Sales as a profession is having a renaissance of sorts. Oft-maligned in popular culture, sales is an increasingly popular career among young professionals, and for good reason. Sales jobs are increasingly lucrative and available. A sales manager, for example, can expect to earn a $140,000 salary and enjoy significant benefits. And the field is expected to continue growing.
A great position for those looking to make a career change, sales reps have a level of control over how much they earn, and they usually get quick feedback on how well they’re doing. Many reps also travel, work with senior leaders at many companies, and enjoy a nice dinner or three on the company.
Interested in Sales? Start Here.
To become fully versed at selling, preparation is key. Read books (like “The Challenger Sale” or “Never Split the Difference”) and blogs, listen to podcasts (like “Sell or Die”), and attend local meetups for salespeople. Most importantly, talk to other sales professionals — it’s important to become comfortable with the industry language.
Once you have a baseline understanding of the profession, you can delve into areas of the job that you find the most interesting. Top industry blogs like Salesforce and HubSpot provide sales expertise that allows you to explore the different roles and responsibilities available to you, describe stages of the sales funnel, explore tools and strategies, and discuss best practices.
There are many tracks and specialties available in sales, but the main entry points fall into two buckets: sales development and sales analytics. In development, you’ll provide the first-touch outreach to clients. This involves a lot of phone, email, and social media work, which is great for those who love people, have a knack for communication, and don’t mind occasional (OK, frequent) rejection.
As an analyst, you’ll be much more data-dependent, evaluating process and using technology to be an all-around technical resource for the sales team. Choose the entry point that speaks to you.
Advice for the Newly Minted Salesperson
If you’ve decided that a sales job is the next step for your career, how do you get the best start in this new phase of your life? Here’s a good guide for navigating that first year on the job.
1. Get all the training you can.
There are plenty of free resources available to you to get your training started, but you might also consider getting some formal training to give you a boost, both during hiring and once you arrive on the job. If it’s your first sales role, showing that you’ve done the hard work is a great signal to employers that you’re taking the profession seriously.
You could find a sales “bootcamp,” do a short online course on Excel skills (this is especially important for sales analytics, operations, and leadership) or CRM technology, or enroll in a longer program that offers job placement help after graduation. There are also many sales-related groups where you can learn from folks with sales experience, like Sales Hacker.
For my first sales job, I went through an 11-month training program at Cisco, which largely covered product and technical concepts, but also how to present, how to pitch, and how to navigate complex client problems, among other things. It was a very effective accelerator for my career.
2. Explore your options.
Sales isn’t homogeneous — every market and product present unique challenges. Some companies provide prep and on-the-job training, and others throw you to the wolves on day one. It’s important to evaluate companies upfront to determine the level of support you’ll receive.
A few things you should evaluate, either before or during interviews, are team culture and who your manager will be, company culture and how well employees are supported, the company’s position in the market, a typical day for your role, sales quotas and whether salespeople are meeting them, growth paths for successful sellers, and compensation.
Few roles, especially early in your career, will check every box, and you’ll need to make a decision that weighs the trade-offs. By doing sufficient prep work, however, you minimize your risk of starting your career on the wrong track.
3. Give it a year.
Once you’ve decided on a sales career, it’s tempting to try to make everything happen at once. But taking time to transition, learn, and adapt to your new position will be crucial to your long-term success. And jumping out too quickly can have a negative impact on finding another job down the road, according to one survey of recruiters.
Although entry-level sales roles might be lucrative compared to other entry-level jobs, they require a lot of work that often isn’t fun. But try to stick it out and keep learning. You’ll get great experience and learn a lot about what you like (and don’t like) for your next career opportunity.