First of all let me say this blog is not bashing retail for ‘not being a real job’. I have worked in retail, as many of us have done at some time in our lives, and the job can be hard - long hours, difficult customers, not much compensation either in the form of job satisfaction or pay - so I have huge respect for those working in retail. My admiration for retail is also backed up by it’s economic importance to the UK, but the sector has been competing with the move to online shopping, and the 2020 pandemic has dealt a lethal blow to many already struggling beloved high street brands - most recently the Arcadia Group and Debenhams. So if you work in retail, is it time to think about using your skills to move into an office-based sales role?
Just in 2020 so far retail administrations have led to the loss of almost 125,000 UK retail jobs, including at Marks & Spencer, Sainsburys, Boots, and John Lewis. The result of these job cuts and closures is that a lot of extremely hard-working people with customer service/retail sales experience find themselves in need of a new career path. I won’t be dwelling on the negative side of this news, but looking at the positives - the job market will offer some fantastic new prospects for sales and customer service roles but, as some people I have spoken to have commented, it is not always an easy transition to make.
‘When I went for jobs, the customer service roles would say I only had sales experience and when I went for sales jobs they would tell me my experience was customer service based, it was lose:lose and very demoralising’
These were the words of Ann W. from Cambridge who is now successfully developing an office career based on her early retail and customer service experiences. She told me ‘It was 9 months before someone was willing to give me a chance, which caused a serious knock to my confidence’. Ann had 9 years of retail experience with supervisory and management responsibilities, but still struggled to get a new role. So, what can you do to improve your chances of making it through to an interview and moving into an office-based sales role?
‘Retail sales experience will give you a few extra points when going for an interview, but outside retail you will need to really demonstrate your relevant office sales skills’ is the key advice from Philip Perren, Senior Qualifications Adviser at Professional Academy. ‘A sales office can be a very busy environment and there are key skills and experience you will need to show you have. Let’s start with discipline and attention to detail, and the fact that your experience with easy and difficult customers gives you good customer-facing skills either face to face on the phone.’
‘Retail sales experience will give you a few extra points when going for an interview, but outside retail you will need to really demonstrate your relevant office sales skills’
‘Internal and external communication is very important, so your phone experience is very useful. You can never over communicate, and after every communication think ‘now who would benefit from this information?’
Most sales organisations will use a ‘CRM’ system - a software platform to manage customers and prospects – which will be used by everyone in the organisation to manage the sales and customer process efficiently. Research CRM systems if you haven’t used one before.
With any job these days background research and preparation is key. If you can, call one of your potential employer’s customers and get some feedback. The most important element to keep in mind when you go for an interview is 'Go to impress' which is extremely solid advice.
Recruiters and career advisers will both tell you that any job will give you a series of transferable skills and retail is no different. You need to think about the transferable skills from retail that would be beneficial in an office-based sales role. And don’t forget to include information about any formal training you have had that is relevant both in the pre-interview stage and during the interview itself.
...solving issues, building relationships, and handling queries. These skills are instantly transferable into an office scenario.
One of the key transferable skills is customer service. Those working in retail spend a lot of time in their day-to-day role dealing with customers face to face, not only selling products but also solving issues, building relationships, and handling queries. These skills are instantly transferable into an office scenario.
During your retail experience you will have developed your own style of communicating with customers which, once your product knowledge is up to scratch, will give you the confidence to talk to potential customers with little or no further training required.
You will also be familiar with working towards targets, you may even have been working towards bonuses or commission. In the world of office-based or field sales, all sales roles are target driven and your retail experience will be a benefit as you will be able to adapt easily from a retail organisation process to the sales organisation process.
Alongside these transferable skills you will also have a strong team mentality and, depending on how far you managed to climb on retail career ladder, you may have supervisory or managerial experience which will make you a good team leader or manager, both of which are desirable skills for employers.
Talent egg have a fantastic article on the top 5 transferable skills, well worth looking into when putting your CV/Resume together.
You need to consider what can you add to those transferable skills to increase your chances of securing a new career in sales? Professional and personal development could be the answer you are looking for.
Professional qualifications are a great way to boost your CV and demonstrate your understanding of certain tasks associated with sales roles, this is where the ISM would be able to help you in your move from retail into an office-based sales role.
The ISM are the world’s leading institute for sales professionals and as such are focused on helping sales people progress in their chosen career path as well as creating a new generation of sales people through training created by sales people for sales people.
...the qualifications helped develop 'A wider understanding of the sales process, together with the ability to overcome complex issues associated with organisations.'
According to ISM students the qualifications helped develop 'A wider understanding of the sales process, together with the ability to overcome complex issues associated with organisations.' As well as 'Broadening my outlook to business life altogether. There were quite a few aspects that were not just related to sales and marketing.'
ISM qualifications cover all levels of sales training from Entry Level Qualifications (Level 2) to Strategic Sales Management qualifications (Level 6).
Level 2 qualifications are for those coming into sales with no business experience and teach telesales skills alongside units which will help those new to the profession understand sales targets, marketing, and the ethics of selling. Level 3 qualifications cover more hands-on sales skills such as handling negotiations, and time & territory management. Level 5 qualifications in Sales & Account Management are designed for those in supervisory and managerial roles with Level 6 qualifications in Strategic Sales Management for those at director level.
The long and short of it then, is that the ISM could support your entire development from entering the sales field to becoming a sales director making them the perfect partner to start your sales career.
By investing in your personal development you not only develop the skills needed to succeed in sales but show a commitment to sales as a career path – demonstrating your passion for sales to your potential employer.
If you would like to talk to Professional Academy about moving from retail into office-based sales roles we would be more than happy to help, alternatively you could download our ISM Sales Qualification Prospectus, find more information on the sales courses or contact one of our qualification advisers today.