Sales Industry Perspectives and Job Outlook
Sales today mixes marketing, data and soft skills to help companies boost revenues and build customer relationships. Salespeople, whether they’re selling software, hardware or anything in-between, are some of the most visible members of any company because they communicate with customers and evangelize the products they’re selling on a daily basis.
What Is Sales?
The term “sales” usually encompasses any activities that assist in selling a product or service to a business or consumer. This term is intentionally broad and generalized. As with most industries today, sales is constantly growing and evolving in its scope and range. No longer are sales teams relying on cold calling for their next big sale. Today, salespeople learn skills, like marketing and data extrapolation, to target customers who are truly interested in their product or company. This method is proving to be much more efficient in forecasting and creating revenue for businesses, while being timesaving for salespeople.
How exactly does sales work? Every organization has its own method when it comes to selling. The sales branch of an organization is usually broken up into different teams that prospect, reach out to and converse with different groups of businesses (depending on the product and organizational structure). These teams can be grouped based on the size of the business they’re selling to (small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) or enterprises), the products they’re selling or even based on geographic region. No matter the case, sales teams are constantly meeting with customers either face-to-face (known as outside sales) or virtually through video or phone calls (referred to as inside sales) to build their sales pipelines.
The Sales Pipeline
Most sales teams rely on sales pipelines to track the progress of their deals. The pipeline is essentially a set of stages that a prospect moves through on their journey to becoming a customer. The structure of a pipeline can differ from company to company, but they all track the same thing.
1. Prospecting: The sales representative uses outside tools and digs deeper into a prospect’s background to determine if an individual or business had the need or budget to purchase what the salesperson is selling.
2. Qualification: This is the step in which the salesperson determines if a prospect has the means to turn into a viable sales lead.
3. Meeting: If determined to be a quality lead, a salesperson (or multiple salespeople) will reach out to the prospect to educate them on their products and meet with them to make business cases for why the prospect should purchase their product.
4. Decision: The prospect either becomes a buyer or declines the offer. If they decide to buy, the sales team works tirelessly at identifying barriers that could potentially derail the deal: “Are any other competitors going to offer a better deal?” “Does the potential buyer have authority to make this purchase?” “Can this deal be thrown off by shifting priorities within the prospect’s organization?” These questions (and more) must be answered to get the sale across the finish line.
5. Closing: The final terms are agreed to and the contract is signed. This is known as a “closed-won.”
What makes a great salesperson? Successful sales reps, engineers and managers are all highly-talented in both soft and hard skills. This means that high-performing salespeople have both “people skills” and the technical knowledge to provide a high value to potential customers. Below are just a few of many skills salespeople must have to be successful.
A vital part of the whole sales process is building genuine relationships with customers. After all, you want to get to know who you’re working with and if their goals align with your products. Excelling at relationship building means you have superior active listening and conflict resolution abilities, as well as, the authentic ability to be empathetic towards a customer’s needs. This soft skill is vitally important in establishing the base of a fruitful relationship.
Let’s face it, nobody is going to buy something from a person who doesn’t know the product they’re selling inside and out. Having the confidence to speak about your product, answer questions and dive into technical details will put a potential customer’s mind at ease. Knowing everything from pricing structure to how the product can fit into the customer’s roadmap will boost enthusiasm with prospects and turn more leads into sales.
All sales professionals must have a bit of a competitive drive in them so they can reach goals and drive revenue for their team. Successful salespeople establish themselves by setting tough, but attainable goals that help keep them focused, collaborative and hungry. You can set individual personal growth goals, like “participate in a sales workshop” or “expand my network by attending two events a month.” Or, you can set data-driven goals like “increase my quarter-over-quarter revenue by 20 percent.”
Sales is a constant game of problem-solving and critical thinking. In one day, a salesperson might ask, “how do I interpret this sales data?”or “why is my high-priority customer saying they aren’t renewing our services?” Sales teams tackle these tough questions on a daily basis. It’s up to individual sales reps and managers to think quickly to ensure that revenue or customer relationships aren’t sacrificed.
Sales Jobs Outlook
Overall, the sales job market is healthy. We dove into the outlook and salary information for five sales positions below:
Sales Development Representative (SDR)
Sales development representatives help generate and facilitate sales for the team. They’re usually involved in vetting potential customers, prospecting and calling to inquire about general interest. The leads they create will then go to a more senior member of the sales team, who will continue the sales pipeline. This is usually an introductory sales role and requires a bachelor’s degree, for the most part.
- Sales Development Representative Job Outlook (2020 - 2030): 5 percent growth
- Sales Development Representative Median Salary: $56,961
Account Executive (AE)
Account executives are usually thought of as traditional salespeople. They’re on the front lines trying to develop interest in the products they’re selling, meeting with potential customers and closing deals. AEs are relied upon to find quality customers and then begin long, fruitful relationships.
- Account Executive Job Outlook (2020 - 2030): 10 percent growth
- Account Executive Median Salary: $88,478
Account Manager (AM)
While AEs are charged with finding new prospects and signing them on as clients, account managers are tasked with continuing the relationship after the customer signs on the dotted line. They’re the main line of communication when it comes to answering questions, scheduling meetings with clients and upselling customers on other products.
Sales managers are more focused on the bigger picture when it comes to setting goals, analyzing data and developing training and professional development programs for the sales team. Though the details of their actual job description vary based on each organization, sales managers are vitally important to set strategy and organize their AEs and AMs.
Sales engineers are becoming highly sought-after in the tech world because they’re able to sell complex technological equipment. These engineers are constantly talking with customers, assessing their technological needs and delivering technical presentations on why an individual or company may need a highly technical piece of equipment. Sales engineers also help with the research and development of new products.
Getting Into a Sales Role
Sales is a diverse field, full of professionals who are motivated, focused and goal-oriented. The sector is diverse in job titles, responsibilities, specialties and career paths. It’s safe to say that there isn’t one way to get into sales, but past experience and a variety of both hard and soft skills will get you far.
Nowadays, most salespeople start out as sales development representatives and work their way up the ladder. These reps get a fantastic understanding of sales by researching quality leads, getting in touch with potential clients and preparing AEs for their sales pitches. SDRs are constantly digging into the data on CRMs, like Salesforce, or scouring other sources to find customers who are the right fit for a sales pitch. The outbound prospecting an SDR does is not only vital to the immediate success of a sales team, but to the SDR’s personal future in sales.
It’s also not unheard of for sales rookies to jump right into inside sales roles. Because the tech industry is booming, inside sales is actually the fastest-growing segment of the sales industry. Tech companies are always on the lookout for energetic and focused individuals who want to enhance their sales skills through this challenging position.
No matter what role you hop into in sales, it’s clear that in order to be successful, you have to sharpen your hard and soft skills. Not only do you need to keep up with the latest sales and marketing tools, but you have to also hone your abilities to come across as a “people person.” Having the ability to empathize with your prospect’s needs and then offer them a technical solution will take you far in the sales world.