Put Your Career on a Fast Track – Start in Sales.

Steven Weston
June 2, 2016

Over the past 8 months or so, I have seen many types of candidates go through the LaunchSource program, from graphic designers and musicians, to former professional athletes. While most get promoted to more senior sales positions, some get promoted to positions in marketing, customer success, operations, recruiting, and more. The one thing they all have in common: they started their careers in sales.

Salespeople live and breath the product, speak to hundreds of potential customers, and listen to the market every day. It makes logical sense for managers to look at the sales team as a talent funnel for roles other than sales within the company.

Like many people, they (and I) weren’t thinking about sales as the place to start their careers. But sales has changed so much in the past 10 years, specifically in technology, that it now offers anyone the chance to develop new skills, apply their own skillset and move into positions where they thrive professionally! The skills you learn in a sales role translate effectively into every other business function from marketing and product management to operations and entrepreneurship.

Sales can lead to jobs in many other departments within a company - here are three examples from myself and two candidates that have come through LaunchSource:

The Teacher:

One candidate that came through LaunchSource was a teacher at a prep school. He couldn’t make a living on his salary with college loans and a soaring rent in the city. He applied and ended up getting a job as a sales rep at a tech company. As a teacher, explaining complex subject matter to students in a simple way is a skill set that translates very well into a sales role at a technology company.

Many of these tech companies have complex products that many people do not grasp at first glance. This particular candidate was able to speak about the complex product in a very consumable way for potential clients to understand. Due to his outstanding ability to communicate and teach, along with his experience as a sales rep learning about the customers and the product, he was promoted into a customer success role. Now, he helps clients get the most out of a solution they have purchased, leading to happy customers and generating more revenue for the company.

The Creative:

Another candidate that came through our program came from a graphic/interior design background. She was sick of the crazy unpredictable hours of her interior design job and was looking for something more stable. The candidate applied to LaunchSource and soon she had 3 offers on the table for an entry-level sales role at tech companies in the Boston area.

I spoke with her recently and she explained how she did her prospecting and outreach. She had one of the most creative and innovative ways of reaching out to her prospects that I have heard of. She would research heavily then send very targeted, authentic emails to prospects. These emails were personalized and included pictures and specific points that could only be uncovered if you went deep into researching a prospect - her reply rate was very good to say the least. It was refreshing to her prospects to see a sales email containing so much thought and authenticity rather than another pushy self-promoting template. After reading her emails, the prospect would actually call her!

She ended up moving to a position at a design agency as the liaison between the customer and designer and she also deals with product development. What a crazy transition! Because she spent almost a year learning the fundamentals in her entry-level sales role, she was able to take the skills she acquired and apply her high pedigree of designing abilities to benefit the company in a unique and highly valuable way.

The Marketing Academic: My personal story.

I studied marketing for 6 years throughout my undergraduate and MBA tenure. I was naive. I thought I was prepared to go into a technology startup and contribute in an entry-level marketing role, writing blogs about an industry I had no clue about. In my college courses, they covered marketing strategy, the 4Ps, and market segmentation - the stuff your friendly neighborhood CMO deals with - not very applicable to an entry-level marketing role...

Instead, I was tasked with writing blogs, tracking website analytics and updating social media accounts. I soon realized it was hard for me to contribute content effectively because I didn’t have the industry expertise and didn’t know the product, market, and customer as well as I needed to. I looked over at the sales team and they were having conversations, shooting nerf guns and ringing the deal bell, surely making more money and getting better hands-on experience than me.

I ended up transferring over to the Business Development Representative (BDR) team and found that I learned at a much quicker pace. I was speaking with C-level executives in the marketplace, hearing in real-time what their objections were. I listened and asked questions everyday to people we were selling to and learned so much more about our industry. So much so, that if I went back into the marketing department I can tell you confidently that I could have contributed much more effectively. I ended up staying in sales for another year until I found a niche in operations.

Entry-level sales is a condensed business degree. I learned about so many different business models and how the complex solution I was selling could solve unique problems within a business. I learned how to interface with many different departments and how revenue generation works. I couldn’t have gotten a faster, more immersed business education than I did in my time as a Business Development Rep.

So if you’re thinking about getting into marketing, operations - or whatever it may be - consider a start in business development/sales first. It may be the best career decision you’ve ever made.

Do you have a unique career journey? Share it with us in the comments section and help other entry-level professionals navigate the start of their careers!

If you liked this topic, here's another good read:

14 Reasons Entrepreneurs Should Start Out in Sales