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How Important Is Domain Knowledge When Hiring Salespeople?

Some say that domain knowledge is essential. If hiring for a role that requires working with complex high value situations, then I beg to disagree.

The Chinese philosopher-warrior Sun Tzu has been quoted as saying that, “your greatest strength shall become your greatest weakness”.

The danger for a salesperson with high levels of domain knowledge is that they may well be drawn into telling rather than selling (see my earlier blog on sales definition). I do not say that domain knowledge is unimportant just that it is not the top criterion.

What is critical, though, is the ability to carry out what engineers would recognise as, “root cause analysis” and to have the interpersonal skills for helping prospective buyers through a process of, “diagnosing prior to prescribing”.

Domain knowledge can be acquired far more easily than can the skill of diagnosis. Effective diagnosis requires a highly developed sense of curiosity. The ability to ask questions that are judged to be “good” by the potential buyer demonstrates credibility and adds value to the interaction, to the conversation. For sure, domain knowledge is required but it is not the key as it can be acquired in a relatively short time, especially by someone who is skilled in effective diagnosis.

Making the wrong hiring decision costs as is well documented elsewhere in the public domain. Is one of the reasons, perhaps, that domain knowledge is prized over diagnostic skill?


If you are curious about this, register your interest by contacting me, John Busby, to discuss at:; + 44 7968 066 165

Copyright©2015 John Busby

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