A career in sales isn’t for everyone. It requires a particular combination of skills and abilities, and a certain goal-orientated attitude. A sales career rewards hard work and the regular achievement of targets. It can be demanding and requires sales professionals to maintain enthusiasm, professionalism and energy when dealing with potential clients.
More so than almost any other profession, sales demands a highly specialised mindset. Attrition rates are high – a HubSpot study reported a 35% sales rep turnover rate, compared to the 13% average turnover rate in other professions. In part this may simply be due to the mismatch between how desirable a career in sales can seem compared to the reality of the hard work involved.
In this article we’ll look at the qualities which make the perfect sales professional so you can determine whether a career in sales is a good fit for you.
The first thing to understand is that sales professionals work across more modes and media than ever before. Here are just some of the different sales modes available:
Outdoor in-person sales: from stereotypical “door-to-door” sales roles to industry-specific travelling reps who visit commercial clients. Check out these door to door scripts.
Indoor in-person sales – floor sales jobs from retail and property to cars or luxury products. Check out these Retail Sales Training options.
Telesales – B2C or B2B sales reps selling over the phone. Can also be known as inside sales as well – find out what inside sales means.
Remote in-person sales – A B2B technique using product demos and videoconferencing. For information on Demo Sales Training click on the link.
Online sales — email and SMS-based sales (augmented with calls)
Hybrid sales roles — roles which incorporate two or more of the above strategies.
There are also soft sales roles which involve being a brand ambassador who networks and represents a product line. Such jobs shade into marketing or influencer territory.
As well as this variety in the modes of selling which are employed, there are a host of different routes into a sales career. This is because the sales function is stronger on soft skills (persuasiveness, work ethic, negotiation) than on hard skills (technical skills or detailed knowledge). In sales, you are judged on performance first and foremost.
Though entry level sales jobs might be easy to secure, but they can be hard to excel in. Such roles privilege innate ability and hard-won experience over IT skills or book learning.
Here are some of the ways people enter a sales profession:
Working up from an entry-level position to having managerial oversight.
Gaining a graduate position, which may entail marketing, CRM, and customer research skills.
Moving from a related field (i.e., marketing, research) within the same or a similar company.
However, one of the best things about a career in sales is that there are few barriers to entry. Once you’re in the door, however, there is pressure to perform, and that won’t suit every candidate.
What does a Sales Career Progression Look Like?
There are seven main tiers of sales professional, found in most businesses:
1: ENTRY LEVEL SALESPERSON
This is the job a smart school leaver or graduate can obtain. You may be classed as an Inside or outside salesperson, depending on whether you do most of your work in the field, or based in an office, hitting the phones, and firing off emails. Outside roles are becoming more and more scarce in the internet age, but telesales is still popular, even in the social media age. These salespeople normally receive basic Sales Training to gain a firm foundation in the art and science of selling.
2: SALES DEVELOPMENT REPRESENTATIVE
One level up from a basic sales rep are the SDRs who source leads, qualify them, and pass them on to salespeople to close. Prospecting fills a major part of their day, but they may also have to hit the phone to develop leads too. A key task for an SDR is disqualifying prospects who will never convert into a sale, so that those lower down the food chain don’t waste time on futile leads.
SDRs might use bought-in lists, social media, LinkedIn, email prospecting and phone outreach to create additional sources of potential sales. This role can suit someone who thinks laterally and creatively about sales opportunities. Check out our Social Selling Training for more.
3: ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE
Also known as Account Managers, AEs are charged with maintaining existing clients and potentially upselling or cross-selling them with new add-ons and complementary services, or upgrades to higher tiers, if appropriate (in a SaaS setting, for instance). Account Executives can be senior, but a successful SDR can attain this position after a few good years, if they have solid rapport with clients and prove popular and trustworthy.
This is a great role for a real people person who is motivated by retention and satisfaction rates as much as commission earned. Skills you’ll need include negotiation, time management and the ability to balance potentially conflicting needs (those of the client, the colleague, and the business at large).
As the job title suggests, individuals in these roles either manage sales teams or co-ordinate the technical side of the sales pipeline. A high level of managerial or technical expertise is expected, and salaries are commensurate. Both roles should be considered senior, managerial positions.
The Sales Manager monitors goals, targets, and performance metrics across a sales team to make sure that sales reps are working well, and that they are properly supported with leads, data, and the technical resources they need. Good organizational skills, process management ability and sales expertise are a given. Check out our Sales Management Training.
Sales Engineers are sometimes called Systems Engineers or Pre-Sales Support. They typically both have the technical expertise of a computer engineer and sales know-how. Sales Engineers shape, monitor and train on the systems that serve the sales teams, from call dialling software to CSM platforms, performance, reporting, and marketing tools.
5: DIRECTOR OF SALES
Further up the sales tree is the Director of Sales, an executive who oversees the sales division and reports back to the VP of Sales and other senior executives. This individual will set sales objectives and quotas and forecast on a monthly, quarterly, and/or annual basis.
Budget and people management skills are key to this role, and the Sales Director will likely have substantial experience in other sales positions. They will be rewarded with an executive level salary and performance-based bonuses. Sales managers with ambition to attain additional responsibility might aspire to this role – if you are, here are some sales director interview questions to help you.
6: VP OF SALES
There are only two executives in the sales division more senior than the Director of Sales. The first is the VP of Sales, a role that incorporates higher level strategic thinking and decision-making on team hires. The VP of Sales will have significant input on corporate growth strategy and will require around ten years of experience and a proven track record of successfully leading a sales division.
7: CHIEF SALES OFFICER
Large companies may have a CSO as part of their C-Suite, to report to the board and the CEO on all sales strategy and performance. It’s not an especially common role and is extremely competitive. A CSO role is about as high as you can ascend within sales and typically these roles are taken by late career sales professionals with many years’ experience.
The above should give you a notion of the potential for career progression within the sales division. Of course, at various points you can also make sideways moves into customer service, marketing or even engineering roles, should sales prove unprofitable for you.
Are You Ready for a Career in Sales?
What questions do you need to ask yourself to decide if you’re ready to pursue a sales career? The first consideration is perhaps the most important:
Do I Have the Right Personality for Sales?
Sales isn’t right for everyone. A good salesperson needs to have certain personality traits. Here are the main qualities you should exhibit if sales is going to prove the right career choice for you:
Energy and Drive. Sales is not a passive activity – it requires energy and determination. You’ll receive many knock-backs, and you need to be able to brush off rejection, learn from your mistakes, tweak your approach and forge ahead. There will be sales targets to meet set by sales managers, as well as self-set objectives you’ll want to adhere to. Although you may be quite closely overseen at the lower echelons, further up the hierarchy you’ll be expected to be a self-starter who’s competitive and keen to prove your worth.
People-Centred Enthusiasm. Good salespeople are interesting in other people, curious to know what they are thinking and empathic in terms of understanding their unique foibles. This ability both helps the salesperson clinch sales by matching product benefits to customer needs and makes their job more enjoyable. If you like having conversations with dozens of different people a day, sales may be right for you. If not, you may need to think again.
Discipline and Accountability. As well as being self-motivated, you’ll most likely be held accountable for not hitting targets, missing deadlines, or failing to make sufficient calls each day. Good salespeople do everything they can to monitor those performance metrics and strive for a continual improvement in performance.
Curiosity and Drive to Learn. These days, processes, platforms, sales techniques, and technologies change at an alarming rate. You may be required to learn new systems and strategies on a regular basis, as well as being proactive in upskilling. If you enjoy learning new pieces of software or discovering new methods for lead generation, then sales might prove a good fit.
Optimism and Passion. It can be demoralizing when you’re in a slump. Perhaps the company has developed a new product that’s proving a hard sell or has raised its subscription rates and existing customers aren’t happy. The ability to remain positive in the face of rejection in sales is a key skill to nurture. Having a passion for whatever you are selling certainly helps. Believe in the product, and your enthusiasm does much of the sales pitch for you. Choosing what you sell can contribute significantly to how well you perform. However, at your core you need to have an optimistic outlook in general.
Check off these five qualities and you may be well-suited to a career in sales. Some of the above abilities are soft skills you can build upon (empathic thinking, upskilling) but many of these qualities are innate. If you don’t have most of the sales personality traits listed above, you may not wish to pursue a career path in sales.
Think about taking a sales assessment or use a tool like Feedo to gather feedback from others to see if you are well suited to the profession. It might save you a lot of time and effort.
How To Start Your Sales Career
Now that you know what sort of career progression to expect, and what qualities you should have, spend some time figuring out where to start. Much will depend upon your experience level in related fields, your age, and what life stage you’ve reached.
For instance, if you have a young family, and are the sole breadwinner, then a sales position that depends largely on commission may prove riskier than one which delivers a reliable basic salary. Pay close attention to the terms and condition of any job offer before you accept.
These are the questions you need to be asking yourself to determine what sort of sales position you should apply for:
Do I require a minimum guaranteed income?
Am I able to relocate if required?
Will I be asked to do shift work, including antisocial hours?
If you have been out of the sales field for some time, or if you’ve never worked in sales, then taking refresher courses or upskilling with new competencies could prove highly beneficial. Not only will you build confidence and make up for any lack of direct experience, but you’ll demonstrate ambition and gain valuable skills with which to differentiate your application.
You could also seek out a mentor, someone with a history in sales and a knowledge and enthusiasm for the profession. They can ensure your job search is focused, look over your resume and cover letter, and help you make a good first impression.
Interview coaching can also be an invaluable experience, particularly if you’re applying for a sales position at one of the high-profile FAANG tech companies (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google), or their ilk. Interview coaches use role play to put you through your paces in a sales interview setting, so that you’ll answer confidently and appropriately.
Why Train for a Sales Career?
Since sales is one of the best careers to gain a foothold into, and salespeople are continually in demand, you might ask—why undertake training?
There are several key reasons why you might take a short sales skills training course before applying for a sales position or attempting to advance within your sales career. These include:
Giving yourself a head-start and familiarising yourself with key topics in sales theory.
Learning some cutting-edge techniques and theories to maintain your edge.
Talking through sales concepts in a safe and consequence-free space.
Boosting your overall confidence and renewing your enthusiasm.
Enhancing your resume and improving your chances of acing your interviews.
Helping you decide which sales mode to opt for, and which sectors to explore.
Although a certain amount of innate ability and instinct is involved in sales performance, there are numerous techniques and strategies which can be learned and practiced. For instance, I recently wrote a blog article outlining the 5 Stages of the Negotiation Process, to help you understand the complex interpersonal process that negotiation implies. Recognize these stages and you’ll do better in this key part of closing a deal.
How Do I know if a Sales Career is Right for Me?
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. You may not know if a sales career is right for you without trying it. However, particularly with entry-level positions, there may be no harm in committing at least to the probationary period within your contract. It’s usually possible for both parties to walk away from such an arrangement with minimal notice if things aren’t working out.
In fact, with sales more so than most other professions, it is anticipated that all new starters are on a mutual trial when they first start a new role. Some companies even have sales apprenticeships or in-house training, for young or experienced sales professionals alike.
In short, there may be many routes into sales as a career, and the professional has a wide range of roles and modes available, so if you are inclined towards sales, you’ll probably find a role that’s right for you.