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How To Break Into Sales: What Hiring Managers Want & Need: Sell me this pen. Just kidding, there’s no pen. This is the internet.
So you’re looking to transition into sales: maybe you just graduated and are hoping to land that first gig—or maybe you’ve been stuck in an endless cycle of don’t-exactly-get-you-out-of-bed-in-the-morning jobs, and you’re ready to find a career that really excites you. Or maybe you just want to make more money. That’s okay, too.
Sales expert Grant Cardone put it pretty plainly when he wrote for Entrepreneur, “I am a salesman because I had to be, not because I wanted to be. Truth be told I hated sales when I got into it.” But instead of dragging his feet, Cardone decided sales would be something he’d be great at. In his words, when he “made a commitment to being great at sales, well, everything changed.”
You’re taking the first step right now: you’re asking questions, and trying to figure out if sales is right for you. Having worked with sales professionals across the spectrum, and at all levels, we’ve certainly gotten a birds-eye view of what it means to be a successful salesperson—both from the manager’s perspective, and the employee’s.
Take some of the below advice to heart, learn how to make it work for you, and then get ready to jump in the water.
A lot of times, it can be easy to feel impatient—you just want to be at the top now. And that’s okay—in fact, it’s a pretty human urge, and a great indication that you’re driven. But there’s also nothing wrong with learning and growing—even, and sometimes especially, if you’re moving over from another specialty. Now the Director of Business Development for Performance Horizion Group, Cynthia Schames began her career much lower down the chain of command. “My first sales-related job was actually as the inside sales rep supporting an outside salesperson,” she recalled for The Muse.
And she didn’t go to business school, either. She had a BA in communications. Her advice for folks who are looking for a way to transition in that don’t have the “proper” experience? “If you’re in this situation, don’t forget to highlight your extracurriculars. Even if it’s kind of nerdy, things like Debate Club can prepare you well for a job in sales.”
As we mentioned above, there are plenty of different reasons to go into sales, but “Uh, I don’t know,” isn’t one of them. No matter who you’re talking to—from informational interview to formal job meetings—the question is going to come up. And if you don’t know why you’re trying to get into sales, no one will—and down the line, your customers won’t want to buy from you. Chart out some goals for yourself: do you want to travel more? Do you want to meet new people, or explore a new industry? Goals are equally important within the role itself (e.g. X sales for the 3rd quarter) as they are outside of it. Get in the habit of goal-forming now, and prospective managers will quickly realize that you’re a driven individual with a penchant for high performance.
Speaking of talking to folks, take time to get to know people in the industry. There are myriad ways to reach out to salespeople—from LinkedIn, to Facebook, even reaching out to friends and family members who can introduce you to someone.
Sales is a deeply interpersonal career. If you aren’t great at talking to new people, networking, and creating relationships, you’re going to struggle to get off the ground in any new sales role.
But that doesn’t mean you have to quit before you’ve even started! Flex that muscle, get outside of your comfort zone, and offer to buy someone lunch. You’ll be amazed not only at how easy it can be to connect with new people, but also how much help folks are willing to offer when you just ask.
Contrary to what most movies or shows about sales people project, a career in sales is not about being a lone wolf. It’s about knowing how to collaborate, encourage, and thrive together as a team.
When you’re sitting down for an interview for your first sales job, managers aren’t going to expect that you have proven sales experience—that’s what the first job is for. But what they are going to be looking for is proof that a) you have the instincts to grow and learn, and b) that you know how to work within a team.
Managers are going to be reliant on every member of their team to hit their goals—so the more that you’re willing to help out, and lend your time to assisting other goals, the more a manager is going to want to invest in you.
It’s important that you’re a good fit—for you and your boss. Research the companies you’re applying to, don’t just take the first place that offers you “sales experience.”
So how exactly do you figure out what a company’s culture is like? Pro tip: don’t believe it unless it’s in writing. People may have lofty aspirations for what they want their organization to look like, but as Fast Company’s Tracy Brower sagely teaches us, the best way to get to know an organization’s culture is through its policies and practices: “It’s essential to pay attention to formal policies as well as informal ones, which may be the result of a particular leader’s bent. … Make sure that you’re comfortable with the written policies in place and that they’re robust enough to support your work-life priorities even in the case of a leadership shuffle.”
All right, now it’s your turn. Make the leap. Whether it’s a matter of making a few cold calls to current sales reps, sending a cold email, or reaching out over LinkedIn. Commit yourself, take that first step, and see where the path that you’re on leads you. You’re going to do great!
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