Landing a job interview and actually being offered a job can sometimes be a long, drawn-out process, especially in sales.
Whether you’re new to the industry or simply looking for professional development, this piece will help you understand what counts as sales experience, how you can go about developing sales skills, and how you can still land a sales job without any previous experience.
What counts as sales experience?
Many things count as sales experience, but all share a commonality in that you’ve spent time interacting and communicating with customers and convinced them to make a purchase because you’ve shown them that their lives will be better after buying what you have to offer.
You can think of it like this: if you ever had a lemonade stand as a kid, you have sales experience. It wasn’t an established business, but you convinced your customers to buy your lemonade because you showed them the lemonade would make them happier and more satisfied than they were before they bought your lemonade.
While having a lemonade stand when you were five wouldn’t really hold up on a resume, some traditional sales experiences you may already be familiar with are working as a cashier at a retail store or fast-food chain being an account manager at a local business.
If you still feel as though you lack any sort of sales experience, we’ll explain how you can get some.
How To Get Sales Experience
The most straightforward answer to how to get sales experience is to get a sales-focused job. However, that’s not always the easiest option. Below we’ll go over some additional ways to get sales experience and begin developing your professional skills.
Be okay with starting from scratch.
Some people are natural-born sellers and entrepreneurs, so picking up the skills, charisma, and communication abilities necessary to excel at closing deals is easy for them. You may find that you’re in the opposite boat; that it’s going to take you some time to develop the skills you’ll need to succeed.
Given this, one of the most important things to consider when emerging into a new industry is being okay with starting from square one. As the saying goes, everyone has to start somewhere.
Read a sales book.
There are many experienced sales professionals eager and ready to share their advice and knowledge with the world. Many of them have written sales-related books where they explain strategies and advise how to become a successful sales professional.
These books can be centered around specific types of sales, like inbound or SNAP selling, as well as more general sales topics like the psychology of closing deals or how to build your influence.
Take a sales course or training program.
If you have the means, signing up for a sales course, webinar, or immersive training program is a great way to get sales experience before getting a sales job.
You’ll learn the critical basics of selling and engage in different activities, like role-playing, to gain experience in sales-like situations. As you’re not working with real customers, you have more of an opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, and build actionable skills that will prepare you for your future 1:1s with customers.
These opportunities will also allow you to make professional connections, which can be helpful in terms of networking and landing a job in the future.
Get a sales job.
As mentioned above, getting a sales job is the most obvious response to “How do I get sales experience?” It’s a surefire way to get what you’re looking for as you’ll engage with real-life customers, learn from your conversations, and learn how to sell yourself better.
It’s important to note that you don’t immediately have to get a sales job at a large enterprise corporation. You can start smaller in a retail position where you learn how to interact with customers and become a better communicator, and slowly make your way up to different positions as you gain experience and skills.
How To Get B2B Sales Experience
Business to business (B2B) sales involve transactions between two companies rather than a business to an individual consumer (B2C sales).
While B2C positions can prepare you and teach you how to sell, B2B sales are significantly more complex. They involve higher price points, a longer sales cycle, and more involved stakeholders that you need to convince instead of just one single customer standing at the register. Given this, one of the best ways to gain B2B sales experience is to be involved in a B2B sales process.
It may not be easy to just jump into such a position, so you can begin by developing the baseline skills you need to be successful in any sales position and work your way up to B2B sales.
If you’ve developed a professional network, you may consider asking connections in B2B sales if they’d let you shadow them during one of their sales cycles so you can observe, ask questions, and get hands-on experience.
Sales Experience Skills
Regardless of your level of experience, there are critical skills that every salesperson should have. Let’s go over them below.
Active listening: Asking your leads critical questions and listening intently so you can uncover their pain points and challenges on a deeper level, not just superficially, is extremely important. You need to be an active listener that pays attention to what your leads are saying.
Communication: Communicating effectively across multiple mediums is the most crucial skill to have as a salesperson. You need to clearly communicate to leads about why what you have to offer is the best option, clearly answer questions, and simply hold a conversation and be approachable.
Time management: Sales can be a face-paced field that requires you to focus on multiple tasks at once. Knowing how to manage your time effectively to complete your tasks and be successful is critical. This is also important when it comes to communicating with customers, as it can be easy to miss a phone call, say you’ll get back to it later, but completely forget and lose out on a valuable customer.
Prospecting: Prospecting is a critical skill, as it helps you fill your pipeline with leads that are actually interested in what you have to offer. Knowing how to prospect ensures that you’re not wasting your time and chasing down the wrong leads while letting qualified opportunities fall by the wayside.
Product expertise: While your knowledge will be specific to what you sell, having a deep understanding of what you’re selling is critical. This helps you answer questions, make value propositions, and feel confident in yourself, as you know that you know what you’re talking about.
Relationship management: Although it spreads into customer service, relationship management is a critical skill for salespeople to have to encourage customer retention. Showing appreciation and cultivating relationships is key, from simply answering emails promptly to after-sales follow-up to see if customers are satisfied with their purchases.
Having No Sales Experience
Although it may seem daunting, having no sales experience is not as big of a deal-breaker as it seems. As mentioned above, everyone has to start somewhere.
Let’s go over how you can position having no experience during a sales interview process and show your readiness and willingness to learn more.
Demonstrate how your existing skills are transferable.
Nobody possesses 100% of the skills and experience listed in a job description. Given this, leverage your existing skills and show how they’re transferable to the job you’re looking to get when creating resumes, cover letters, and during interviews.
For example, if you’ve worked as a service rep, you have significant experience communicating with customers and addressing their needs. During sales, you’ll meet these customers at a different stage of their buyer's journey, but you already have the communication skills required for success in both positions.
Network, network, network.
As with all industries, networking can be vital to starting a sales career with little to no experience.
If you’ve taken or are planning to take sales or business-related courses, make professional connections with leaders and teachers as they may be aware of opportunities they can recommend you for. Use LinkedIn, attend industry-relevant events, and put yourself out there. There may be hidden opportunities that you can’t find on your own that others are willing to help you get.
Find businesses with training programs.
Many businesses are aware that people may be starting from square one, so they offer training programs for beginners hoping to learn more. Look for companies with those programs and consider applying.
You’ll be able to learn on the job, get the real-life experience you’re looking for, and maybe have the opportunity to move up within the same company once the program ends.
Again: be willing to start from square one.
A critical factor is being willing and open to starting from position zero. Be open to learning everything from the beginning or beginning with a job that isn’t your end goal but will ultimately help you get there.
All in all, sales can be an enriching career that offers autonomy and exposure to new experiences. It’s not impossible to start from square one and succeed; you just have to be willing to put in the work.
Originally published May 17, 2021 8:30:00 AM, updated May 17 2021