Is a Sales Career Right for You? Let's Find Out
Wondering if you should take that sales job?
Maybe you're fresh out of college and you want to put that bachelor's degree to good use. Maybe you joined the workforce a while ago, but need a change of pace.
Either way, the sales industry looks like it might be the right career move. But before taking the plunge, you want to make sure that you have what it takes to succeed.
Well, my friend, you came to the right place. I'm about to give you a crash course on all things sales. Keep reading to learn about the skills you need to close deals, specific roles you might find yourself in, the benefits and challenges of this profession, and a whole lot more. Let's go!
What Does a Sales Career Look Like?
That's a tricky question, because every seller's career looks a little different.
Still others take on managerial roles, which require them to design sales strategies, coach and motivate sales reps, and report sales figures to C-suite executives.
We'll talk more about the different sales paths you can take in a later section of this article. For now, just know that there are a lot of options available to you, each with different base salaries and earning potentials. (This is true even if you only have a high school diploma.)
Psst... Elevate your leadership game with cutting-edge sales manager training techniques covered in my article.
Skills You’ll Need for a Career in Sales
Okay, let's talk skill sets.
All successful salespeople have certain abilities that revolve around communication, negotiation, customer service, emotional intelligence, and data analysis.
The good news is, each of these abilities can be learned. Sure, some people are born with them. They're the lucky few who crush quota without any sales training. But for the rest of us? If we're willing to grind, we can teach ourselves how to close deals at a consistent clip.
So, let's take a closer look at the skills you'll need to develop as a seller.
Effective Communication Skills
At the end of the day, sales is all about communication.
If you can use your words to connect with potential customers, understand their needs, and present your company's solutions in a compelling way, you're going to kill it in this industry.
The best part about having effective communication skills is that you can use them in a wide range of situations. Visiting leads in-person? Check. Calling prospects on the phone? Check. Sending LinkedIn connection requests to slowly nurture prospects on social media? Check!
The question is, what do "good" communication skills actually look like in a sales context? That's easy. It's the ability to use a sales script the right way, actively listen to your prospects' needs, and weave the power of story into every sales conversation you have.
As mentioned above, communication skills are essential in sales. But at some point, you're going to have to stop talking and start negotiating. You need to be ready for this moment.
After all, not every prospect you talk to will want to pay full price for your company's products and/or services. Others will find your offerings subpar in some way—and they'll want a significant price cut to make up for it. Because of these things, negotiation is mandatory.
To level up your skills in this area, learn to be empathetic, read body language, and actively listen. Also, always come to the table prepared, and be willing to walk away if a deal doesn't fit your criteria. Get these things right and the negotiation process will be much easier.
Customer Service Skills
This is another soft skill you'll want to add to your selling repertoire.
Too many sales professionals look at consumers with dollar signs in their eyes. They don't view them as people. They only see the commission checks they might earn.
That's a major problem for two reasons. First, it's pretty rude. And second, it won't help you achieve more success in this industry. The best sellers care about the people they sell to. They want them to succeed. So, they're willing to go above and beyond to serve them.
This endears their customers to them, which almost always leads to bigger initial deals, more upsell and cross-sell purchases, and a general bump in revenue earned.
Most people wish their IQs were higher. But in sales, your EQ is more important.
If you're not familiar with the term, EQ stands for emotional quotient, and is used to represent and evaluate a person's level of emotional intelligence.
Emotionally intelligent people are able to understand their feelings on a deep level. They're also able to empathize with others in a real way. Both of these skills will help you in sales.
First, you'll be able to manage your emotions effectively, which will lead to less stress and a happier disposition around potential customers. You'll also be able to understand your prospects' pain points better, which will make it easier to recommend the right products.
The sales industry runs on data. If you don't have access to key metrics and KPIs, you won't be able to make strategic decisions, which will hamper your ability to close deals.
Once you dig into your sales department's analytical dashboards, though, you'll have all of the information you need. You'll know which of your prospects is closest to a purchase, for example. You can then focus your attention on them. You'll know which stage of your sales funnel leaks the most leads. You can then problem solve ways to fix it. The list goes on.
Of course, data analysis doesn't come naturally to everyone. You'll need to build this skill up if you don't already have it. But don't worry. The time you put in will totally be worth it.
The Sales Career Path: 10 Roles You Might Find Yourself in (and Where They Might Take You)
I know what you're thinking: "The sales skills above seem important. But what can I actually do with them?" It's a great question, to which I'm prepared to give a great answer.
(Note: I'm about to cover everything from entry-level positions to senior-level sales roles that require years of sales experience to obtain. So, buckle up. We're going deep.)
Sales Development Rep
Sales development reps (SDRs), sometimes referred to as business development reps (BDRs), spend their time prospecting, i.e., scouring the earth for leads.
To do this, most SDRs conduct online research on sites like LinkedIn. They then reach out to qualified individuals and/or companies to gauge interest in their company's offerings. Once the SDR finds a qualified prospect, they pass the lead to a closer on their sales team.
Top-level SDRs understand the products/services they sell, and have strong communication and organizational skills. They're able to quickly connect with potential buyers, record important data in their CRM, and make sure closers have the details they need to succeed.
Average salary: The average SDR in the US makes $76,737 a year. ($52,662 in base salary, and $24,057 in additional pay, such as bonuses and commissions.)
Promotion opportunities: SDRs have multiple promotion opportunities. One common one is "Account Executive," which can eventually turn into a management role. Other potential promotions include "Customer Success Manager" and "Business Development Manager."
Inside Sales Representative
Inside sales reps are usually asked to find, nurture, and convert leads into paying customers—all from remote locations, without any physical contact with prospects.
To do this, inside sales reps use the phone, email, text messages, video conferences, etc., to connect with potential customers, build relationships, and pitch products.
To succeed as an inside sales rep, you'll need to have a deep understanding of the products/services you sell and good communication skills. You'll also need to have thick skin, thanks to the rejection you'll surely face while cold calling prospects all day.
Average salary: The average inside sales rep in the US makes $80,116 a year. ($53,429 in base salary, and $26,687 in additional pay, such as bonuses and commissions.)
Promotion opportunities: Inside sales reps can be promoted to "Inside Sales Managers" then to some kind of "Sales Director" role. They can also transition to an outside sales rep position.
Outside Sales Rep
Outside sales reps are the opposite of inside sales reps. As such, they're hired to meet with prospects in-person, then deliver sales presentations that produce paying customers.
If you enjoy traveling to new locations and conversing with new people in face-to-face situations, you should consider a position within an outside sales team. Just know that you'll still spend a portion of your time selling remotely, thanks to advancements in technology.
Also worth mentioning, most outside sales reps have previous sales experience. If you're brand new to the industry, you may need to work as an inside sales rep first.
Average salary: The average outside sales rep in the US makes $111,881 a year. ($70,311 in base salary, and $41,570 in additional pay, such as bonuses and commissions.)
Promotion opportunities: Outside sales reps can become "Outside Sales Managers," "Area Sales Managers," or "Account Managers." With enough hard work, the "Outside Sales Manager" role can turn into a "Director of Sales" or even "VP of Sales" job.
If you score an account manager position, you'll be asked to build and maintain relationships with your company's existing customers. The goal? To keep them happy. After all, happy customers continue to pay for the products and services they've already invested in.
Account managers aren't evaluated by the number of sales they make. Instead, they're judged by the customer retention and satisfaction metrics that they help achieve.
Because of this, account management is considered to be a lower-stress sales job.
Average salary: The average account manager in the US makes $95,192 a year. ($65,607 in base salary, and $29,585 in additional pay, such as bonuses and commissions.)
Promotion opportunities: The best account managers become "Senior Account Managers" and then "Senior Account Directors.” They can also become "Operations Managers" or "Account Executives" if they wish to take their careers in a slightly different direction.
If you're interested in becoming an account manager (above), you might eventually want to become an account executive, which is a logical next step in your sales career.
Account executives are hired to maintain and grow existing accounts. In other words, they're supposed to keep current customers happy, while identifying opportunities to boost revenue.
To succeed in this sales role, you'll need to be a strong communicator who can reliably develop and nurture relationships. You should have sharp organizational skills, too, and be able to collaborate with other departments within your company, such as Marketing.
Average salary: The average account executive in the US makes $116,896 a year. ($70,774 in base salary, and $46,121 in additional pay, such as bonuses and commissions.)
Promotion opportunities: Account executives can become "Senior Account Executives" at some point in their careers. They can also secure adjacent roles, like "Marketing Manager."
Sales Team Manager
Sales team managers do exactly what you think they do: manage sales teams.
What does that actually look like, though? Well, most sales managers are asked to develop sales strategies, train and motivate sales reps, and analyze sales data.
To earn a sales manager position, you'll need to have at last three years of experience in the industry. You should also be creative, willing to experiment with new ideas, and not afraid to critique, or even fire, the poorly performing employees under your leadership.
Average salary: The average sales manager in the US makes $120,012 a year. ($74,921 in base salary, and $45,091 in additional pay, such as bonuses and commissions.)
Promotion opportunities: If you want to level-up as a sales manager, you can try to secure a "Director of Sales" or "Vice President of Sales" position.
Sales Operations Manager
As a sales operations manager, you'll work to ensure that your company's sales department reaches peak performance, while eliminating friction points that stand in the way of this goal.
To do this, you'll spend a lot of your day inside various software programs, pouring over analytics dashboards, and relaying information to the sales employees beneath you. You'll then train said employees to implement the new processes and workflows you design.
This sales role requires constant experimentation and problem solving. If you enjoy a good conundrum, you'll probably enjoy this career path. If you don't, stay away.
Average salary: The average sales operations manager in the US makes $100,994 a year. ($90,814 is base salary, and $10,180 in additional pay, such as bonuses and commissions.)
Promotion opportunities: Those that achieve sales operations manager roles can look forward to one day becoming the "Senior Sales Operations Manager" or the "Director of Sales Operations" or even the "Vice President of Sales Operations"—as long as they work for it.
Successful sales engineers possess a unique combination of skills.
They're both technical engineering wizards and highly knowledgeable about sales and business-related topics. These two things allow them to understand customer needs, then collaborate with product-development teams to create new and/or better solutions.
The best sales engineers have engineering backgrounds and years of experience in sales. This isn't always easy to find, which is why sales engineers generally make good money.
Average salary: The average sales engineer in the US makes $129,139 a year. ($90,536 in base salary, and $38,604 in additional pay, such as bonuses and commissions.)
Promotion opportunities: If you ever want to move beyond your sales engineer position, consider applying for "Senior Sales Engineer" and "Senior Product Manager" type roles.
Sales Executive Positions
If you work hard enough, you may eventually be offered a sales executive job.
Specific titles under the sales executive umbrella include "Head of Sales," "Director of Sales," "Vice President of Sales," or even "Chief Sales Officer (CSO)."
Sales executives are responsible for their company's entire sales department. They set the vision and identify goals, then hire people to achieve them. Most have a hand in developing their department's training programs, too, as well as firing underperforming employees.
To get a sales executive position, you need to have years of experience in the field and a recognized track record of success. No one will hire you otherwise.
Average salary: Sales executives can make anything from the low six-figures to over $400,000 a year—or more. It really just depends on the specific role you have, the size and success of the company you work for, and a variety of other factors.
Promotion opportunities: Sales executives are at the top of the food chain. The only way to level up from this role is to secure a similar position at a different, larger company.
Last but not least, we have sales consultants.
These folks spend their time developing and implementing sales strategies. Unlike the other sales positions we just looked at, though, sales consultants aren't usually employed by the companies they work with. Instead, they function as outside advisors to their clients.
Most sales consultants have extensive experience in the sales industry. If they didn't, they'd have a hard time getting hired—and an even harder time satisfying their customers.
Average salary: The average sales consultant in the US makes $100,599 a year. ($63,822 in base salary, and $36,778 in additional pay, such as bonuses, commissions, and profit shares.)
Promotion opportunities: Most sales consultants are independent contractors. So there isn't a clear promotion path for them to pursue. That said, top-level consultants may be able to secure director-level—or even executive positions—if they choose to pursue a full-time role.
Benefits and Challenges of Choosing a Career in Sales
As you can see, there are a ton of different opportunities in the sales industry.
You just need to find the right one for you. Doing so will help you experience more benefits and fewer challenges in your sales career. Speaking of benefits and challenges…
Benefits of a Sales Career
Sales is ripe with benefits.
If you choose a career in this industry, you'll have the opportunity to earn a fantastic living, develop important skills that can be transferred to other fields, and experience the satisfaction of knowing you've helped other people (i.e., your customers) achieve their goals.
You'll likely enjoy your job more than you would in a different industry, too. Why? Because your day-to-day will never be exactly the same. You'll perform different tasks, talk to different people, travel to different locations … A salesperson's life will keep you on your toes.
Challenges in a Sales Career
Not everyone is cut out for a career in sales.
If you take a job in this field, you'll need to develop a thick skin because you'll experience a lot of rejection. (The average sales rep only closes 19 percent of their deals. 81 percent of prospects say no.)
I should also mention the pressure you'll feel to perform. Most sales reps are given some kind of sales quota, i.e., a specific number of deals to close, or revenue to drive, per month. If you don't hit this number, you might worry about your finances, or about losing your job.
Fortunately, there are proven ways to deal with these pressures. For example, you can brush up on new sales skills, incorporate mindfulness practices into your day, and take advantage of your paid-time-off. Each of these things will help you minimize stress in your career.
How to Build a Successful Sales Career from Scratch
Whew, we've covered a lot so far. Are you still with me? Good, because we're about to dive into the most important section of this article.
How do you actually build a successful career in sales—especially if you're just starting out, and don't have any prior experience to pull from? Follow this seven-step process:
Identify Your Transferable Skills
Think about your current skills. What are you good at? What knowledge do you already have? Just because your abilities aren't directly related to sales doesn't mean they can't help you.
Maybe your last job was in customer service, so you're comfortable talking to strangers. You probably have finely tuned problem-solving skills, too. These are both valuable sales skills.
Maybe you were a professional engineer before you got burned out in the industry. You might possess the unique skill set required to become a successful sales engineer.
Or, maybe you've been a stay-at-home mom for the last 20 years, but now want to rejoin the workforce. You probably think you don't have anything to offer a sales team, but that's not true. As one example, you have decades of experience managing and negotiating with children. Angry customers really aren't that different. You're going to crush it in sales!
The point is, you have a lot going for you. As long as you take a moment to identify your transferable skills, then work hard to acquire the skills you don't have yet, you'll be fine.
(Also worth mentioning, most entry-level sales positions do not require a degree. Did you skip college? No problem. You can still secure a position as an SDR or inside sales rep.)
Pick an Industry or Type of Sales Position You Can Fall in Love With
I'll be honest with you, it's not hard to find a sales job.
So, research different fields. Study up on the different careers available to you in each one. Then apply for a position that suits your desires, talents, and unique disposition.
You might be a total people-person, with a deep and abiding love for technology. If so, you might thrive as an inside sales rep for a SaaS startup, where you spend your days searching for qualified leads, building effective outreach programs, and closing deals.
You might have a passion for helping other people. That's why you donate to charities and volunteer at the local animal shelter. But the thought of cold calling complete strangers gives you the heebie-jeebies. Why not apply for an account manager role?
The sales industry is deep and wide. Find what works for you, then pursue it with all you’ve got.
Learn about the Basics of Sales
To build a successful sales career, you'll have to learn the fundamentals. Fortunately, there are a ton of resources out there to help you sharpen your skill set.
You can read sales blogs like this one, which won't cost you a dime. You can purchase sales courses that dive deep into specific sales-related topics. At the very least, make sure you understand basic terminology like "A/B testing," and "Forecasting" and "Sales Process."
(Hint: This blog post will introduce you to 90+ sales terms you need to know about.)
Every job requires some level of training. (Yes, even jobs at McDonalds.) Take this part of your sales career seriously, and you'll achieve much more success—guaranteed.
Lean on Your Existing Network (and Continue to Grow It)
The saying, "It's all about who you know" is totally cliche. It's also true.
In many ways, the network of people you know is your career. If you don't nurture it, it won't grow. And if it doesn't grow, you'll have a hard time reaching your professional goals.
Fortunately, growing your network isn't rocket science. Start by changing your perspective on what a customer is. They're not just qualified leads or $50-a-month accounts. They're investments in your future. Treat them right and they'll open up a world of possibilities to you.
Also, set aside time every week to invest in one person. It could be someone with burgeoning sales talent. Or someone who shares your values. Either way, work to build a professional relationship with them. Then check in on a regular basis to maintain said relationship.
Build a Persuasive Sales Resume
If you want to score a new sales job, you'll need to put together a resume.
The best resumes are well-designed, include a cover letter, and follow a proven format. Luckily, these are all things you can excel at, even with zero sales experience.
- Design: What, you don't know Photoshop? Me neither. But I can still make a killer resume using templates in user-friendly design apps like Canva. Dive in and give your resume a polished look that sets it apart from the many others you're competing with.
- Cover Letter: Seems old school, right? The truth is, 83 percent of hiring managers believe cover letters are important. Make yours concise and easy to read. Also, take a few sentences to highlight your skills and list previous career achievements.
- Proven Format: Lastly, follow a proven format to make sure your resume really hits home. Said format should look like this: Summary > Contact Details > Education > Credentials > Skills > Accomplishments. This article is full of quality templates to help.
Ace the Interview
Your resume is important. But, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if you can't close deals for the company that hires you. That's why they'll probably ask you for a mock sales pitch.
Mock sales pitches are standard procedure when interviewing for sales positions. The hiring manager will ask you to sell them something—it could be a random object on their desk, or one of the products the company offers—then judge your ability to accomplish this task.
You need to be prepared for this part of your interview.
To succeed, make sure you understand the industry your prospective employer operates in, as well as the specific products/services it sells and the audience it sells them to.
Also, craft a pitch that highlights your unique strengths as a sales professional. Maybe you're great at earning your prospects' trust. Or uncovering their pain points. Or creatively devising custom solutions in real time. Whatever the case may be, keep it front and center.
Beyond that, make sure you come across as a true professional in your sales interviews. And don't be afraid to let your enthusiasm for the position shine through.
Continuously Learn and Improve
Did you land that sales job you wanted? Congratulations!
But don't get too comfortable. Once you've been onboarded and have a handle on the fundamentals of your new career, you need to focus on achieving your first promotion.
It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to do this is to stay humble and admit what you don't know; then, work your tail off to improve your skill sets. Highly coachable reps usually achieve better results and almost always endear themselves to their managers. These two things will put you on the fast track to a promotion and, if you're lucky, a fat pay raise.
Build a Sales Career You Can Be Proud Of
Sales is a vibrant career opportunity for most professionals. If you're just entering the workforce, or simply looking for a change of pace, I recommend researching this option.
Why? Because sales will give you the chance to make a lot of money, meet new and interesting people, develop important skill sets, and enjoy the satisfaction of helping others.
Plus, there are so many different career paths in this industry, you're sure to find one that appeals to your unique interests and strengths.
That's not to say that sales is a perfect, stress free job. You'll definitely have your ups and downs in this field—as you will in any other field you enter. But, if you follow my advice, you should experience more good times than bad times. You can't ask for more than that!
Want to learn more about sales and how you can succeed as a professional in this industry? Head over to our blog. We've written hundreds of articles to help you out.