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Article 11 min read

How to start a sales career (and why you should)

Considering a sales career? Sales professionals weigh in about the perks of the job and share the biggest lessons they’ve learned along the way.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Last updated July 26, 2022

“Salesperson” might not be the answer you expect to get when you ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up. But if that precocious youngster has done their research, they’ll know that sales is one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative career paths today. In this article, we’ll take a look at the sales career journey and why it might be time for you to start yours.

Typical sales career path

There’s no “correct” way to move through a sales career. But in general, the sales career path can branch from one of a few starting points:

  • Sales development representative

  • Inside sales representative

  • Outside sales representative

  • Base account manager

All four have strong opportunities for growth and high earning potential. Let’s dive a little deeper into where a sales career starts and how to achieve your career goals.

Career growth in sales

The sales industry covers a wide range of careers, from the small mom-and-pop shop owner to the VP of sales at a Fortune 500 company. That said, most people start their sales careers in the same place: by working as a sales (or marketing) representative.

These snappily named sales reps are the face of a company. They’re the ones interacting with customers, handling transactions, moving products, and influencing the all-important brand perception. Some people thrive in sales rep positions, especially if they work on commission. But even if your goal is to work your way up, this role is a crucial place to start.

When you work as a sales rep, you learn about every aspect of the business (including marketing, branding, pipeline, and stock). This experience will make you a better manager and supervisor as you ascend through the sales ranks.

How to grow your sales career

The key to growth is being open to learning. Even top executives must continue their professional development to perform at their best. According to renowned sales trainer Alice Heiman, there are four key practices to keep in mind when looking to advance your sales career.

  1. Work for a company with a great sales culture

    sales career culture
    You don’t want to start your career with a company that doesn’t want to invest in you. Look for companies with low turnover rates and glowing employee reviews. Ensure the company provides coaching and training, too. After all, it benefits them when you perform well.
  2. Level up your sales knowledge

    sales career knowledge
    Do everything you can to stay informed about the latest trends and most effective sales techniques. Subscribe to helpful blogs, read books, attend webinars, and listen to podcasts. As you become a sales expert, you’ll be able to help others on your team and establish yourself as a go-to person for answers—helping you move up the ladder faster.
  3. Make your job about helping customers, not selling to them

    sales career help
    You’re going to hear a lot about quotas during your first year in sales. While quotas are important for the company’s bottom line, they’re not necessarily a definition of success. You shouldn’t use aggressive tactics to push sales through just to meet your monthly quota—it’s not in the best interest of the customer or your company. Opting for manipulation over ethical selling will likely backfire and lead to customer churn in the future.
    Remember: Your clients want a solution, not a product.
  4. Listen to your customers

    sales career listen to customers
    The faster you can internalize that the best sales are personal sales, the faster you will rise to the top. Your prospects are people with problems, not consumers with money. Practice active listening and consultative selling so you can focus on solutions in a customer-centric way. If you’re offering a product that isn’t going to solve a prospect’s pain point, don’t push it. You might have a different product that’s better suited to their needs and business goals.

Sales career goal examples

Sometimes, it’s hard to visualize the victories in a sales career beyond, well, making sales. Don’t let that deter you from pursuing a sales career. Here are some examples of goals you can set and achieve on your way to making more money and deepening your professional development:

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

  • Gain a new skill

  • Expand your network and networking abilities

  • Intern with a large company to gain experience

  • Improve your sales productivity statistics

  • Start your own business after building experience

  • Become a sales expert

  • Reach a leadership position

  • Win an award

Setting a few career goals is half the battle in finding sales success and climbing your way to the top.

Benefits of a sales career

Sales might not be the first career you think of when someone asks about your dream job, but there are many reasons why it should be. Sales careers are flexible, in-demand, well-paying, and exciting. Don’t believe us? Read on.

Why is sales a good career?

We asked Kyle Osterman, the former VP of enterprise sales at Zendesk, about his career. Here’s what he had to say about sales and the privilege of working in the industry:

“I have had the good fortune to work in sales and sales leadership with several world-class companies over my 30-year career. I had early exposure to some of the finest sales minds in the business, including sales training pioneer Neil Rackham, and forward-thinking sales training programs about SPIN selling, solution selling, strategic selling, the Challenger Sales model, and more. All of these programs offer critical skills and strategies around the successful management of a sales cycle. I took so much from these investments.”

Learning is built into your sales job. It’s inevitable, and it’s what makes sales a great career.

Is sales a good starting career?

Sales is one of the best starting careers. When you enter the sales world, you don’t need to enter with years of experience or a sales degree—you only need ambition and a growth mindset. Both qualities are essential for anyone looking to begin a sales career, especially if you’re pivoting from a previously unrelated career path.

Is a career in sales hard?

Sales isn’t the easiest career, but that’s why it’s so lucrative. A strong sales career requires dedication, persistence, empathy, quick decision-making, and patience. It’s not for everyone. That said, the sales industry encompasses many types of businesses, so there’s likely a niche where your skills and personality are best utilized.

Why sales is the best career

Regardless of where you want to go with your sales career, any sales experience provides you with priceless skills that apply to all types of jobs and situations. When you’re in sales, you’re learning life skills—interpersonal communication, adaptability, charisma, and trustworthiness. All will propel you forward whether you decide to stay in sales or move in another direction.

Considering the learning experiences, high income potential, flexibility, variety, and networking opportunities that come with this career path, it’s easy to see why sales is worth exploring.

Lessons learned from a career in sales, according to professionals

One of the best parts of sales is that it’s always evolving to meet new societal and financial trends. So if you’re looking to become a true sales professional who’s serious about honing their craft, chances are you’ll encounter several valuable life lessons along your career journey.

We asked some Zendesk sales leaders to share the most poignant lessons they’ve learned throughout their sales careers. Here are their indispensable words of wisdom.

Learn more sales lessons for your career

Oftentimes, the best way to learn is from the sound experience and advice of others. Reach out to sales professionals in your network to gain a deeper understanding of their work and what they enjoy (and don’t enjoy) about it. This will help you determine whether or not a sales career is a good fit for you.

If you’re ready to take the leap, start beefing up your sales knowledge, writing your sales resume, and prepping for your first sales interview.

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