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How to Get a Job in B2B Sales for the First Time

Ryan Walsh, CEO and Founder
Ryan Walsh, CEO and FounderApr 27, 2020

Landing a job in sales, and more specifically B2B sales, can be a life changing experience for many.  Sales careers can come with a great salary, top notch benefits, and for those who work hard to hone their selling skills and perform over their targets, the top end earning potential is off the charts.

Not to mention sought after sales positions don’t require a graduate degree, and many sales organizations won’t limit upward mobility of professionals who don’t possess a four year undergraduate degree.

So given the significant earnings potential as well as the ability to thrive and advance without specialized educational training, B2B sales positions are extremely sought after positions. This means these positions can be tough to get, and for those who are fortunate enough to land these positions, they can be equally hard to keep.

Are you a fit for a B2B sales job?

Wondering if you have what it takes to land a much coveted sales role at a top B2B company? 

Breaking into your first sales job can be a daunting task, but even more daunting can be surviving the grind of a sales job year after year. There are a few important traits that typically set the highly successful sales professionals apart from those who aren’t a fit for sales as well as those who grind year after year but don’t see as much success.

Here are four key traits of successful sales professionals:

  1. You’re able to accept failure and move on quickly. Even great salespeople are going to lose up to 80% of their opportunities. It’s very important that you’re able to dust yourself off and move on to the next opportunity quickly.
  2. You’re curious. This doesn’t mean curious about sales, but just curious in general. Modern selling requires a lot of what we call “discovery” – which means learning about your prospect – understanding their situation, what challenges they are facing.  If you understand some of the challenges they are facing, you can then communicate some potential solutions to those problems.
  3. You’re a good listener. Naturally if someone is curious they’re asking questions. Once the questions are asked, it’s time to listen. Listen intently. Listen to understand, don’t listen to respond. You need to process all the information provided by the prospect, take good notes and refer to them often.
  4. You’re comfortable engaging with people that you don’t know very well. Don’t confuse this with being an extrovert. You don’t have to be the most extroverted person to be successful in sales. You simply have to be comfortable speaking with someone – in many cases just one person, over the phone and getting past awkward.

What’s interesting about these traits is that they can be improved over time. The more you think about them, practice them, and understand why they’re important to you, the better you’ll get.

What Type of Company is a Good Fit for Your First Sales Job?

You may have a “dream” sales job.  Maybe your roommate’s cousin is crushing it at and you feel like you could do the same?  There are so many great sales jobs out there, but it’s important to know that you’re going to have to prove yourself and work your way up to that enterprise sales job at a large public software company.  

Find companies that are hiring entry level salespeople.  A great place to start in sales, and in particular B2B sales (software, finance, IT, etc) is as a sales development representative (SDR, or BDR) position at a larger organization.  This can provide several benefits.  First, an SDR role typically comes with the expectation that you have little to no sales experience.  They understand that are are willing to train you.  Also larger organizations typically will have better training programs for junior level salespeople.

Another benefit to an SDR position is that companies typically look to their SDR team as a farm system from which they can promote into more senior level positions in the future.  So you can come in, put in the work (typically 12 to 30 months) and with success a promotion to a higher paying position will be a very real possibility.

There are also companies that provide outsourced SDR services to other sales organizations.  In other words, they hire a ton of SDRs, train them, put them on projects for their clients, and ultimately they are working hard to place those SDRs at the companies that they are working for.  The training in these SDR services companies can be very good, and there is typically no expectation for prior experience required.

How to Land That Sales Interview

Ok so you’ve identified a couple of sales organizations and entry level sales roles that you believe would be a great start to a sales career – what should you do next?  How can you possibly get your foot in the door with a sales organization?  This is where you can prove to the hiring manager that you’re a no-brainer hire.  Simply use the skills that will make you successful on the job to land the interview.

Here are four things to do to get in front of that elusive recruiter or hiring manager (BEFORE you just apply online):

  1. Network with everyone you can.  Find sales employees of that company on Linkedin (you have an updated Linkedin profile, right?), and connect with them.  Tell them why you are connecting.  Many times those employees will get a referral bonus if they send you over to the hiring manager.
  2. Your LinkedIn profile may be the first thing that anyone sees, so make sure that it’s up to date, professional, doesn’t have any typos, and all the sections are filled out.  Start liking and/or commenting on posts and activity from sales employees of that organization.  
  3. Don’t shy away from being aggressive – call into some sales managers, call into the recruiter.  Bonus points for getting their number or email address.  Know that it will be part of your job to uncover prospects and engage them.  If you’re able to do it as part of a job search, wow!
  4. Research the company, its products, its customers, and have a story for why THAT specific company is the one that you’re interested in.  You may quickly have to have an answer for that if you do speak with a hiring manager or current sales employee.  Be prepared.

How to Prepare for Your First Sales Interview

For many entry level sales positions and SDR positions, the interview process is going to be efficient.  These positions are hired frequently and in many cases in large numbers.  There isn’t the time or bandwidth for drawn out interviews.  This is good because you can get to “yes” much quicker, but also challenging because you may have limited time to sell yourself.  Therefore it’s critical that you be extremely prepared and focused during this limited time.

A key mistake is overconfidence in your current selling abilities.  Don’t try to prove you are a successful salesperson right out of the gate – just prove how much you want this and that you have the drive to be successful.  Remember the hiring managers are looking primarily for raw material that can be trained for success long term.  

So with that background, here are some of the things that the hiring managers and recruiters are going to look for from you during the interview.  You don’t have to nail every single one of these, but if you focus on several where you have a good “story”, it will shine in the interview:

  • Show you’ve overcome an obstacle, show perseverance or grit.  Maybe you had to take on extra responsibilities or family duties due to unforeseen circumstances earlier in life?  It’s respected and shows responsibility.
  • Show that you’ve been able to juggle multiple projects, jobs, tasks.  For example you went to college and had to pay your own way with a job or multiple jobs.  Even playing a sport which took up 20+ hours per week but you were still able to successfully complete school.
  • Explain WHY you want to get into sales – have a story about this.  A family member that was successful, how you know it will provide you with certain financial opportunities.  How you feel like you want to solve problems for people.
  • Ask a lot of questions about the company, about the product, about the value proposition.  This doesn’t mean don’t be prepared, it means that you want to take your knowledge to the next level.  Dig into the answers provided with follow up questions.  This isn’t lip service, you should strive to truly understand the business, the customer, the product.

Following Up After Your Sales Interview

Send a note (email is fine) to every person that you met with during the interview, and send that note the same day as the interview.  Thank them for their time, express your interest in the role, as well as how committed you’ll be to success if given the opportunity.  This is very important. Follow up skills and process is a trait you need to use to be successful on the job.

Decisions for these roles are not going to be drawn out.  If you wait three, four days to send a follow up or thank you note, the decision will have already been made.

Good luck out there, and remember just like in sales, you will need multiple attempts (at-bats) before you land that first sales job.  Show some grit and stick with it!

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