How to Launch a Sales Representative Career in Three Concrete Steps
By: Ashley Artrip
A career in sales can be one of the most lucrative, exciting, and rewarding careers for new college grads. Unlike many other fields, sales is a meritocracy: employers care more about your results and work ethic than they do about what college you attended, what your major was, or what GPA you graduated with. If you can effectively identify prospects (targeted potential customers) and convert them into sales, then you will be able to launch a highly successful career as a sales representative in almost any industry imaginable — regardless of your background starting out.
Getting into a sales career is very straightforward. In the startup/tech sector, sales representatives typically start out as SDRs (Sales Development Representative), BDRs (Business Development Representative), or LDRs (Lead Development Representative) after which they are promoted to AEs (Account Executive). Each position is slightly different but basically requires you to understand the sales funnel, be able to generate lists of prospective customers and their contact information, and then reach out to the people on this list and nurture them through the sales funnel (more on what all of that jargon means below!). Almost all selling is done through written mediums these days — email, LinkedIn, social media, etc. — so it’s important that you have strong writing and communication skills in order to launch a career as a sales representative. If you have this, here’s how to translate it into a successful sales career:
1. Learn the sales career lingo and applicable skills
As is the case for most careers, sales has a set of industry lingo and concepts that are important to learn. From ‘the sales funnel’, to ‘prospecting’ and ‘lead generation’, you need to learn the basic theories and selling ideologies that drive the industry. There are a few ways to go about learning this material to launch a sales career:
- If you are self-motivated and enjoy learning through books, there are a few great resources for aspiring sales representatives. One of the best is New Sales. Simplified., which is an essential handbook for how to sell using today’s tools. There are also ample introductions to the sales funnel and prospecting online — although, if you’re starting from ground zero, just doing Internet research can be confusing and contradictory. Remember, that while this approach may seem like the cheapest and easiest option, self-driven learning can be hard and is often not as effective as other forms of instruction. Additionally, it’s important not to underestimate the time cost associated with teaching yourself.
- Our pick for the best option in terms of time, money, and outcome is applying to and attending a sales career development bootcamp/ academy. These programs teach you applicable skills for launching a sales career and do not charge tuition — instead, they either partner with companies to place you in a well-paying role right out of graduation, or they take a percentage of your first-year salary if you make over a certain amount. This option ensures that you learn everything you need to know to add value the minute you start your sales career, without any cost to you other than the time spent in class. Check out SV Academy, a free ten-week program that guarantees job placement with a starting full-time offer of $78,000. This is done through a part-time online fellowship that only requires a 15-20 hour per week commitment, which is a great option for those who need to continue working part-time or for students who are still in college but want to land a job in sales immediately after graduating.
- The third way to learn the necessary skills for getting started in sales is to reach out to a connection who works in sales for mentorship. This doesn’t have to be someone you know — you can reach out to your alumni network or go on LinkedIn to find someone with whom you have a connection to ask if they could offer you mentorship. You may even end up landing a job with your mentor if they are impressed by your initiative and aptitude.
2. Vouch for your sales skills
Incorporate what you learned in step one into your cover letters and ‘applicable skills’ section at the top of your resume.
SDR managers often hire new grads who have little-to-no experience, but what sets the ones who get hired apart from those who don’t is the know-how that shines through in the cover letter or resume. If you can successfully demonstrate that you already understand the basic concepts and strategies that drive most sales organizations, you are much more likely to be chosen for an entry-level position than someone who just highlights their ‘salesperson personality’.
Additionally, one of the most salient strategies that aspiring sales reps use is getting a person or institution to vouch for them. This could be your ‘Intro to Business’ professor or it could be an academy or bootcamp that vouches for your hireability. Make sure potential employers know upfront that you have qualified people/institutions who can endorse your sales skills.
3. Find a sales position and company that fit your personality
Your first sales representative position will not necessarily be at the company where you build your career. However, it will define your next position insofar as references and word of mouth can make or break a person’s career. While it may be tempting to take the first offer that comes your way, it’s important to pause and do due diligence on the culture and position at hand. Think about things like your communication style, you preferred hours (some sales representatives work 8:30am to 7:30pm, while others work 9am-4pm), and the sales/commission structure that would motivate you the most. Read Glassdoor reviews (although with a grain of salt), and talk with people who can explain the pros and cons of things like base salary vs. bonus structure. All of this will affect the relationships that you build in your first job and the network that follows as you progress in your sales representative career.
Elaina Ransford contributed to this article