I have blogged recently about how you can make a career move that leverages your knowledge of an industry in a new way: for advocacy or for standards enforcement. I call these “sequel careers” and have written a book, The Sequel, about making these career moves. Another popular sequel career is sales.
Although some sales workers start their careers with little or no knowledge of the industry in which they land their first job, your background in an industry or at least one product can be a great advantage in a sales career.
The basic function of a sales worker is to convince the buyer that a product or service meets the buyer’s needs. That means a good sales worker has a thorough knowledge of the product or service being sold, is able to determine what the buyer’s needs are, and has the persuasive skill to sway the buyer to value the benefits of the product or service. As part of the process of closing the sale, the sales worker may need to negotiate the price or at least make the case that the going price is fair. The sales worker also may need to discuss optional features, the mode of delivery, a warranty, or other terms of the deal.
In some companies, the sales manager identifies likely customers by doing research, but sometimes this is done by sales workers. Likewise, an account manager may handle the task of making follow-up phone calls to verify the customer’s satisfaction, but often sales workers do this as well. Sometimes sales workers modify the product at the customer’s site as needed or train the customer’s staff to use the product, but for a highly technical product, this task is more likely to be handled by a sales engineer.
Sales workers usually need to keep track of new products and competition. They may visit trade shows and industry conferences. They attend sales meetings at their company to review their sales performance and learn about current sales goals.
For working in sales, it helps to have an outgoing personality and be able to get along with many kinds of people. One of the satisfactions of the job is the contact with people, but clients sometimes can be demanding. The work may require a lot of travel. Sales workers are often under pressure to meet a sales quota. Sometimes their income is based partly or wholly on a commission.
Most sales positions have no formal educational requirements. Workers need two kinds of knowledge: knowledge of sales technique and knowledge of the product being sold. Employers may train sales workers in both. For example, a manufacturer may rotate sales trainees among jobs in plants and offices to learn all phases of production, installation, and distribution of the product. Other employers offer formal classes and on-the-job training under the supervision of a field sales manager.
However, a good background in either or both kinds of knowledge will improve your chances of getting hired as well as your success on the job. Employers sometimes recruit sales workers from the end users of their products because these experienced users are familiar with the benefits of the product and the ways to get the best use out of it. Experience like this is particularly valuable for landing a job selling a scientific or technical product, although a bachelor’s degree in a scientific or technology field is another way of qualifying for such a job. If you’re a knowledgeable user of a product, you might consider approaching the vendor about a sales job.
Sales engineers usually have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, but some who hold this job title are knowledgeable about science or technology without being engineers. Usually they learn their skills by being teamed with an experienced sales worker, and they often continue to work as a team with someone who is more skilled with sales technique and less knowledgeable about technology.
Knowledge of a particular industry may give you an advantage in a job selling investments, commodities, or insurance related to that industry. Brokers and investment advisors must pass an exam and register as representatives of their firm with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Similarly, those who want to sell insurance must obtain licensure for the particular type of insurance, which usually depends on taking specific courses and pursuing continuing education to maintain licensure. Check the regulations that apply to your state.