Does Sales Experience Matter? The Tom Hopkins Story

Tom-Hopkins-ProfileIt’s a question that has been dividing hiring managers and discouraging job candidates for years: Does sales experience matter? We’ve chased down international sales expert, Tom Hopkins, to get to the bottom of it— his story might surprise you!

Alright Tom, you’ve got to have one of the best sales stories out there. Is it true you were hired with no sales experience and sold only one home in your first 6 months in real estate?

Yes, it’s true. I knew nothing about sales other than during my time as a construction worker, I noticed that salespeople dressed better than I did and drove nice cars. With my first sale, fortunately, the buyer had invested in other real estate and actually helped me fill out the paperwork in order to make the purchase. It was a real learning experience for me.

And you were averaging $42 a month in that time? What made you stick it out when you could have made more on minimum wage?

I stuck it out because I really loved meeting and talking with people. I loved hearing their stories of what home ownership meant to them. I also was getting to know my fellow real estate agents and learning from them everyday. So many of them were making full time careers of the business and I knew I could, too, if I followed their lead.

We often see smart sales professionals making hiring decisions on based on previous sales experience alone. Why is this so misleading?

Just because someone has done well at another company, perhaps with a different product, doesn’t mean they’ll do well with your product. It doesn’t mean they’ll fit in well with your company culture either. There is usually more than one reason that person left their previous position. While it’s tempting to hire someone with strong sales skills, it’s often wiser to hire people who are coachable and have positive attitudes.

What do you advise professionals struggling to find strong salespeople for their teams?

Stop struggling. Start analyzing where your last good hire came from. That’s what history is for—so we can learn from it and repeat the good parts. I also recommend using multiple strategies to establish a pipeline of people who want to become part of your team. As a manager, having good candidates to choose from keeps the existing sales team on its toes and working at a high level.

What advice would you give to someone looking for a sales career with no prior experience?

Talk with everyone you know who is in sales and learn from those people. Pay attention to the hundreds of selling situations you encounter on a daily basis. Then, prepare and practice a presentation for the product you know best – yourself. You must be able to sell yourself into a job. Tweet This!




Tom Hopkins is an expert on the subject of selling. After failing miserably early in his own selling career, he made a commitment to learn everything about the nuances of selling. Since 1976 Tom has taught over five million sales professionals worldwide those communication skills that made the difference between failure and unparalleled success. His latest book on the subject is titled “When Buyers Say No,” co-authored with corporate consultant, Ben Katt.

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Kayla Kozan

Kayla Kozan

Director of Marketing at Ideal
Kayla spent the last few years studying Marketing and Entrepreneurship on 3 different continents. Now covering the latest in predictive analytics, workplace diversity and big data. She has a keen interest in tech and discovering underrated brunch spots.
Kayla Kozan


  • Deon Aldridge

    Tom is an absolute legend and as a young 18 year old he helped set my vocational future up for the rest of my life. 30 years later I still hear him in my head and whenever former sales colleagues run into each other sometimes even years later we start taking Tom off. Tom’s comments above about culture fit, the right attitude and being coachable are so true. Many simply look for experience and someone who might do a better job at sales than they would. As clever communicators these salespeople often become a law unto themselves and the joy of having a sales expert on the team is resented after a while. The other point is that a good sales person wants to work for a good manager or owner and assist them to prosper. It’s about DNA and NOT reputation I believe.

    • Deon, “legend” is the perfect word! Glad the piece resonated with you, we’re big fans of Tom’s methodology. Thanks for commenting.