Changing career directions can be exhilarating as well as refreshing. And it’s quite common for people to desire to pursue a completely new and different track at some point in life.
If your potential career track shift involves trying to break into sales from a completely different sector/background, you might experience a few significant hurdles along the way. Here are three problems we encounter most frequently when trying to help folks who are looking to make the move into a sales job from another environment — and how to address them.
You’re not strategically prepared for the job hunt. We meet a lot of people who aren’t quite sure what industries they’d like to target, or what product/services they’d like to sell, etc. They look at and read about certain companies and jobs and see all kinds of things they might “like” to do, but they aren’t sure precisely what they “want” to do. So they apply to a bunch of things in a wide-angle “spray” approach. The thought process tends to be, “I like people and relationships, and my friends have always told me I’d be great at sales. I’m going to apply to a bunch of things and see what happens.” And then they get frustrated when response rates to applications are negligible and when those things they were most intrigued by do not come to fruition. Clear and simple, you are not going to hit a target if you do not know what you’re shooting at. And the surest way to fail quickly in a job search effort is to not have a plan or a clearly defined end goal.
How to Address It: First, think more strategically about what you want to do. What have you enjoyed most about all of your prior jobs? Are there a few common threads that stand out? What have you been doing most recently, and how can your current industry knowledge and experience best be applied to the sales world? Have you been working in academics? Fundraising? Maybe you should focus on sales roles where the buyers are educational end users? Or non-profits? Examine what you’ve done and how it might best — and most directly — apply to a sales opportunity.
Next, network intentionally with people outside your current or most recent career track who is in the sector you’d like to penetrate. Many career changers have been in the same industry vertical for so long that they don’t know many people outside of their own world. You’ll need to network on purpose with people in your target zone. Do some homework online — check out MeetUp groups for salespeople in the place you want to be, and attend those events. Connect with the right connectors, build relationships and traction, and earn warm introductions to the employers you seek.
Your resume has no true sales experience on it, which means you’re probably not getting many positive reactions to your applications.
If you’ve been in the same industry (or on the same career track) for years, you’re in a bit of a bubble. You know what you know very well, and you may think to yourself, “I have all of these great, applicable skills, and if someone will just give me a chance and teach me, I can do anything.” Most hopeful job hunters assume that the person reading their resume is going to think that way too. Unfortunately, they aren’t. The person reading your resume thinks, “This person has no sales experience. The job posting clearly states ‘X’ number of years required. Pass.” In our current job market, companies and hiring managers are searching for people who are subject matter experts with specific years of experience or specific industry expertise.
You have to examine the job search from the company’s perspective. On paper, you look like you have no viable sales qualifications, and unless you’ve strategically networked your way in through a trusted connection, the person reviewing your profile doesn’t know you or anything about you. When they compare you to the other dozens and dozens and dozens of resumes, why would yours — the one that fails to present any applicable sales experience — be the one that stands out and makes the cut?
How to Address It:
Your resume needs to convey how you can help. You need to translate and clearly underscore fit for the hiring team because they aren’t going to be able to spend the time trying to solve that riddle themselves.
For example, we worked not long ago with someone coming from engineering (with zero sales experience) who wanted to try breaking into sales. When we were discussing plan of attack, we deduced that the easiest way for him to pierce the veil was to try and focus on sales jobs either in the engineering space or ones where the end-user/buyer was in the engineering realm. Some employers are willing to look past a lack of sales experience if you can effectively present invaluable industry expertise. Convey on your resume what and who you know as it relates to the product or service a company is trying to sell and/or who they are trying to sell to. Specialization wins in the job hunt game, particularly in sales.
Think strategically about how best to sell yourself to the employer. Where is the hiring company’s pain in the market, and how can I address it a way that an experienced salesperson without my subject-matter expertise cannot? Use your irreplaceable knowledge to your advantage.
You’re not prepared for a change in compensation. If you’ve been working in your field for many years, you’ve probably worked your way up, received raises, likely a promotion or three. Your healthy salary appropriately reflects your experience and knowledge.
When you change careers, you’re starting over in the experience column. It is highly unlikely that someone is going to pay you what you make now, especially in guaranteed compensation. If you’re looking to shift into sales, you might have to start at the bottom pay-wise. And even if you are fortunate enough to make a lateral move in overall compensation, you will need to prepare yourself for the fact that sales jobs tend to be heavily weighted towards commission. For people coming from an all-salary job, this can be an income shock. If your current salary in an educational administration role is $100K, and you land a sales job offer with a total earnings potential of $100K, as much as $50K of that total number — or more — could be variable, performance-based compensation. That means you might only be promised $50K, and you, therefore, have to earn the rest by closing deals and generating revenue. And if you’re new to sales, that might take a while. Like months. Maybe several of them.
How to Address It:
Prepare yourself to take a step back financially. Talk to your family about this, if applicable. Take a look at your budget and see if you can lower some of your expenses. Have a savings cushion you can tap into for a period of time? It’s going to require a financial step back now if you want to make a financial leap forward in the very near future. You’ve probably chosen sales as your big career pivot because you want to have true control over your own earnings potential. Sales make that possible, and it’s truly unlimited. But this move cannot be made without a readiness to lose some $$$ (and some sleep) in the process.
Are You Really Ready?
As you start your new sales career job adventure, we can help! Submit your resume or contact usfor strategic help with making your career move.