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If you’re sharp, dynamic, and love talking to people, sales or business development could be a great fit for you. You’ll get to work in a job where every day involves helping different customers or working with different products, and where the results of your efforts are very tangible, in both quotas and commissions.
But to successfully break into sales or business development, you have to be able to sell yourself as the best person for the job. To help you out, we’ve talked to five professionals in the field to get their thoughts on what it takes to impress.
Cynthia Schames, Director of Business Development
Company: Performance Horizon Group
Years of Professional Experience: 15+
Brief Description of Job: My role is focused on the creation and development of direct relationships with global brand advertisers, large digital agencies, and major publishing portals. I sell enterprise software-as-a-service to C-level and VP-level contacts.
Why did you choose sales and business development?
I originally wanted to work in marketing, and the first job I got out of college was in a marketing support firm. As it turned out, marketing support really meant pre-sales. I had always said that I didn’t want to be in sales, but once I got into it and saw that sales is really about solving problems for your customers, I fell in love.
The things I love most about sales are forming relationships that provide value to the customer, solving real business issues they are facing, and learning to ask the right questions. Being curious is pretty much the best qualifying skill you can have if you want to be a successful sales or business development professional.
What was your first job in sales, and how did you land it?
My first sales-related job was actually as the inside sales rep supporting an outside salesperson. My job was to qualify prospects and set appointments over the phone with high-level executives in Fortune 1000 companies. It was an incredible foundation in sales, because it taught me professional presentation skills, persuasion, and how to navigate complex corporate structures.
This was my first job out of college, and it was a fairly straightforward process; I have a BA in Communications, and was able to leverage both my education and my experience in public speaking and performance to land the job. If you’re in this situation, don’t forget to highlight your extracurriculars. Even if it’s kind of nerdy, things like Debate Club can prepare you well for a job in sales.
What is different about the hiring process in sales than in other fields?
It’s been my experience that getting a job is less about networking and more about being findable and pointing to real, quantifiable results on your resume and online profiles.
The hiring process is unique as well, because the first rule of sales is that people buy from people they like. Interviewers know this, so it’s important to be likable and make a connection with your interviewers and recruiters. I’ve seen less-qualified candidates get a job simply because they were the kind of person that the sales director wanted to work with.
One key thing to remember is that every sales organization is different. You’ll want to remain teachable, flexible, and open-minded. What works in one industry or company may not work at all in the next role, so always look for ways to learn and grow as a salesperson and professional.
Shawn Keeler, Director of Business Development
Company: Smart Ink
Years of Professional Experience: 5+
Brief Description of Job: At Smart Ink, I focus primarily on new client acquisition. I investigate potential clients, speculate as to their needs, and develop a strategy to satisfy those needs. I also aid in the management of our production schedule, supplier network, and existing client demands.
What did you want to do growing up?
I was always urged to be a lawyer. I think that’s because I never stopped talking and I had an answer for everything. As I became older and actually thought about it, one thing was clear—I knew I wanted to be around and interact with people every day.
I studied broadcast journalism at Arizona State with a focus on media management. My plan was to enter the media industry through one of the three traditional channels—TV, radio, or print—and work my way up the sales ladder.
What was your first job in this field, and how did you land it?
I was an Account Executive for a local news and talk radio station. I leveraged a family connection and the skills I gained from my degree to land an internship during my last semester at Arizona State. I worked very hard for five months, and then asked my boss if I could apply for a full time Account Executive position once I graduated. He agreed to give me an interview and I came prepared.
For the interview, I created an operation manual for myself, the “SK-5000.” I confidently led the first half of the interview, talking through the high points of investing in this “creative sales machine.” At times he laughed, but most importantly, I had his full attention. When I finished my presentation he conducted the remainder of the interview and it went very well. I began the company’s two-month training program the following week. While I no longer work in radio, it was that start in sales that brought me where I am today.
What advice would you have for someone breaking into sales?
Be bold. Careers in sales and marketing are challenging, but not without reward. I have always prioritized the importance of cultivating genuine relationships. Fortunately, the available platforms for communication and sharing make this much easier. Take advantage of that. One of the greatest byproducts of the digital age is access and the availability of information.
As far as customer satisfaction goes, be honest and always manage expectations. Our business environment is changing and it’s exciting. Don’t be afraid to take chances and don’t be afraid to take credit.
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