Sales Career

JASON KRAMER
 2/18/21
CATEGORY: 

Read our guide for information on how to choose and maximize your sales career path, including the skills and training needed to excel.

Sales can be a rewarding career, but it isn’t without its challenges. Once you’ve determined you want to pursue a sales career, there are different career paths you can take. These paths represent the types of sales careers available, depending on your goals. Within each of these are common job roles you’ll encounter as you climb the career ladder, and specific skills needed to excel at each level.

Check out all you need to know about the sales career path, including how to determine it's for you and the best jobs with the right compensation. Then take a look at our full list of related sales career articles at the bottom:

How to Determine if a Sales Career’s For You

Will you love sales or will it make you miserable? A sales career can yield significant earning potential, and the flexibility to translate skills across different industries. But there are other factors to consider. Below are key questions to decide if sales is the career for you. While aversion to any of these scenarios may not be a deal-breaker, weigh the pros and cons.

How Do I Handle Rejection?

A big part of sales is customers repeatedly saying “No” to buying your product or service. Do you have the creativity to counter objections? Do you have the resiliency to learn from and push through rejections?

How Do I Handle Pressure?

Meeting and exceeding revenue quotas is usually central to sales. Failing to do so, particularly on a consistent basis, could cost you your job. To some, that’s healthy motivation. To others, it’s a cause for sleeplessness. Consider where you fit on this spectrum.

Do I Like Working With New People?

Sales often requires selling to complete strangers, in which you’re expected to build trust and relationships. Does that fit your personality? Are you an extrovert or an introvert?

Do I Have A Strong Internal Drive?

Sales jobs often offer a lot of autonomy. Are you self-motivated, without need of hand-holding and constant instruction from your boss?

Do I Have Patience?

Many sales roles have long sales cycles. The time between first contact with a prospective customer and the time that customer agrees to purchase your product could be months, sometimes years. Is that something you can handle?

Do I Need Training?

You might find a sales career appealing, but could use training to sharpen your sales acumen and technique. Are you willing to put in that time, work and possibly money?

How to Choose a Sales Career Path

Once you’ve determined a sales is the career for you, the next step is considering a sales career path. The career path represents the type of sales career to pursue, depending on your personality, goals, and personal life. Here are the most common career paths you can take:

Inside Sales

Inside salespeople typically conduct all their selling activities remotely or from an office. They correspond with prospective customers via phone, email and/or Zoom. Inside sales usually allows you to reach more customers, but might limit your ability to form personal connections and relationships that you would in outside sales.

Outside Sales

Unlike inside sellers, outside salespeople primarily meet with prospective customers in person, at the customer’s location of business, or a neutral spot like a restaurant. Outside sales may limit how many customers you can reach, but allows you to formulate deeper personal connections and relationships you might not be able to with inside sales.

Hybrid Sales

Hybrid sales is a combination of inside and outside sales. You’d typically meet your most lucrative prospective customers in person, and correspond with all other customers via phone, email and/or Zoom.

Sales Operations

Sales operations focuses less on actual selling, and more on sales processes, analysis and strategy. You likely wouldn’t communicate with customers, but rather internally with the sales team, to assist with customer or product trends, sales data analysis, and forecasting. These tasks would primarily be done through a customer relationship management program (CRM).

Sales Marketing

If both sales and marketing are interesting to you, there are hybrid marketing roles that support the sellers within a business. For example, there are marketing roles that generate marketing-qualified leads which are then distributed to salespeople. Marketing also often involves creating tools for sales reps, as well as helping reps close larger and more challenging pieces of business.

Types of Sales Jobs & Average Salaries

The following is a list of career levels you’ll encounter as you climb the career ladder, in order from Entry-Level to Executive, including common job roles and their responsibilities. Also included are average experience required and average salary ranges, which takes into account any performance-based commissions.

Entry-Level Sales Jobs

A position usually requiring less than one year related experience, with an average annual salary of $35,000.

Sales Development Rep (SDR)

Sales development representatives’ primary responsibility is generating qualified leads for higher-level salespeople. Initiating the sales process entails researching and reaching out to potential customers who might be interested in the products or services the company sells.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Researching, prospecting, qualifying leads
  • Passing on qualified leads to the sales rep
  • Communicating key information to the sales rep about each qualified lead

Sales Support / Sales Assistant

Sales support staff are responsible for supporting sales reps. This would include a variety of tasks that allow sales reps to focus on actually selling and closing deals, such as administrative and clerical tasks, or more time-consuming projects.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Prospect research
  • Presentation preparation
  • Customer service issues
  • Product, customer or sales trend reports

Mid-Level Sales Jobs

A position usually requiring 2-5 years related experience, with an average annual base salary of $50,000.

Sales Rep

Sales reps are responsible for representing and selling their company’s products to prospective and/or existing consumers, and actually closing deals. At times, you’ll be tasked with generating your own leads. Other times, the SDR (above) will do this for you. The products you’re selling are typically consumer goods (e.g. pharmaceuticals, cell phones, etc.).

Specific responsibilities typically include one or more of the following:

  • Establishing and maintaining customer relationships
  • Unearthing customer needs (AKA discovery)
  • Selling consumer goods to individuals or business entities, tailored to customer needs
  • Sales territory management, organizing and prioritizing customers and sales opportunities

Account Executive

Account executives are largely responsible for the same functions as sales reps (directly above), but specifically selling marketing and advertising services (rather than consumer goods).

Account Manager

Account managers focus on post-sales activity. They solidify business relationships with existing customers, ensuring continued usage of products or services as well as possible expansion of business. This is often a function of inside and outside sales, but is sometimes an entirely separate, independent role.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Retaining customer business
  • Exploring opportunities for growth in existing business
  • Compelling customers to invest in other areas of business

Specialist-Level Sales Jobs

A position usually requiring 5-7 years related experience, with an average annual base salary of $65,000.

Sales Specialist

A step up from a sales rep or account manager, a specialist will have a deep understanding of the company’s products and services, and how to close higher-level deals with greater authority. For example, a sales engineer is a specialist at a tech company who understands the product deeply and can deal with the more technical questions and objections throughout the sales process.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • In-depth product presentations and demonstrations
  • Continuous market research, relaying updates to both customers and sales reps
  • Sales events and exhibits

Marketing Manager

A marketing manager is responsible for promoting their company’s product or service to their respective market of potential customers. They’re also often responsible for disseminating key information to the sales team, to better equip the reps to close business.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Market research
  • Product development and distribution
  • Advertising, outreach campaigns
  • Developing tools and training for sales teams
  • Trade show exhibits

Management-Level Sales Jobs

A position usually requiring 7-10 years related experience, with an average annual base salary of $80,000.

Sales Manager / Regional Sales Manager

A sales manager oversees, leads and coaches a team of sales reps. They are responsible for ensuring their sales reps are meeting key qualitative and quantitative individual performance goals as well as overall team goals.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Relaying overarching initiatives from company leadership
  • Working with sales reps on case-by-case sales scenarios and wider-spanning strategies
  • Conveying, monitoring, and acting on key performance metrics and revenue quotas of sales reps

Executive-Level Sales Jobs

A position usually requiring 10+ years related experience, with an average annual salary exceeding $100,000.

VP of Sales / National Sales Director

The VP of Sales or National Sales Director focuses on broader, company-wide initiatives, designed to maximize sales growth, market-share and relevance. From a pure net perspective, they also manage budgets to ensure healthy profit margins as well as returns on investments.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Coordinating with marketing to convey company-wide initiatives and strategies to sales managers
  • Assuring sales managers properly convey initiatives and strategies to sales reps
  • Assuring sales reps execute initiatives and strategies effectively
  • Managing sales department budgets

Chief Revenue Officer (CRO)

A CRO is responsible for all the company’s revenue streams, and all activities that generate revenue. CROs are the leading drivers of the company’s revenue growth. They are accountable for ensuring all departments integrate and work well together in driving overall revenue.

Specific responsibilities typically include:

  • Leveraging and aligning all revenue-generating departments, including Marketing, Sales and Customer Experience / Customer Success.
  • Shared responsibility for operations, sales, corporate development, marketing and pricing
  • Sharing best practices for revenue generation and growth, across all teams

Things To Look For In A Sales Job

Once you’ve considered the pros and cons of a sales career, it’s time to start pursuing job openings. How you look at job descriptions can be the difference between immediate job misery and the start of a rewarding, long-lasting, fruitful adventure.

There are typically three key buckets of the job description to consider, to make sure it’s the right job for you. Then, within each bucket are specific factors, which we illustrate as follows:

Does the Employer Meet Your Needs?

  • Industry: Research industries that appeal to your personal interests. Target industries and companies that are growing rather than in decline.
  • B2B vs. B2C: Selling to businesses (B2B) is usually considerably more lucrative than selling to individual customers (B2C). Keep to B2B whenever possible.
  • Culture: Glassdoor.com has great testimonials on the pros and cons of working for different companies. Is the company suit-and-tie formal, or sweats-and-hoodie casual? Make sure it fits your personality. If you’ve had interviews with a potential employer, ask to speak with other employees to get an inside look.
  • Work-Life Balance: An employer should have concrete, high-yet-attainable goals. A great employer will value your personal life in the midst of their demands to reach those goals. Look at a company’s work hours and benefits (e.g. vacation time, medical insurance, maternity leave, etc.) to determine this.

Does the Job Meet Your Needs?

  • Compensation: Try to avoid commission-based roles with no base salary. You want performance-based opportunity (commission), but you also want security (base salary).
  • Job Role Trajectory: Look at job sites like Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com, or Jooble and narrow your search to your target industries and level of experience. See if the job requires you to start at the very bottom and work your way up, or if you can dive in mid-level.
  • Long-Term Growth: Go to Glassdoor.com to see what employees say about long-term prospects and upward mobility at their respective companies.

Are You Qualified For the Job?

  • Job Expectations: Read the job description to understand the responsibilities and expectations of the role. Make sure you’re comfortable with and qualified to perform these expected tasks.
  • Training: Look for companies that emphasize training to get you acclimated with the job, while also paying you your salary. This is the very definition of a company investing in its employees.

Pro Tip:

Avoid bringing up salary in a job interview. If they ask for your salary expectations, consider responding, “What do you feel is an appropriate compensation for this role?” If you offer a salary figure that’s too high, you could put yourself out of contention. Offer a salary figure too low, and you’ve just left money on the table.

11 Key Sales Skills for Success

For almost any sales role, there are common skills to master or at least be super mindful of. Focusing on these skills will increase your chances of meeting and exceeding revenue quotas, and setting yourself up for a successful sales career. Specific skills can usually be lumped into three overarching buckets, as follows:

Interpersonal Communication

  • Consultative Sales: Learn what questions to ask prospective customers to get at the heart of their needs and whether your product or service meets those needs.
  • Building Customer Trust: If your product doesn’t meet a customer’s needs, be honest. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Keep your promises and show the customer you listened to them by recapping the conversation.
  • Building Rapport: Go beyond business and tactfully dive into personal life–and sometimes connect the two. It can start by simply asking, “How are you? Truly, how are you doing?” Empathy is a tough soft-skill but it simply takes the will to listen and be mindful of someone’s body language and reactions.
  • Presentation: Combine a mastery of public speaking and visual aids like PowerPoint, etc. to engage an audience.

Organization & Time Management

  • Territory Management: Learn your company’s CRM or develop your own. Either way, organizing your customers and opportunities is crucial for prioritization and time management.
  • Numbers-oriented: Sales almost always focuses on numbers and performance metrics. The number of sales calls you make. The number of sales opportunities you create. And ultimately, the number of sales dollars you bring in.

Competitive Sales Personality

  • Self-motivation: You need the drive to proactively gun for new business and sales growth, without motivation from your boss.
  • Resourcefulness: Often, you’ll need tools or resources to close deals. Having the wherewithal to seek these out from other teams or team members is critical.
  • Resilience: This means having the skin to accept a “No” (when it’s truly a “No”), and accept it frequently, especially in tough markets. It’s having the persistence to get through all those No’s, learn from them, and eventually find the “Yes”.
  • Competitive Drive: The best sales professionals have an itch to be the best, to outmatch their competition and, in friendlier fashion, outperform their teammates.

Pro Tip:

In any sales role, dedicate at least two hours per day to proactive selling. Managing other parts of your sales job can often be time-consuming, and leave you little time for actual selling. Dedicate at least two hours of every day to proactive selling. This is crucial for time-management.

Types of Sales Training Options

Sales Training programs help you become more effective at selling. Most types of training include overlapping sales principles, from prospecting, to building customer rapport, and closing deals. The following are different types of Sales Training Options you can pursue to hone your craft, depending on your particular circumstances:

Corporate Sales Training

This training is typically paid for and endorsed by your employer. It’s usually centered around the industry in which you’re selling, but often will include overarching selling principles that apply across industries. For example, you’re selling for a manufacturing company, and the training goes over the specifics of manufacturing, but also the general principles of customer rapport.

Sales Classes

Sales Classes are usually paid out of pocket, as something you attend on your own for personal growth of sales acumen. There are different styles and approaches for each class, but often overlapping in the most critical sales principles. Classes are conducted online or in-person, though with the pandemic, online courses are more available now than ever.

You can get a wealth of options by doing a Google search for “Top 10 Best Sales Training Courses for 2021”, or by checking out this article from Sales Hacker on the top 40 sales training programs.

Free Sales Training

If your budget is tight, there are still great free courses, videos and articles to dig into, to sharpen your craft. HubSpot.com’s program is a good option, as is Lessonly.com.

Sales Conferences

Sales conferences are usually company-paid and sponsored. They’re a way to bring the entire organization’s sales team together or in segmented teams. This kind of environment promotes team-building and camaraderie. It also gets everyone on the same page about specific products or services, company or division-wide initiatives, sales skills and strategies.

Sales Webinars

Webinars are live, online educational presentations during which participating viewers can submit questions to the presenter and also leave comments. Some are free, some come with a fee. Like many of the other types of training programs above, these will vary in style and approach but usually cover many of the same overarching fundamentals of sales.

Sales Books

There are a wealth of options to buy online. The key is finding one that’s not only well-reviewed but most suited to your industry and personality. For a list of some of the best, check out Hubspot’s article on the top 44 sales books of all time.

Lectures

These are live presentations done by experts in various aspects of selling. There’s usually a fee, so do your research on the presenter’s background and credentials, reviews of previous lectures as well as what will be covered.

Best Sales Certifications

If you have the budget or are funded by your employer, I highly recommend pursuing courses for sales training certification. These are programs statistically proven to increase the sales efficacy. Below is a list of some of the most highly rated sales certification programs of 2021, along with prices, forums and approaches.

Negotiation Experts

Negotiation Experts offers two options: Either three days in-classroom training (12 students max) for $2,700; Or six 4.5-hour online remote delivery sessions online for $2,410. This program is unique in that it combines sales and procurement negotiators together, using real-life commercial buyer-seller simulations.

Action Selling

Action Selling offers online sales training beginning at $895 that includes two days of in-classroom training. Aims to train sales professionals to improve revenue, grow margins, and become effective sales coaches.

Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie offers in-person training for $1,995, or live online sales training for $1,795. The program includes three consecutive days (9am to 5pm) for in-person and 2-hour weekly sessions lasting eight weeks for online sales training. The training has a customer-first approach.

J Barrows

J Barrows offers onsite training for $10,000, or asynchronous online sales training seminars for $420 per year per person. Onsite training is for a full day. Online training consists of three 2-hour sessions over two weeks. Self-paced online learners have one year’s access to the online portal. This program is designed more for training an entire team, aimed at engaging your sales force and maximizing sales skill sets.

The Brooks Group

The Brooks Group offers six 2-hour sessions of online synchronous instructor-led training, for $1,990. This program focuses on building customer relationships.

Certified Professional Sales Person (CPSP)

CPSP offers a six-week online course for $695. This program covers how you communicate in different settings, including one-to-one, in a group, in a meeting, during presentations, online, and on the phone. It’s suited for almost any level of experience or circumstance (e.g. Sales Rep, Executive, CEO, Business Owner, etc.).

Certified Professional Sales Leader (CPSL)

CPSL offers a six-week online course for $795. This program is specifically geared for C-level professionals (e.g. VPs of Sales, Sales Directors, etc.), covering sales leadership and how to influence the behavior of your sales professionals to increase performance and revenue.

Bottom Line

There are plenty of pros and cons of a sales career. First consider the numerous factors to determine if it’s the right career for you. Next, consider what type of career path you want to embark on, exploring common career trajectories and job roles. Once you’re ready to look for sales jobs, you’ll want to consider the kinds of industries and companies to pursue, as well as best sales skills and training options to maximize your chances of a successful sales career.

 

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