Insider Report: What It’s Really Like Working in Sales
If there’s one industry that has a bad reputation in popular culture, it’s sales.
It’s not really considered a career path people make willingly, but more like a job, you just stumble upon.
But what is it really like working in sales?
Let’s look at the variety of sales roles out there, bust a few misconceptions about the industry and examine what it takes to work in the sector.
I’ll also outline five core realities you should know about of the life as a salesperson.
A PLETHORA OF AVAILABLE ROLES
First, let’s clear up something important: saying someone works in sales doesn’t necessarily reveal you much at what they do.
Yes, essentially sales jobs are about making a sale – one way or another, you are trying to sell a product or a service to another entity.
However, the industry has so many sales roles available that the daily schedule and the responsibilities can vary widely.
Indeed, the world has tons of different things people sell and so generalizations are not always helpful or revealing.
Ultimately, the experience of working in sales depends on the business you work for and the product you are selling.
You might work in a brick-and-mortar store, selling a variety of household goods, or you might be making telesales on the phone, never to meet the person you’re selling to face-to-face.
You might be selling a service instead of a product or part of your job might be selling a combination of both. You could be located in a single location, such as the call centre, or your sales jobs might require you to travel around the country or, indeed, the world.
In addition to the organization having an impact on the day-to-day activities of your sales role, the broader industry you work for can influence what working in sales is like.
Your role is directly influenced by broader market changes – for example, consider how the sales of vacuum cleaners has shifted from door-to-door sales to online sales.
Of course, the role is also changed depending on who you are selling to. Your industry might be aimed at the corporate giant or even the government.
Selling hotel rooms for clients can be different in terms of daily challenges and tasks depending on whether your client is a multi-national business or an individual going on a holiday.
The roles, which are selling from business to business are referred to as B2B, with B2C referring to the business to customer roles.
Hopefully, all of this helps you to understand how working in sales doesn’t just offer a single role – there are plenty of different job titles out there with their own unique responsibilities and ups and downs.
Therefore, what it’s really like working in sales can depend on your specific title. The tiles could be as varied as:
- Digital Media Sales
- Consultant Sales Executive
- Medical Supple Sales Manager
THE PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF THE SLEAZY SALES PERSONS
If there’s one career path that has had its fair share of beating in the popular culture, it must be the salespersons.
The industry definitely doesn’t have the most popular reputation and the generalizations we tend to make about the industry are not flattering – in fact if you had to pick a job just based on hearsay and the respect of the wider community, sales would probably be one of the last roles you’d consider.
So, what do we think when we hear the word salesperson?
If you listen to a survey by a British consultancy company Development Dimensions International (DDI), the popular answer would portray views such as:
- Sales is ‘a necessary evil’ in the world.
- The salespersons are out for themselves and do not want what’s best for the customers.
- Salespersons are just ‘conning and cheating’.
You can also find a mixed response to salespeople from these Times Square interviews, conducted by Startup Sales Bootcamp:
Indeed, popular culture has often portrayed the salesperson as someone a bit sleazy, looking to make the sale whether or not it’s in the interest of the person or not.
But as an article in the Balance points out, the only road to long-term success in the career is not through cheating but by “profitably” serving the customers.
Furthermore, the changing technology in recent years has added its own twist into the myth of sales industry.
Nowadays, when people hear the word ‘sales’, they start thinking about call centers in India and bad customer service.
Certain companies, unfortunately, ruined the public image by having people make calls and sales without speaking English.
This kind of generalization and ‘a few bad apples’ unfortunately can stick and ruin the industry’s reputation.
However, not only are there plenty of reputable and good quality telephone sales jobs overseas but also not all sales roles involve telemarketing in the first place.
The sales industry has been, throughout times, quite a popular source for inspiration for authors and filmmakers.
There are plenty of movies with caricatures of salespersons and these can be a fun way to get in on the misconceptions and myths about the industry.
If you’d like to checkout what the industry looks like through popular culture, you should check out films like:
- The Death of a Salesman – An Emmy-winning adaptation of a popular book in which a traditional salesperson is struggling to adapt to the changes in the industry.
- Used Cars – The movie tells a story of a car salesman who’s all about charisma and boldness. Kurt Russell’s character is the perfect cliché of a salesperson.
- Jerry McGuire – A different take on sales, as the movie is about a sports agent trying to find the best deal for his client. You’ve probably heard some clichéd salesperson use the popular phrase “Show me the money!” from this movie at least once!
- The Pursuit of Happiness – A moving story about the struggles in the industry, as we follow Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith) and his young son after he struggles to succeed in his marginal sales role.
WHAT DOES IT ACTUALLY TAKE THE WORK IN THE INDUSTRY?
While these myths about the industry have also led some to believe anyone can make it in sales, you’ll find the contrary to be true.
It might not require quite the same list of strict qualifications as certain other fields, but it certainly isn’t for those with the wrong kinds of characteristics.
Sales industry isn’t the most difficult industry to get in.
This doesn’t mean that it’s somehow “easy” to become a salesperson – it just has more focus on the personality and skillset of the person, rather than a specific degree.
Most sales jobs don’t require any specific qualifications and you don’t necessarily need a certain degree (if any!) to get started in the sector.
There is no “Sales Degree” to gain.
However, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t degrees that can be beneficial in grasping the industry or getting a head start.
For example, a Business Degree or a degree in Economics can be helpful for sales jobs. You could also benefit from a degree in English (especially if your job focuses on communication) or even Psychology (knowing how the human brain makes decisions can help!).
Furthermore, you might get into sales in a specific industry, which might call for a special degree or certification.
You can’t often work in pharmaceutical sales jobs or technical sales jobs without training in these fields.
Therefore, having a degree in Physics, Chemistry or Engineering could prove useful in your specific field.
Overall, qualifications aren’t necessary, but they can be helpful.
In some rare instances, you might be required to have previous formal training in the specialized field or at least enroll on a course once the role is offered for you.
While the qualifications are not quite as important or necessary, it’s imperative to have the right personality and characteristics to survive in the field.
If you’d like to work in sales, you should definitely aim to boost and enhance the following characteristics:
Since your focus is on making sales, you’ll need to be a good negotiator.
This requires you to be able to identify people’s problems, find solutions to those, and be able to present the solution in a way the person agrees with.
You will occasionally meet resistance and the customer will usually question your proposals – you must be able to be convincing and be able to find common ground that moves you closer to finishing the sale.
Customer service skills
Naturally, you also need great customer service skills. You need to get along with people and feel confident in discussing different topics with them.
It’s not just about the ability to talk smooth and listen either, customer service is about showing real empathy towards the person and making them feel valued.
Therefore, you need to be able to make people feel at ease, solve their problems and help them feel important while still looking after the interest of the company.
You must be able to think strategically in order to survive in the industry.
You must be able to quickly identify what the customer is looking for and which are the best selling techniques to use.
It’s also likely that your approach won’t be the same from the start to beginning – negotiations always take new twists and turns.
Furthermore, since you’re in the frontline of the company, you often have a big role in deciding the strategic aspects of the business.
Your expertise and understanding of the product can be valuable for product developers and marketing gurus – you must be able to identify the strength and weaknesses of the product and the best ways of selling the product or service to customers.
Finally, a salesperson has to be flexible. Not only will you be faced with different types of customers, requiring you to approach each sale with a fresh outlook, you’ll also be working in an industry that’s constantly changing.
Remember the movie ‘the Death of a Salesman’ (mentioned above)?
In it, the main character showed inflexibility – he didn’t want the industry to change because he wasn’t ready to change.
With technology constantly redesigning our lives, salespersons have to remain vigilant and flexible.
FIVE CORE REALITIES OF WORKING IN SALES
So, what is it really like working in sales?
Now that you know the kind of person you should be and the misconceptions you need to ditch about the sector, let’s examine the five core realities of your daily life as a salesperson.
You can view the short video of a typical day in sales job at Unilever Food Solutions:
Although you will be meeting other people and conversing in discussions regularly, sales can be rather independent and lonely at times.
In most sales jobs, you might have a team but each member is often in charge of making sales alone.
You might need to spend most time pursuing customers, setting out strategies and perfecting your sales pitch that you don’t have time talking with colleagues or getting support from your peers.
However, the upside for this is the independence to make decisions. You generally don’t need to run to your manager for everything – the salesperson that can make strategic decisions on his or her own can make the most sales.
Sales jobs are not always your typical 9-to-5 roles, although you might encounter these as well. The workdays can be long and require you to be flexible.
In an interview with Above the Fold Magazine, sales representative Trevor Malkoske talked about his typical day. He starts it at 7 am, writing e-mails and responses to customers. Although he stops around 5 pm to spend time with his family, he also checks his Blackberry for messages after 9.30 pm. The day’s rather long and busy, showcasing how the industry isn’t just about quick sales and short days.
Furthermore, if you are a travelling salesperson, you can expect your days to be even longer. Weekend work is also not uncommon – a lot of sales fairs and events actually run during the weekend!
Problem-solving nature of tasks
The thing to know about sales is not that you need to make claims that get people to buy the product or the service, but that you need to solve problems.
Every day in the industry is like being a detective. You meet a client and it’s your job to understand what particular problem in their life could be solved by the product or service you’re selling.
It’s not just about selling them a lunchbox for bananas (they exist!), but finding out the problem they have that can be solved by the banana box (they always ruin their work files with mushed bananas, for example).
Once you’ve been able to identify the problem (which the client might not know they have!), it’s your job to convince them how your product and service can help them overcome this issue.
The difficulty is that not everyone has the same problems – your workday isn’t about finding those people that suffer from mushy bananas, but to meet people and identify their particular problems with bananas and lunchboxes.
Working in sales is almost like being a detective.
Competitive, but tough salary progression
Now, working in sales has plenty of cool sides to it: being a detective, advancing your career, meeting new people and so on.
But let’s be honest here; what about the money?
You shouldn’t consider a career path just for the sake of money, but you do want to know what your bank account might look like.
Sales is not an easy road to riches. You shouldn’t expect to become a millionaire overnight.
However, you can proceed in your career and make a good amount of money in the industry – it definitely isn’t the worst career path in terms of earnings.
The key thing to understand is how sales salaries are not stagnant monthly paychecks, but often directly linked with performance.
You can in most cases earn a commission based on the number of sales you’re able to achieve – therefore, the better you are at your job, the more you can earn.
Let’s look at the entry-level salaries for sales representatives:
- In the US, you can earn around $39,000
- In the UK, you can earn around $40,000
Those are for entry-level roles. In the US, an average sales representative will earn around $56,000. Furthermore, as you advance in your career, your earnings tend to go up as well.
If you examine the executive and senior level sales roles, the earnings tend to climb up.
Here are a few average salaries for sales roles:
- Sales Manager – $130,000
- Sales Director – $102,000
- Sales (at home) -$95,000
- Consulting Sales – $120,000 to $250,000
- Digital Media Sales – $170,000 to $180,000
- Telecommunications sales – $70,000 to $100,000
Remember the above figures are often just the basic salaries – in almost all cases, you can also earn commissions, which could almost double your annual earnings.
A solid platform for your career path
Perhaps more than any other industry, sales offers plenty of opportunities to further your career – especially outside of sales.
While you shouldn’t get into the sector with the intention of using it as a stepping stone, working in sales does prepare you well for countless other roles.
The nature of the job is so demanding and full of transferable skills, which are going to be valued in many other roles.
You learn to communicate with people, you learn to work on your own and think on your feet, and you learn to set objectives and achieve them, among other things.
These are skills and experiences are valuable elsewhere – good communication, strategic thinking and problem-solving are part of most roles.
If you can show a good track-record of working in sales, you could potentially improve your chances of working in multiple other roles.
A sales role in fashion could help you become an editor or you might move on to human resources after working on the floor, for example.
Therefore, if you’re not quite sure what you want to do and the above appeals to you, then pursue a job in sales. It’ll teach you a great deal and it will help you push further.
THE BOTTOM LINE OF WORKING IN SALES
The sales industry is definitely one of the most misunderstood industries in the world. It has a bad reputation and people often view it through negative myths – it’s not often an aspirational career path for people.
However, the industry offers plenty of exciting and varied career opportunities. It’s not an easy career path to crack and working in sales (successfully!) can be harder than you think.
You need to be able to solve problems, think fast, and be able to work on your own in order to succeed.
It’s also an industry that can help be used as a stepping stone for other career paths – the transferable skills you gain from sales are admired almost in every other sector.
Human resource department – perhaps the one department in the workplace you don’t want to hear from …