We know that we can sustain that over time.  We know what adversity is and how to learn and recover from it.  We’ve had some bad years, we know what it means and what to do.

From an managerial point of view, we want someone that’s had that experience, not a collection of experiences.  We want to know the results they’ve produced are a result of their own abilities and leadership (personal or team).  We want to know it’s not just a product of being in the right place at the right time?

So each of us has to reflect, are we building experience or experiences?

As managers we have to determine which is the best for the roles we are recruiting for.

  1. Brian MacIver (@Palayo) permalink

    Dave, yet again you touch on a KEY Sales Performance Area, RECRUITMENT and shine the light of Insight on it! Thanks.

    I have repeatedly looked for a correlation between Tenure [time in Sales] and Sales success in the following year,
    to NO avail.

    However, I gave free access to ‘MacIver’s Algorithm’ to ‘predict’ Sales Success during the first year after hire.

    This simple 3 factor: ABC
    gives a clear ‘indication’ of likely Future Sales Performance.

    • Wow Brian, I read the post. It’s really an interesting approach. I have to roll it over in my mind a bit. Thanks for sharing.

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