How to start a career in sales

By Abby Rolfe, Digital Marketing Executive at Professional Academy

Sales is a popular industry to work in if you love working with people, are a great communicator and thrive on workplace challenges and targets. Even if you have no experience in the industry, you’d be surprised at how many transferable skills translate into sales effectively. Retail, hospitality, and customer service are just a few that you might find in many successful salespeople’s backgrounds.

Don’t know where to begin? Check out some of our tips on how to kickstart your career in sales the right way.

Identify companies & industries you love

Sales and business development is a very broad area, as every company needs to sell. Even charities and not-for-profits often need fundraising and to pledge for grants. This means you can choose an industry you’re interested in and/or passionate about to pursue your career in sales. If you’re already an advocate for a product or service, it’s much easier to sell it to someone else.  

Let’s say your favourite drink is orange juice. It gets you out of bed in the morning. You love it because it’s (mildly) healthy, tastes great, and helps you start the day on a positive note. If you could only take one thing to a desert island, it’d have to be the trusty OJ. Okay, so maybe no one feels this strongly about orange juice… but the point is, the reasons you buy it are probably the same reasons that a customer would be interested. You can use that to your advantage.   

And when you’re searching for your perfect fit in terms of industry and company culture, don’t forget to think about how it might align with your future goals and long-term job outlook.

Match your strengths & personality with the right area of sales

Do you like building relationships and maintaining them over an extended period of time? Account management is probably perfect for you. This area means you don’t disappear once the sale is made. You’re on hand to offer continued support and to ensure the customer stays happy.

Are you driven by targets and performance-based rewards? Look into commission-based sales roles. Not every sales role is commission-based, but for some talented salespeople it can be an effective and profitable way of achieving goals.

Would you like to combine sales with communications through targeted campaigns? Sales & marketing link well together and there are many positions that connect the two areas. It means you could be part of a bigger part of the customer journey - from generating leads to converting them.

Learn about products or services from companies & think about how you could sell them

It’s really important in sales to know what you’re selling. So, it’s less about knowing ‘how to sell snow to an eskimo’, and more about learning why the snow you’re selling will help improve their lives.

Don’t sell a bed, sell a good night’s sleep. Selling is more than just convincing a person that they need to buy something, it’s essential to think about the personal benefits to them. Put yourself in their shoes and consider their needs.

Maybe they’re having trouble sleeping. Their bed is uncomfortable and causes them to wake up multiple times in the night. It’s not good for their back or posture. How can you help? Your new bed could mean they spend less on Horlicks and chamomile tea, and they can stop annoying their partner with sounds of ‘calming’ whale song at 2am. They could be full of energy during the day, meaning they get more done. Imagine the possibilities! Sold.

Highlight your transferable skills

If you don’t have any experience in sales and feel like this will affect your ability to get noticed – don’t worry! You are bound to have developed some transferable skills that can be applied in a sales environment.

Communication and customer service are solid skills that are usually strengthened from work in retail and hospitality. You might think your experience giving customers advice on your favourite crisp flavour is irrelevant, but you could’ve been the catalyst in the sale. Great news for Walkers (other crisp brands are available).

In addition to any skills you may have obtained from work experience (it’s worth noting that general office and administration experience is transferable in many ways), you can also think about soft skills. Like that time you convinced your friend that the best brand of chocolate is Cadbury. Or that the moon is made of cheese. Soft skills can include people skills, problem solving, leadership, persuasion, and more.

Update your CV & LinkedIn

Make sure you tailor your CV and LinkedIn profile to sales roles. Your personal summary and covering letter should express your enthusiasm to get into sales and also how your transferable skills and experience would match to specific positions. Don’t forget to also include in your covering letter what makes that company attractive to you and why you’re a good fit for them.

It’s also a good idea to get active on LinkedIn as well as updating your profile. Engage with posts and connect with people in the sales industry, as well as sharing related content on your own page. Show you’re willing to make the effort to learn and grow of your own accord.

Be aware that prospective employers might Google your name or check out your online presence, so try and remove all evidence from the stag do in Amsterdam (unless you’re looking exceptionally professional).

Get the right training

Whether you’re moving industry, have come straight out of college or university, or starting out again after a career break – there are many things you can proactively learn whilst you’re searching for the right sales role. Here’s some ideas:

  • University courses
  • Training with a professional body
  • A sales apprenticeship
  • Learn on the job in entry-level positions

If you’re looking to gain a professional sales qualification, then we can help. Professional Academy offer a range of ISM sales courses to suit people at all levels of experience. Gaining one can make you more attractive to future employers as well as teaching valuable sales techniques and theories you can put to use straight away.

You can find an overview of ISM Qualifications in this infographic, on our Sales Qualifications page, by downloading a prospectus, or by getting in touch with an adviser who would be happy to answer any questions you may have.