Welcome to the third in our series of blogs giving you the lowdown on some exciting careers. This month, we take a look at sales.
Why sales is a great career
The word “sales” may carry a few negative connotations for some people, but sales today is a mature business function that has had to evolve with changing customer needs, buying behaviour and increasingly complex business models. As a result it can be a sophisticated and demanding career – not to mention extremely rewarding.
There’s an element of sales to most jobs (another blog in itself perhaps!) and a lot more to sales than meets the eye, meaning that it can suit a surprising range of personality types. My own role at 1-1 Recruitment is essentially a sales role, but I don’t think anyone would describe me as a salesperson!
Sales is central to the success of most commercial businesses and can be an accessible but challenging career in which you are judged on your results.
Mythbusting - the commonest misconception about this job is…
Vague ideas about hard-headed “sales animals” have created some assumptions (occasionally accurate but often not) about sales jobs.
Although there are still roles that involve making a lot of cold calls, a lot of sales today is more about building relationships with customers, managing accounts, understanding their challenges and providing solutions. It can be a very consultative job with a strong element of customer service. If you swop the word “sales” for the phrase “providing customer solutions”, you get a lot closer to what many salespeople really do today.
Salespeople often need to be very slick at presenting, articulate, and good at planning and pipelining.
What qualities do you need?
“People buy from people”, sometimes phrased as “People buy people”: it’s one of the most well-worn phrases in business simply because it is true. It means, basically: if they don’t like you, they won’t buy your product or service.
To be good at sales today you have to be great building relationships. That’s why the most underrated skill in sales is listening. You’ll need great communication and presentation skills (of which listening is one). Sales also requires discipline, commitment, resourcefulness and a flexible mind open to learning: you will need to develop a very sound understanding of your product/service/business and clients’ businesses.
You also need to be honest and able to manage customer expectations – not to mention good at establishing rapport.
In sales, you need to thrive under pressure and you simply must be resilient. You need curiosity – you’ll be working with customers and solving their problems and need to identify how, whether and where you can help them. A natural thirst for this knowledge will help.
What qualifications are available/do you need?
One advantage of sales is that there isn’t normally a qualifications-based barrier to entry for what can be a financially rewarding job.
As we’ve seen, people buy from people. This applies to getting a job in sales perhaps more than any other business function: an interviewer will judge you on how likeable you are when you interview, because if you impress them, they’ll believe you can impress their clients.
So if you have no sales experience you can still persuade someone to hire you. Be persistent with the hiring manager, contact them yourself and be persuasive in your interview, with a killer, well-rehearsed presentation (if applicable).
For more experienced salespeople, their results will often do the talking, though they will also be judged on their professionalism, industry expertise (or ability to learn a new sector) and their appropriateness for the brand.
Nonetheless there are various sales-related and adjudicating bodies that can provide sales or related qualifications - these include the Institute of Sales Management whose qualifications are approved by OFQAL, and the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Further education or degrees in a variety of academic studies including Business Studies, Marketing, Communications and Sales Management can lead to a successful career in sales.
Some highly specialist sales roles, such as pharmaceuticals or engineering, may favour candidates with sector-relevant qualifications, but this is not always the case. Some people study MBAs in sales management to progress their own careers.
Quite a lot of people move into corporate sales after spending time in retail. Many get their first sales job by selling themselves to a prospective employer, as we saw above.
Some companies offer sales training programmes, and will begin new entrants on “inside sales” roles where they learn the ropes supporting field salespeople with cold calling and appointment-setting, solutions development and proposals.
The rewards of the role
The financial rewards in sales can be excellent, and it’s a great career for people who enjoy interacting with others. You can’t do anything by halves in sales – you really have to go for it, getting under the skin of your customers, listening to them, understanding their pain points and working closely with them.
Sales can keep you on your toes. If you’re good at it you’ll never be bored. It can be a great job for people who want to achieve relatively high earnings quite quickly in their career, providing they put in the graft and have all the right qualities!
The challenges of the role
Salespeople can get knocked back a lot, and it can be tough when you put in a lot of work to develop a prospect or win business, only to fail. You have to be able to bounce back from this.
You often need to learn a lot very quickly in sales in order to stay on top of constant changes in your product or service, the competitive environment and your customers’ needs and demands.
Some sales roles are almost entirely commission-based which is motivating for some people and just plain terrifying for others! These roles are probably not for the faint of heart…
What’s the pay like?
It varies hugely, so to get an idea it’s probably best to scan some job boards for different sales roles – or you could try our website! It’s fair to say that a lot of people are attracted to sales because you can earn very good money. Many roles offer uncapped commission, so your earnings potential could be very good.
The specific kinds of job titles/activities available
There are many different sales roles. Some companies have “inside sales” where you effectively pave the way for external and field sales people to go out and build relationships with clients. This can involve making cold calls or helping to build sales pipelines. Field Sales people often have a territory within which they must develop or win new business. Account management is a closely-related job, where you will look after various clients’ accounts and, often, be targeted to grow them.
Sales roles can vary significantly, from cold-calling to long-term strategic planning, developing and maintaining high-end enterprise accounts and responding to tenders for new business.
Salespeople’s daily activities include establishing customer needs and solving problems, generating leads through calls and meetings, working with marketing and product development, developing pipelines of business, tracking their own targets, understanding new products/services and attending industry events.
How to get ahead in this role...
To really unleash your potential in sales and benefit accordingly, you need to embrace it as a career – commit to it and never coast.
So don’t hold back: listen to your clients, do your homework, learn your products and services and learn about your clients’ industries and businesses. Network, but always be authentic.
Salespeople can progress to Sales and BD directors, and can work their way onto Boards. In my experience, they’re also pretty good at forming their own companies because they are driven, strategic and expert at solving customer problems. I don’t think you can be a business owner and not be a salesperson of some kind.
You'll like this job if you are...
Driven, resilient, curious, confident, keen to learn, a good listener, someone who enjoys building relationships and getting to know new people.
This job might not be for you if…
…you get disheartened easily, or tend to give up when the going gets tough.
And if you’re not comfortable on the phone or meeting new people face to face, do yourself a favour and look elsewhere!