What 7 Hiring Questions to Ask When Deciding Between a Generalist or Specialist

by bhealy@educationmarketexperts.com

March 2020, Tustin, CA – Perhaps you’ve heard the term, “Sales is Sales”. In our experience at EME, we’ve learned this isn’t necessarily true for companies depending on sales to educators and the school districts that employ them. There are often many facets to a sales profession in the Education industry different from others. Long sales cycles, decision maker turnover, and complex decision making are just a few of the notable ‘facets’ reminding us that sales isn’t always sales in the education industry. Added to the complexity of driving revenue in our industry, there are many different product types requiring sales skills that aren’t always interchangeable from one product to the next.

In fact, if you’re managing an educational sales team and have the need to expand this team, you’ve likely been faced with the question, “Do I hire a generalist or a specialist?” So, we leave no room for misinterpretation, let’s further define the two. A “generalist” could be defined as someone who has sold various educational products over the course of their career. A “specialist” would be that person with specific knowledge pertaining to your product’s use case or demographic served. Here’s a couple scenarios.

Scenario 1) Company A is offering a learning management system. Do they hire someone with a successful background in educational hardware sales (i.e. generalist) or look only for those sales professionals with a proven track record of success representing other learning management systems (i.e. specialist)?

Scenario 2) Company B is brand new to the education space with a riveting classroom management solution and is considering hiring a 10-yr. veteran of education sales. While this rep has been successful selling textbooks, classroom furniture, and sports equipment, they have never sold a classroom management solution.

While its often easiest to proceed with a specialist, here are 6 questions for your organization to ponder to ensure the ‘generalist’ candidate is the right fit for your team.

Is the decision maker they’ve dealt with in the past different for your product? Be aware of who they worked with. Were they teachers, building level or district-level administrators?

How many decision makers are they accustomed to working with prior to a commitment to purchase? If your sales process has a high degree of complexity, this may also impact the number of influencers involved before a buying decision is reached. Challenger Sales says today’s buying process has an average of 5.4 decision makers.

How does your sales conversation differ from those they’ve had in their prior role? If selling your product/service requires group presentations, consider asking them to present to your team prior to making your decision.

What funding sources are they accustomed to working with and how are those funding sources different from yours? Lower-performing reps all too often don’t know how to follow the money.

How were leads generated for them in their prior role? Prospecting to self-generate leads can be one of the greatest learning tools for someone entering a new channel. But, has this generalist been forced to do so in the past?

What was their average deal size and how does this differ from yours? The greater the discrepancy between these two numbers should cause you greater hiring concern.

How do your sales support systems differ from those at their prior companies? Companies support their sales teams in a variety of ways. Recognize (early) what support this sales rep is accustomed to in order to better understand how to properly set expectations of one another.

For more best practices in hiring sales talent, please contact us at Education Market Experts. Our team has over 40 years of experience building the organizational structure and expectations needed before working with either candidate (generalist or specialist) John Maxwell says, “All is well that begins well.” Let us help you begin well.

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