How To Start a Sales Career

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 13, 2021

Related: A Day in the Life of a Sales Rep

Learn about being a sales rep—like educating customers on product features, conducting product demonstrations, leading sales calls and identifying new leads

A career in sales can be incredibly rewarding and may give you the skills you need to better understand and succeed in business. Being successful in sales requires charisma, empathy, listening abilities, business savvy and honesty. If you're interested in starting your sales career, it's important to understand the different areas of sales. In this article, we cover what a sales career is, the different sales positions, the benefits of a career in sales, how to get started and tips for finding success.

What is a sales career?

A career in sales involves selling products and services by connecting with your customer and showing the value they can receive by making a purchase. There are many types of sales positions, but all of them require soft skills like communication, empathy and listening. To be a great salesperson, you should genuinely care about the client or customer and want to elevate their life with the product you're selling.

Compensation models for sales positions

Sales positions differ in how their compensation systems function. Here are the different compensation models:

Commission-based sales

In a commission-based sales position, your earnings depend on how well you can sell. This type of sales position may reward you for extra effort, and if your sales abilities are strong and you thrive in a high-stress environment, this might be for you. Those who succeed in the fast-paced environment of commission-based sales are often the highest-paid.

Related: Commission Jobs: Pros and Cons

Salary or wage sales

In a salary or wage sales position, frequently seen in the retail industry, the salesperson makes a set salary or hourly wage. In this type of environment, a salesperson's pay doesn't depend on their sales abilities, but excellence can go unrewarded in this kind of position. This may be an ideal position for new salespeople looking to develop their sales abilities without relying directly on them for compensation.

Base-pay sales

A base-pay sales position is a combination of salary and commission-based pay, offering the employee a minimum amount of compensation but allowing space for excellence in sales to be rewarded. This means the system rewards salespeople for extra sales, but salespeople don't have to worry about receiving less than the minimum amount of compensation. In this type of position, the opportunity for a sales-based commission is likely not as high as in a fully commission-based sales role.

Types of sales positions

Besides compensation differences, sales positions also differ in daily duties, what you're selling and how you're selling it. Here are two types of sales positions:

1. Outside sales

An outside salesperson typically meets with clients and customers, both to make new sales and to maintain good relationships. Outside sales can include positions in retail and door-to-door selling. These are usually entry-level positions that allow a salesperson to build skills while being face-to-face with customers. Being successful as an outside salesperson requires friendliness and charisma because you want potential customers to be interested in talking with you.

2. Inside sales

An inside salesperson usually conducts their business remotely, either using the telephone or by sending emails. Inside sales representatives often work from home or at a call center where they contact potential and current customers, but there's no face-to-face interaction. In some businesses, inside and outside salespeople work together to make sales, with the inside salesperson providing support to the outside salesperson.

Related: Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales: What's the Difference?

Examples of sales positions

Though all sales positions may share core skills and values, there are many positions for a skilled salesperson that involve different responsibilities, experience and skills. Here are some examples of sales positions:

At a call center

A position in a call center is an example of inside sales, as you spend your day making calls to clients without face-to-face interaction. Working in a call center often provides the valuable experience of learning from many experienced salespeople. Some call center positions may require you to rely on a scripted conversation, which can help you develop your sales skills if you're new to selling.

In a retail store

When working in a retail setting, you're responsible for identifying when customers need help and providing that help. Alongside other retail responsibilities like restocking, cleaning and checking customers out, you'll also use your sales abilities by educating customers on different products and encouraging them to purchase the ones most useful for them. For example, if you work in a computer technology retail space, you might educate a customer about different external hard drives and what level of performance and storage they may want for their usage.

As an insurance agent

As an insurance agent, you may assist customers in finding the right plan for them and building solid customer relations. Insurance agents usually work in insurance firms or with insurance brokers. As an insurance agent, you typically receive comprehensive sales training, making it a good starting point for someone new to the field.

As a real estate agent

As a real estate agent, you're an independent contractor, meaning you're a salesperson under the commission-based kind of compensation. Usually, the amount of work you put into real estate sales can directly affect how much money you can make. Your ability to sell both yourself as an agent and houses to your clients may affect your success. A real estate agent's typical day includes emailing, calls, marketing and conducting showings with their clients.

Related: How To Start in Real Estate

Benefits of a sales career

Here are some benefits to having a sales career:

  • Gain transferable skills. The skills you can develop while working in sales like customer service, persuasiveness, composure and communication may make you a valuable addition to any team.

  • Build confidence. Learning to navigate complex social situations and influence customers to improve their lives by purchasing your product may increase your self-assurance in your abilities.

  • Expand knowledge. Selling is the foundation of business, and fully understanding sales can help you be better at marketing or public relations if you choose to leave sales. Experience in sales is also useful for entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses.

  • Develop persistence and resilience. Though selling is a rewarding career, you may face constant rejection, which means developing resiliency, viewing each refusal as an opportunity to build your skills and try again.

Related: 10 Reasons To Pursue a Career in Sales

How to start a career in sales

You can follow these steps to start your career in sales:

1. Be prepared to accept an entry-level position

Especially if you're starting out with little to no sales experience, you need to be prepared to accept an entry-level position. Be sure to seek a company that emphasizes comprehensive training for their new sales employees as a work environment that focuses on growth can aid you in growing as a salesperson. Starting out in an entry-level position may allow you to build the skills you need to ascend the ranks of your company, start your own business or earn more commissions.

2. Study sales principles and techniques

There is a plethora of sources and material on sales principles and techniques widely available on the internet or in books. You can visit your local library and ask for recent books or periodicals with information on how to sell effectively. Understanding these concepts before applying for sales positions shows both your initiative and dedication to continued improvement.

3. Strategically apply for positions

Search online for companies hiring sales staff and carefully construct your application for each one. Be sure to look for companies that value data, openness and honesty. To show your selling abilities, be sure to construct an accurate but specific resume and cover letter for each company and position. You want to show your potential employer that you understand sales techniques and that you can work as part of their team.

4. Demonstrate sales techniques

An interview with the hiring team gives you an opportunity to show your selling techniques by selling yourself. Communicate to your potential employer what your value is and how it can improve their company. Doing research on the hiring manager and company before attending the interview can be very helpful as it allows you to identify their needs, offering your employment with the company as a solution to their problems.

5. Be persistent and resilient

Part of being successful in sales is showing persistence. Checking in after an email, sending a thank-you note and maintaining communication can show your dedication and natural sales ability. You also may not receive an offer for the first sales position you interview for, so you may have to show your resilience by applying with different organizations. Not only is this great practice for sales, but it also shows potential employers your aptitude for selling.

Tips for finding success in a sales career

There are many things you can do to find success in a sales career, including:

  • Practice your technique. You can work to perfect your sales technique by practicing often. Whether with your friends, in the mirror or online, you can improve your sales skills by trying them on people you know and getting their feedback.

  • Keep it simple. A big part of selling is communicating your message as quickly as possible. You want to explain your product's value and assist your client without wasting their time.

  • Know your product. Familiarizing yourself with what you're selling can be invaluable to your sales success. To accurately communicate its value to your client, you need to understand it yourself.

  • Prioritize networking. Though you may start out your sales career in an entry-level position, you may not want to stay there. Be sure to make connections within your company and industry to increase your growth opportunities.

  • Sell what you love. Although this may not always be possible, seek a sales position in which you can sell something you genuinely believe in. When you love what you sell, you're more genuine and your passion may transfer to the customer.

  • Focus on empathy. Selling is all about helping people improve their lives with your product or service. Authentic connections with your customers and colleagues can facilitate networking and sales success.

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