An entire post could be written on what the hiring manager on the other side of the table wants to see (and it has). Here I will touch on several benefits of beginning a career in sales to the recent graduate. Don’t be surprised if a tinge of regret emanates from the page and this post reads like an open-letter to a much younger version of myself.
Feeds natural curiosity:
You, the recent graduate, exude confidence, idealism and curiosity. What better time to take on a structure and trajectory that harnesses your natural curiosity? In sales, you are immediately exposed to a range of company sizes, cultures, industries and functions. Behind the veil of job titles and corporate bureaucracy, you will work with real buyers who are actual people. Do you like what you see in them? Sales is a great (paid) way to evaluate.
Develops coveted leadership skills:
Getting from lead generation to signed contract requires an enormous amount of cross-functional finesse. Early in my career, I sold health benefits to large corporations. An average deal required that I coordinate internally with data analysts, underwriters, actuaries, proposal writers, countless subject matter experts and my sales leadership. Ultimately, I was the one on the hook to get the deal across the finish line and was compensated (or not) accordingly.
Getting alignment and cooperation from a network where you have no hierarchical authority is a skill companies are looking for at their highest levels of leadership. Those who figure it out accelerate past their peers. How does that sound?
An age-old method to filter sales candidates is asking for your most recent W2 statements. The thinking is that a sales person should either make a substantial amount (varies by industry) consistently if he is successful, or should make an escalating amount each year as he is given greater responsibility and is successful.
As much as this tactic makes my skin crawl (it is the professional equivalent of an arm wrestling match), there is a reason sales managers use it – a successful sales rep can show proof of success on his pay stub. In sales, we have a scoreboard. Our output is binary. Did we produce revenue or not? Try asking an interviewee for a human resources position to show you their last three pay stubs…
Forced to improve communication skills:
By constantly interacting with customers, you are always performing. Every cold email, cold call, LinkedIn interaction, demo, face to face meeting, internal strategy meeting and sales round table gives you the chance to practice communicating clearly and effectively.
Although any role includes elements of sales, client-facing selling is particularly valuable for developing communication skills because you receive instantaneous feedback. Not only do you find out whether your good/service appeals to your prospect, but you find out whether you made any sense at all. Sometimes clients are candid and tell you a pitch is horrible, but more often a pregnant pause or squint of the eye sends just as valuable a message.
When you’re asking for someone’s money, they tend to be honest with you.
Control earning potential:
As the saying goes, in sales you eat what you kill. Whatever sales role you assume, you have a portion of compensation that is variable, tied to KPI’s such as customer retention or acquisition, revenue, profitability, etc.
As a former collegiate wrestler, I wasn’t yoked to under performers when I stepped onto the mat to compete. It was important to be pushed in training by good teammates and to chase team goals, but between the competitive lines, it was me versus my opponent.
Sales provides the same type of individual reward. Rather than punching a time clock, you choose an achievement mentality that is rewarded with measured wins and losses. If you win more, you also earn more. Sometimes a lot more.
In what other ways is sales a good career gateway? What caveats would you include?