How To Get Into Sales: The Sales Career Paths Of 3 Pros – Built In

Posted: July 7, 2020 at 8:41 pm


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A healthcare professional, an international English teacher and an artist with military experience what do they all have in common?

They all found their way into careers in tech sales.

Unlike for many professions, theres no singular path into sales. Its blend of career growth potential and translatable skills make it an attractive option for both recent college graduates and working professionals eyeing a career change. Wondering what to do with that philosophy, psychology or English degree?Hop on the phone, and turn those communication skills into commission.

Excelling in sales, however, is another story. It takes more than the gift of gab or the ability to strike a gong (although more power to you, if thats your jam) to rake in commission.

With the rise insales technology, the profession has only become more competitive and data-driven. Hitting quota requires mastering email cadences, customer research and complex CRM systems. In some cases, a salesperson might have to play the parts of engineer, marketer and customer support on a call to explain the nuances of a complicated product to a customer.

But mastering those skills can lead to an array of job options, whether thats as an account executive closing deals, an account manager working with existing customers or a sales enablement lead coaching others to success.

We spoke with three salespeople about the paths they took to get into sales, and how theyve found success.

Selam Degefu, Account Executive, Intercom:I was working in healthcare and had applied to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only to find out that they had discontinued the project I wanted to work on. Without that job, I didnt want to be working in healthcare much longer. That was when my mentor brought up the idea of working in tech sales. I didnt even know what the job involved, but after doing a little more digging, I became interested. I liked that there was an opportunity for growth, which was something I didnt have in the healthcare field.

Andrae Washington, Sales Enablement Lead, Onna:My first experience in sales came in 2016, when I was living in Shanghai, China. I was helping to run an English tutoring company with a group of other expats, and we had to get parents to invest in the company. The process was like raising a seed funding round. Then I moved back to the United States in 2017.

I wanted to get into tech, but I didnt have any connections. Sometimes this job traffics in a space that minorities arent connected to. Most of my friends are lawyers, accountants or doctors. Im educated, I have military experience, but I would never have traveled in the tech circle. Thats when I connected with SV Academy, which helped me get my foot in the door at my first company, Sisense.

Danielle Ruffin, Sales Consultant, Kin Insurance:I taught English at a university in South Korea for 10 years before moving back home to Chicago, where my skills werent as in-demand. So, I bought a car on Craigslist and started delivering groceries. I turned that into a mini business and went from delivering groceries to packages to doing paratransit. By the end of 2019, I just wasnt seeing any real growth, so I started looking at other options. Thats when I came across re:Work, a nonprofit that specializes in helping people from disadvantaged communities like mine find opportunities in tech sales.

Ive always had an interest in sales and had applied to sales jobs in the past, but I wasnt even able to get an interview. So, I applied to re:Work and entered the sales training program in 2020. Its an eight-week program, but I was able to get my first interview with a company in the third week and my first job offer by the fourth.

Washington:Whenever youre on the phone, you should always understand what the customers goal is for the conversation and what you want from them. When you think of how to position your company, its helpful to know what they think about the product. If they think were an e-discovery tool and Im trying to sell them the e-discovery solution, I dont want to talk to them about our enterprise search function and confuse them. Conversely, if they dont think we can do e-discovery and thats what they want, then what I need to do is educate them. When youre describing the product, try to keep it open-ended so that you dont close off opportunities.

Degefu:My manager says its like going to the doctor. The doctor wont just look at you and prescribe medicine, he asks you how youre feeling, where the pain is, and what you are there to fix. Its the same in sales. In order to solve a complex problem, we have to understand what the customer is even trying to solve and why they need to solve it. You need to start with a good discovery. I also like to ask customers what other solutions they have tried. Once you understand the issue, then you can prescribe the solution with your product.

Ruffin:The first step is understanding the product yourself. I know its rudimentary, but for something like insurance, which is very complex, being able to understand it enough that you can explain it carefully takes time. I found listening to how other people explain it to be very helpful as well. Most of my customers have no background in insurance, so I try to keep it as simple as possible and use concrete examples.

Washington:If youre in the marketing or business intelligence space, the ability to write even a little bit of SQL can be huge for leveraging analytics. But the most important thing is to commit to being an expert in the one tool thats going to bring you the most success. If you start at a company as a BDR and they have Sales Loft or Outreach, immerse into the training videos and learn the tips and tricks to customize the system. At the highest level, most of those tools are similar. So if you can become an expert in it, you can bring that value to your next job.

Degefu: Understand how to use Salesforce, at least at a very high level. Youre going to use Salesforce or a similar CRM whether you end up as an SDR, an account executive or customer success manager. You cant avoid it. The other thing is to understand how to use email cadences. Every company uses a different tool, but if you understand how to create an opportunity with email cadences, thatll help you be successful.

Ruffin:Learning email sequences and having a cadence of messages that you can set over the next seven days is huge. It keeps my name in front of them and makes sure that we stay top of mind throughout the sales process. Its also important to spend time learning about your CRM, and how you can use it to make your job easier. We dont have direct phone numbers, so Ive learned to use the notes section to flag customers who are mine. I also live and die by setting follow-up tasks in our CRM, which helps me simultaneously take on more leads and manage existing ones.

Degefu:Listening, more than anything, is what sets you apart from other salespeople. Are you quick to talk about your product, or are you listening to what the customer is saying? I always try to recap the conversation to make sure that I was fully listening. If I missed something because I was thinking about an exciting deal or solution, the recap creates an opportunity to circle back and make sure I have all the information I need.

Washington:If youre a BDR or an AE doing outbound sales to generate your business, its important to have soft eyes. You need to be able to look at someones LinkedIn and see how their skills and resume all connect together for an opportunity. You need to be able to listen to them on a call and figure out what their problem is and how you can solve it. No one is ever going to tell you the exact things you need to check off your list to qualify as an opportunity, so you have to connect the dots on your own. Then you have to be able to paint a picture for them of how your product can solve it.

Ruffin:Its important to understand that youre going to be in this constant state of evolution, and being comfortable with that growth. In tech, its kind of a given that things are not going to be the same a year from now or even a month from now. As a salesperson, being able to take constructive criticism, incorporate that into your process and evolve is so important.

Ruffin:Its always a challenge to find that pipeline stability. My target is to take anywhere from nine to 12 leads a day, which keeps my pipeline full while also giving me enough time to help everyone else in my pipeline. Then Ill look at my pipeline and see if there are any customers who I havent had any connection with for more than 30 days and mark them as lost. Marking my lost leads and maintaining a clean workflow keeps my head on straight and allows me to keep moving. I try to do that every week.

Washington:Theres more than one way to hit quota, but the three most successful ways Ive seen are the dog method, the product expert strategy and leaning on what you know. The dog method is like, Im hitting quota even if I need to burn through 75 contacts before lunch and another 75 after lunch. Then theres the product expert strategy, where you understand the product so well it gives you immediate credibility. The third way, which is what I did, is to lean on what you know. Once you get a deal, reverse-engineer all the steps you took to get that deal and do that again. And lean into the messaging and process your team gives you to start.

Degefu:If your quota is $300,000 for the quarter, you just have to make sure that every week youre bringing in $25,000. So using an Excel doc or whatever you can to keep track of your pipeline each week helps. If you miss your goal, then you know you have to make up for it next week. Good reporting will also help, so you dont have to go through all 100 reports every day. If you do miss your quota, understand that its normal early on and that it takes time to learn the software. Give yourself a grace period and learn from people who always hit quota.

Day in the LifeWhat Does a Customer Success Manager Do?

Degefu:I started at Intercom as a sales development rep, and then I moved on to be an account manager and then an account executive. What helped me find success was having a growth mindset and being able to adapt to change. You have to be up for the challenge. I was always ready to learn from every project that they gave. I always raised my hand to work collaboratively with product marketing and other teams outside of my role. If you have to go above and beyond your role, do it. Thats how you set yourself apart from others.

Washington:Lean into what youre good at. Im good at research, so I researched the hell out of these companies and who I was talking to so that the messaging felt targeted to that person. I did that at scale, so all I needed to do is call them when they opened the email. Its also helpful to have a mentor. They dont need to be someone whos 25 years older than you, they just need to have more experience in the industry and are at a different company. I can bounce ideas off my mentor and get honest feedback that I might not get in the workplace. That ability to be transparent and have a sounding board is so valuable in this career.

Ruffin:I reached out to my HR manager and mentioned that I would like to have someone as a partner or mentor to help as we transitioned to working from home, and they set me up. Its been so helpful to have a partner to answer my questions, listen to my calls and tell me how I can save time or relay the information more succinctly to the customer. There have been times during this journey where Ive felt defeated, and my mentor has been able to give me some outside perspective, tell me that theyve been through the same thing and offer some tweaks.

Degefu:When I first went to interview for Intercom, I did a tour and was so struck because I didnt see one person who looked like me. The good thing was that they were open to making the team more diverse, and they ended up hiring more African Americans. Id say, speak up if youre noticing your team isnt diverse, or ask why? Theres nothing wrong with asking what we can do to attract more individuals who look like us in the recruiting pipeline. The tech industry needs diversity. The other thing you can do is look for teams that are more diverse with whomyou can share your experiences.

Washington:If you experience a microaggression or feel frustration, dont be afraid to stand up for what you believe in and what it is you think hurts you. It will only be to your disadvantage if you dont. You have to let it out in a professional way, whether thats to your mentor or someone at the company so that you can get counsel on how to move forward with it. If you just carry it, then its going to fester and then youre going to be perceived as the problem.

Ruffin:I spent 10 years of my adult life in a country where I looked different, spoke a different language and acted differently from the people around me, so its not uncomfortable for me to be in situations where I stand out. I was aware that Im older than most people in this industry, that Im female and Im not the same color as other people working in this industry.

I would say what makes tech special is that theres a progressive, forward-thinking way of doing things that transcends the product and gets into how we treat each other. Within my office, Ive been pleasantly surprised at the effort and genuine care that has been put into diversity, unity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion is a core pillar of our culture, and its not something special that we do only on Fridays or something like that.

Checking Back In7 Ways to Make Sales Follow Up Emails More Effective

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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How To Get Into Sales: The Sales Career Paths Of 3 Pros - Built In

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July 7th, 2020 at 8:41 pm

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