If you’re interested in a career in sales, there are more career paths open to you than ever before. Thanks to the advent of CRM and other developments, there are now numerous sales roles. In today’s world, sales isn’t only about making cold-calls to prospective customers. There are opportunities available for a variety of different temperaments.
Regardless of which path you choose, it is very possible to advance from an entry-level position into a six-figure position. Your choice of sales role will depend on your skills and preferences. Follow this guide to help you decide which sales career path is right for you.
Surveying the Options
Every organization organizes its sales department slightly differently. There are several general divisions to be aware of before embarking on a sales career:
Inside sales representatives, who increasingly make up the majority of sales representatives, make sales remotely—through phone calls, e-mail, etc. Inside sales has become the dominant mode of sales for B2B products and services, SaaS, and some high-priced B2C items. Note that inside sales is not the equivalent of telemarketing. Good sales pitches are personalized to prospects and focused on relationship-building.
There are numerous options for young people looking to get started in inside sales. One common entry-level position is being a Sales Development Representative (SDR). SDRs generally don’t close sales themselves or carry quotas, but move prospects along the pipeline. Business Development Representatives (BDR) are also focused on warming up prospects before passing them on to an Inside Sales Rep or Account Executive.
In contrast to inside sales, outside sales reps make sales in-person by going outside of the organization. These positions often require a great deal of travel. Sometimes outside sales is referred to as “field sales.” This position often requires giving demonstrations and other hands-on activities.
Sales Operations / CRM Specialists
CRM software has revolutionized sales as we know it. Many companies now hire sales operations specialists to optimize the sales pipeline. They monitor enterprise data to track current customers and minimize churn, as well as overseeing operations of the sales pipeline. They may also assist other sales representatives in using the CRM effectively. This role is a good fit for people with strong technical abilities and pattern recognition skills.
Companies value their existing customers highly, and post-sales roles are an expanding field. Most companies refer to post-sales roles as account managers (AMs), Customer Success Managers (CSMs), or customer advocates. These employees are responsible for keeping existing customers happy. Although they may sometimes be responsible for cross-selling and up-selling, they generally do not carry sales quotas.
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Before determining a sales career path to pursue, take an inventory of your skills and preferences. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Here are some questions to consider:
• How well do I work under pressure?
• Do I enjoy working under pressure?
• In social situations, where do I thrive best—in front of an audience or in one-on-one situations?
• What do I enjoy best—meeting with new people, or developing relationships I already have?
• How are my public speaking skills?
• Does public speaking provoke anxiety?
• What kind of office environment do I most enjoy?
• Do I enjoy doing extensive research on the Internet and elsewhere?
• Do I want to travel extensively?
• What are my technical abilities?
• Am I able to pick up new technologies quickly?
• How well am I able to understand statistical trends and data?
Going through these questions should give you a better idea of where your interests lie.
To Commission or not Commission?
One of the biggest decisions sales professionals face is whether they will go into a commission-based position. Some sales positions are salary-only, others are commission-only, while most roles will provide both a base salary and commissions. (For hybrid positions, the commission percentage is usually lower.) While many entry-level positions are not commission-based, if you want to get into direct sales it is likely that you will be working on commission at some point. In contrast, post-sales roles are less likely to include commissions.
When deciding what role is right for you, consider your personality. While many people thrive with the excitement of being able to control their own destiny with commissions, others find it to be anxiety-provoking.
Your first job in sales won’t be your job forever. When selecting a sales career path, consider the progression you want for the rest of your career. Some entry-level positions lead more naturally into certain sales career paths than others.
Employees in sales can progress to a number of different positions:
Sales managers direct the sales department by providing guidance to sales representatives, setting sales quotas, developing sales strategy, etc. Monster.com lists the responsibilities of sales managers here. Many sales managers begin as SDRs or BDRs.
Enterprise sales executives are responsible for managing relationships with the most important accounts. They also play a role in planning high-level sales activities. Enterprise sales executives often start as an Account Executive and begin to handle larger and more important deals as their career progresses.
Business development professionals engage in a wide range of activities to bolster business strategy. This includes identifying new business opportunities and carrying them out. Business development professionals are also involved in rethinking sales processes. Many business development executives begin as BDRs or SDRs.
Sales training managers work to recruit, hire, and train new sales representatives. The job requires working closely with new employees. For a more detailed description, see Monster.com. Oftentimes, sales training managers begin as SDRs themselves.
Strategy and Operations
Managers of strategy and operations focus on big-picture decisions involving the business, focused on efficiency and efficacy. Much of these managers’ work involves optimizing business processes for profitability. Employees who begin as CRM Specialists can oftentimes move to positions in strategy and operations.
While most sales career paths rarely follow the same linear pattern, these options should help give you an idea of where you want to end up.
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