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No Experience Required

I did have the one element necessary to all early creativity: naivete, that fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.
–Steve Martin (Born Standing Up)

A few weeks ago I shared my presentation on the eleven attributes that all successful people share and the ten sales skills all successful business-to-business salespeople possess.

The success attributes are self-discipline, optimism, competitiveness, initiative, determination, resourcefulness, caring, empathy and emotional intelligence, communication, influence, and passion.

The sales skills are closing, prospecting, storytelling, differentiating, diagnosing, negotiating, business acumen, change management, leadership, and owning outcomes.

One of the people looking at the list asked a great question, and one I have been asked a few times before. He looked at the list of success attributes and said: “Where is experience?” I told him that experience isn’t a prerequisite for success. He was incredulous.

Successful people aren’t constrained by a belief that they need experience to succeed. They set their sites on some goal, some outcome, then they take action and move towards those goals. Because they don’t believe that experience is a necessary component of success, it isn’t. They go and succeed and make progress long before they gain experience.

But even though success in sales doesn’t require experience, it does make up a big part of the business acumen and situational knowledge that gives the salesperson the ability to create value for their clients. It is important that a salesperson gain experience over time.

Too many sales managers and sales leaders place far too much weight on experience. But it isn’t the best indicator of future success. There are countless sales managers that have hired poorly by looking first to experience. The success attributes listed above are better indicators.

Business acumen can be gained through education. Situational knowledge can eventually be gained by experience. But the foundational attributes are more important, more difficult to identify, and much more difficult to train, improve, or develop—even though it can be done.

You can succeed now. You can succeed long before you have what others would believe is the necessary experience. No experience is required.

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  • James Dabbagian

    Experience is a good meter of knowing what will work and what won’t. I agree that experience shouldn’t be the cause-all, end-all for a job or not, but it helps you realize if you’re about to make a serious mistake.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      No doubt that experience is very helpful, James. Some think it is the be-all, end-all for hiring, and some think they need it in order to succeed. Both are mistaken.

  • Leanne Hoagland Smith

    Just curious how many sales training coaching firms such as AMA highlight those skills given all their “experience” within the sales training industry? My sense is very few.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      My guess is that it’s not many. I wrote this little post for two groups of people.

      The first group believes that they need experience to succeed. They don’t: they just need to dive in to the deep end of the pool and get busy.

      The second group believes that experience is a shortcut to hiring well, ignoring the fact that it isn’t the best indicator of success (ask anyone who has hired and they will recount countless stories of hiring a great resume only to be severely disappointed).

  • Marc Zazeela

    Great piece, Anthony. As Steve Martin said, being naive can be a blessing. If you think you need experience first, then you will.

    More and more, I use kids as examples. Would inexperience stop a 6 year old kid from getting on a bike for the first time? Would it cause a 10 year old to reconsider skiing?

    Not likely. Be more like a kid; curious and naive. Ignorance is indeed bliss.


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  • Jonny

    Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before he succeeded. Henry Ford, wealthiest and most successful man on Earth, had bad schooling, no experience, yet he made it happen. Experience is a good thing to have, but when it’s all employers look for, it is completely unfair. Think about how many drop outs there are, that can actually succeed and make it big, but they dont get a chance to, because they havent had a good education or little experience.