Salespeople aren’t born — they’re made. Sure, some people have more of the soft skills necessary to succeed at sales, but few people are total naturals. To crush your sales goals and make them look easy, you’re going to need some in-depth training and plenty of practice.
Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about sales experience and, most importantly, how to get some and stand out from the crowd:
Before you can acquire sales experience, you should probably know what it really means. Sales experience is basically your history of selling both goods and services to others. It’s the end result of countless sales phone calls, emails, in-person meetings, and training sessions.
Sales experience is usually gained from prospecting, demoing, and closing your own deals, but you can also learn a lot from shadowing calls and listening to call recordings. Dissecting how the best in the business do it is also a great way to gather sales experience.
When it comes to getting a job in sales, most employers think of sales experience as your qualifications and background. Your track record in sales tells them how prepared you are for a potential role, what training you’ll need, and what compensation you should be able to earn.
Sales experience is akin to being battle-tested. Hiring someone who’s been through the wringer and still asked for more is a special thing. It shows passion, perseverance, and spirit. It shows a potential employer that you’re not new to the game and, as such, might be better prepared to help them hit their business goals. It also shows you’ll need less hand-holding and will likely be able to ramp up quicker in your new role.
Sales experience teaches self-discipline, negotiation skills, and the ability to overcome obstacles, amongst many other desirable skills. In other words, sales experience makes you more attractive to potential employers and boosts your chances of getting an interview and getting hired.
There’s no better way to gain experience than by getting a job in sales.
But what if you don’t have experience?
Believe it or not, there are companies hiring entry-level reps with little to no experience. Often, they do that so that you don’t come into the role with bad habits from previous organizations. They can train you their way and mold you into their vision of a successful sales rep from the start. That said, they’ll also likely pay you less to start, since they have to spend the time and money to train you.
There’s nothing wrong with starting from scratch. In fact, it’s a great way to gain the experience necessary to either move up or to go to another company later on. Other ways to get sales experience include reading sales books, attending sales webinars, taking sales training programs, reading sales-related web content, and shadowing sales calls.
Another role that’s less desirable, but possibly more profitable is a commission-only sales role. Companies will bring you on to do sales and even train you, but you won’t get paid a set salary or hourly wage. You’ll only get paid when you close a deal successfully. It’s essentially a contractor role, but the upside is usually much higher than if you worked full-time.
If you’re still struggling to break into a sales role, you can always volunteer or work for a non-profit organization. Many organizations are looking for people to do cold outreach for fundraisers, political campaigns, or disaster relief. The skills you’d learn from volunteering absolutely translate over to the sales world and will help pad your resume and give you the real-world experience you need to get your foot in the door.
When you think of sales roles, you probably think they’re all the same. At some companies, that’s absolutely the truth. If it’s a small enough organization, they’ll likely only have one tier of sales reps, all of whom report directly to the owner or president of the company.
At larger companies, the list of sales roles is much longer. Here’s a short breakdown of the types of roles you’ll most likely need sales experience for:
It’s possible to get those last three with little to no experience, but experience definitely helps.
Gaining the upper hand in sales really boils down to having a mix of soft skills and hard skills. Here are five skills you’ll want to work on regularly to improve your sales performance:
For a more comprehensive list, check out 15 Sales Skills Anyone Can Learn to Be a Great Salesperson.
Don’t stop at developing your sales skills. Writing great cover letters, interviewing well, and pitching yourself are all important skills to practice as well – especially if you want to stand out amongst dozens of applicants. Here are a few tips to give you an edge:
At the end of the day, the sales world is full of go-getters and rich with opportunities for up-and-comers. If you’re willing to start at the bottom, study hard, and remain coachable, then you’re almost guaranteed a spot on the roster.