Learn From Experience: Seasoned Pros Offer Their Sales Career Advice
Salespeople make compelling characters. Watching Don Draper pitch an advertising campaign to potential clients reinforces the idea that sales and marketing professionals have an uncanny insight into the psychology of their clients, selling the idea of a perfect life rather than any individual product. Often, salespeople are portrayed as ambitious, cutthroat, and impeccably dressed manipulators.
But in the day to day professional lives of the salespeople that keep the economy moving, how do they actually operate? How do salespeople create a stable, engaging career for themselves to enjoy throughout a long professional life?
“Sales is the most honorable profession,” says Joey Price, CEO of Jumpstart:HR. “When you make a sale, you help someone. You alleviate a pain point, you provide pleasure or you make someone profitable. Nothing moves forward without a sales transaction.”
As you consider how to build a career in sales, take a moment to read through these expert pieces of advice on how to make your professional life meaningful, financially stable and engaging. The real world tools for a successful career in sales might surprise you.
7 Pieces of advice for starting a career in sales
All sorts of people begin careers in sales. Working in sales can take you into new and exciting industries and offer incredible opportunities for advancement. But how do you start your career with an eye on the long game? We asked veteran salespeople for the most important ways to begin a career in sales that will transition into a successful, lifelong career.
1. Take the time to learn the ropes (and your offerings)
The fast nature of sales can make it easy to jump in headfirst without seeking out extensive training opportunities. However, it is important to start your work with a strong foundation of knowledge and skills.
“The most common mistake salespeople make early in their career is not investing enough time in training during their first few months on the job,” says James Nielsen, CEO and Founder of Vendition. “Ask questions, listen to as many calls as possible, spend time with your manager, get a mentor at work, and get a mentor outside of work. A strong foundation is the key to a successful first sales job and successful career.”
Taking the time to learn proper sales techniques at the start of your professional life will support your career throughout a lifetime.
“Successful entrepreneurs should always have a foundation of proper sales techniques,” says Lauren Grech of LLG Events. “No matter what industry you're in, if you're starting a business or working at an established company, sales techniques transcend into lessons on branding and public relations, and networking.” Grech says it’s best to think of sales as not just the literal selling of your product or service, but more as a presentation of your product. This approach ties in the branding, public relations and networking components of a comprehensive sales approach.
“This creates a cohesive, authentic message for you to talk about your company in natural conversation. This will allow you to sell without making it feel so much like a transaction,” Grech says.
2. Avoid falling victim to “imposter syndrome”
Early on in your career, you may find yourself in previously unimaginable situations—speaking confidently to senior-level business decision makers can undoubtedly be intimidating. It is easy to fall into a mentality of imposter syndrome, on some conscious or unconscious level believing yourself to be unqualified for your work and successes. While this feeling is common, it will limit your ability to structure a lasting career in sales.
“Imposter syndrome is a real challenge in many professions but especially in sales,” says Nielsen. “Almost all entry-level sales positions are filled with individuals that don’t have sales experience. It’s too easy to think you’re not good enough and don’t deserve the job you earned.”
Find ways to combat these patterns of thought and develop a secure sense of confidence and self-reliance. Even just knowing that you’re not the only sales person feeling this way can provide a mental lift.
3. Develop a close understanding of your industry
Sales might take you into the world of industrial mechanics or used furniture. Whatever your industry, take the time at the start of your career to understand the ins and outs of the product, community, and culture you’re working with.
“By starting a career in sales keep in mind that it’s not just about being a salesperson but your success will also depend on the industry you are in,” says Michael Maximoff, co-founder and managing partner at Belkins. “Is it healthcare, SaaS, manufacturing, electronics, logistics and so on? You need to grow in one industry, develop expertise, collect contacts and build your professional brand.”
4. Maintain relationships after a sale is “closed”
Working in sales is all about cultivating and maintaining relationships. These relationships don’t end after the first sale.
“Early on, the biggest mistake I see with newer salespeople is the lack of continuation,” says Samantha Liasine, head of sales at The Corporate Con/noisseur. “Newer salespeople tend to believe that sales occurs in a one-and-done environment. This is clearly untrue. Sales is a multi-pronged effort, requiring multiple levels of communication, follow-up, and understanding of the client’s needs.”
It’s easy for a salesperson to focus on simple transactional relationships initially—they need widgets, you sell them. But by building longer term relationships you may start to find less-obvious opportunities or areas where your product or service could help. Additionally, strong relationships build trust and can make future sales opportunities easier to land.
5. Set professional goals
The most important part of creating a long and successful career in sales? Plan for it. Continually set professional goals with concrete action plans to meet those goals.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” says Price. “If you've been given a quota or goal, map out how you're going to do it and work towards it. Evaluate what worked and what didn't and get good people around you who can help you grow.”
6. Think about the concrete skills you need to succeed in sales
One of the biggest false narratives around what it means to work in sales is the fictional character of the sales savant. These characters conjure successful sales out of thin air based on a seemingly magical ability to understand and manipulate their client. But that’s really not the case.
Sales is field where reliability, hard work and well-developed professional skills matter. If you want a long and successful career in sales, think about the technical skills you need for your work.
“Instead of relying on attributes like charisma, you need to adopt a process oriented approach to sales and trust the system instead,” says Michael Alexis, CEO of Team Building. “For example, the most reliable and consistent sales reps tend to follow a strict schedule, and having boundaries for starting and stopping work gives you a chance to relax and refresh for the next shift. Another example is tracking your email and call volume. If you know that your close rate on new business is 10 percent, and you need to average 10 deals each week, then you need to make at least 100 calls to new prospects.”
7. Believe in your work
The most important thing to develop at the start of your career and maintain during your professional life is a belief in your work. If you do not support the product you are selling, consider transitioning into a different industry.
“If I could go back to when I was first starting out, to offer myself one piece of advice, it would be about the importance of believing in what I sold,” says Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful. “It’s not enough to just know the statistics—you need that passion and belief that is infectious to those you talk to. We all learn it eventually, but a heads up in the beginning can save you a lot of time discovering it the hard way.”
Interested in learning more about a sales career?
If you are interested in developing as a sales professional, you may want to consider pursuing a Marketing degree. Our article, “9 Ways a Marketing Degree Can Boost Your Sales Career”, highlights some of the potential benefits.