When Jacob Gebrewold applied for an open tech sales job at Klue, he figured the company wouldn’t be looking to hire someone like him — an outsider to the tech industry. While he had five years of sales experience, a lack of tech background is often all it takes for a resume to sink to the bottom of the stack.
He knew he’d have to outsell his competition for the role, and that’s what he did.
“The central thesis of how I broke into Klue was that I have to show them that I’m significantly more creative than anyone else they can hire,” Gebrewold said.
What Is Tech Sales?
Gebrewold’s persistence paid off, but his experience also underscores how difficult it can be for someone outside of the industry to break in.
What Is Tech Sales?
Tech sales typically involves selling software as a service to other businesses. Unlike retail or insurance, tech sales focuses less on promoting a product and more on helping a customer solve an issue to motivate them to make a purchase. And since most software is sold as a subscription, there’s an added emphasis on helping the buyer continue to see value out of the product over the long term.
It’s often a more complicated exchange that involves building relationships with multiple stakeholders within a company. To help with that, companies often rely on sales methodologies that focus on helping the rep create value for the buyer and urgency for the deal.
As the tech industry has boomed, so too have opportunities in sales. Since the start of 2022, there have been over 80,000 sales roles posted on Built In’s website. And with an average salary of $84,390, it’s also a lucrative field to get into.
What Does a Tech Salesperson Do?
The day to day of a tech sales job varies on what position you hold and your seniority level, but there are some basics that apply to sales roles across the board.
Tech sales jobs often involve identifying new sales opportunities and talking to clients about what kinds of issues they face and how your product could help. For some, this may look like cold calling clients, connecting with past leads or discovering new leads through networking.
Others working in tech sales may focus on demonstrating their company’s product or service. This can range from a casual conversation with a client to a more formal demo on how a product works or a discussion about the ROI it’s delivered to clients in the past.
Following up with existing clients and customers is essential to many tech sales jobs too. That may look like sending quick emails or scheduling check-ins over the phone or video chat.
Many senior tech sales roles require using data to set quotas and report on metrics. That may also include helping others in the organization understand how the company is doing financially and highlighting the impact of its products by gathering client testimonials and feedback. Being able to report and present relevant sales data to other teams is essential for tech sales positions.
What Kind of Jobs are Available in Tech Sales?
People most often start their career in tech sales as a sales development representative or business development representative. These roles involve cold calling customers, sending emails and helping customers who reach out for more information about a product. The goal is to qualify customers and book a meeting for the account executive.
Account executives are responsible for running product demos and closing deals, as well as doing many of the same outreach tasks as a SDR and BDR. Then there’s the account managers and customer success managers who assist existing customers and attempt to upsell them on additional products and services.
Some senior tech sales positions include sales manager or sales director. Sales managers lead and train sales teams. Outside of training, they are also responsible for setting quotas based on sales data as well as establishing product pricing and sales budgets. Sales directors work closely with sales managers to create and execute strategies for the sales team. They often help with onboarding and training as well as assisting with setting quotas and expectations for the team.
Those looking to get into the more technical and data-driven side of sales may be interested in sales operations manager roles. This position works to inform sales’ team processes with data-driven insights. Some of the responsibilities of a sales operations manager include analyzing sales methods, compiling data in a customer relationship management platform and measuring conversion rates.
The highest position on a sales team is the vice president of sales. The VP of sales is responsible for overseeing the entire sales team, including onboarding new customers or representatives to developing new sales strategies. VPs typically present sales information to key stakeholders within the organization and work closely with finance teams to set goals.
What Skills Do You Need in Tech Sales?
When Josh Jordan started his sales career in the late 2000s, he was often told that sales was an art form — you either have it or you don’t.
He thrived in his first sales role working for a serial entrepreneur, but he started to struggle in his tech sales job. He quickly learned that success in one sales job doesn’t necessarily translate to another. It requires mastering tools, skills and sales workflows to solve problems for customers.
While there are differences between tech sales and other industries, the two most important skills tech managers look for in a candidate are universal: communication and listening.
Clear communication paired with the ability to tell the story of a product ensures that clients understand the value behind a product. Active listening is important because salespeople need to address client needs and understand them.
Some software firms also look to see if a candidate has a grasp on modern sales methodologies and can fit within the tech sales culture. This can range from solution selling to gap selling to enterprise sales.
Top Skills for Tech Sales
- Communication and storytelling.
- Understanding and listening to customer needs.
- Relationship building.
- Experience with a CRM.
- Time and task management.
- Understanding of sales methodologies.
- The ability to identify new opportunities.
A lot of tech companies will post jobs that require some software sales experience, even for entry-level roles. This creates a barrier that prevents talented reps from other industries from even applying, Jordan said.
“What they really want is proof that you can do the job better than most of the other applicants,” he added.
Sometimes, Jordan said, the hiring process can come down to whether the person can manage tools like Salesforce and Outreach, understands how to listen and communicate well and shows aptitude for methodologies like relationship selling.
Continuing your career development in sales is an important part of staying up to date on the latest trends and sales techniques. The tech sales industry is home to conferences that allow professionals to meet and connect, attend lectures and courses and try out new tools.
Do You Need a College Degree to Get Into Tech Sales?
There are a few different paths you can take to get a job in tech sales. Having a bachelor’s degree can lead to higher paying positions, easier job mobility or more management opportunities. Some commonly held degrees by tech sales professionals include business and marketing degrees.
But having a bachelor’s degree isn’t the only way to get into tech sales, and some companies don’t require a degree. There are a variety of sales bootcamps and courses that can open a door into roles. Some training programs cater to entire teams or are built for leaders looking to change up sales strategies to boost revenue. Sales bootcamps teach students how to build a sales pipeline, work with a CRM, communication strategies and sales methods, technical product presentations and coaching techniques.
Bootcamps are ideal for those looking for flexibility as many can be found online and there are some programs that help graduates find work after graduation.
Tips for How to Get Into Tech Sales
Getting a job in tech sales isn’t always easy, and it can be especially challenging to break in when coming from other industries. But if a candidate follows a few tried-and-true tips, they can better their chances of landing an interview — and nabbing a job.
5 Tips For Breaking Into Tech Sales
- Network with other tech sellers to become familiar with the industry. Read up on the books and sales methodologies they recommend.
- Find mentors who are willing to help you throughout the interview process.
- Treat the hiring company and manager like a prospect.Research their team, product and mission, and use that information to ask questions and showcase your communication skills.
- Get multi-threaded within the company. This helps insulate you from being rejected based on a lack of experience.
- Find unique ways to tell your story and showcase your skills. Send a video message or audio recording to the hiring manager to stand out.
Connect With Other Tech Sales Professionals
After joining LinkedIn in June of 2020, it didn’t take Gebrewold long to note that tech sales had its own jargon and values.
If he wanted to work in tech, he realized he’d have to be seen as part of the tech sellers community. Fortunately, he found it to be one that welcomed outsiders eager to learn and join the fold.
To immerse himself in the industry, he joined sales communities like RevGenius and engaged people in the comment sections of sales posts that caught his attention. When a rep shared something he wanted to learn more about, he’d reach out asking if they’d be open to meeting with him on Zoom to discuss. More times than not, they obliged.
He used those opportunities to ask which frameworks and methodologies they found useful. Then he bought the accompanying sales books and read them. Over time, he picked up important tech sales jargon — like average recurring revenue, mutual plans and embedding/iFraming — and became well-versed on a variety of sales methodologies. By the time he applied to Klue, he knew how to talk and think like a tech sales rep.
In addition to education, mentoring relationships can also have a huge impact on a candidate’s odds of breaking into tech sales, Gebrewold said. Expanding mentorship opportunities is now a critical part of the sales community for Black sellers he went on to co-found, called Sales for the Culture.
Gebrewold frequently sought feedback from his mentors on what to prepare for in each interview. In one instance, a mentor alerted him that the sales motion he was used to running at his current job in talent recruitment would be different from what Klue ran, so he’d need to go off-script to satisfy the manager’s requirements during the interview.
He also reached out to many of his connections to see if they’d vouch for him to Klue. Their notes to the hiring manager played an integral role in helping him get the position.
Show You Can Listen and Communicate
Tech sales is all about understanding a customer’s problem and perspective, clarifying it for them and then explaining how you can help solve that issue and the value behind your product. Even if a rep isn’t familiar with gap selling, if they can showcase the ability to communicate and listen, they have a shot at the job, Jordan said.
The best way to show those skills during an interview is to research the company like a prospect. Brush up on the company’s mission, its product and the team, Jordan said. Find out the hiring manager’s name ahead of time, study the role and read the company’s most recent news.
During the interview, take the time to explain how you fit into the company’s mission and how you can help solve a challenge relevant to the role you’re applying for, Jordan said. Sprinkle the conversation with pertinent questions, like how a funding round or the launch of a new product will impact the team’s growth.
When a candidate can do that, it shows the manager that they have the foundational skills necessary to succeed in sales.
“That takes effort. It shows me they’re willing to learn and that they’re hungry,” Jordan said. “They took the time to care enough to do the research and show that they care about our company mission and me and my team. That does set them apart.”
No matter how well a candidate communicates their skills, they still have to overcome the experience barrier.
This stood as one of Gebrewold’s biggest challenges when he applied to Klue. The company was only looking for five-year tech sales veterans to fill its open account executive roles. He knew if he wanted one of those roles, he’d need to plant a hunch — a tiny voice in the back of the manager’s mind that doubted that requirement because of his skills.
Gebrewold started with expanding his relationships within Klue. He first connected with a former HR manager on LinkedIn, who then introduced him to the top account executive on the staff. He then sent her a note asking if she’d be willing to connect. She helped shed light on what it was like working at Klue and introduced him to the sales director and HR director.
From there, he sent the sales director a report he thought would be relevant to him and a video message that hinted at Gebrewold’s background. He also added that he’d follow up after his first interview. This turned out to be crucial.
As he later learned, the HR director didn’t recommend him for the position after the first interview. While he was a culture fit, she suggested that they look for someone more experienced. But the manager loved Gebrewold’s enthusiasm in the first video, and his second video message solidified his intrigue.
“I did little things like tell a bit of my story, weaved in the values, tied back to the original story, and then at the end, I did something funny to stand out. I snapped a crayon in half, [the name of] one of our competitors, and said ‘I’m excited to help ya’ll totally out compete your competitor,’” Gebrewold said. “I don’t know what sales director isn’t like, ‘I want to meet that guy.’”
Each of those steps helped Gebrewold stand out in the mind of the sales director and insulated him from being eliminated from the process because of a lack of experience.
“You are in a sales process like any other, and you need to sell yourself against your competition,” Gebrewold said. “So get good at concise storytelling that [provides] evidence of who you are.”
Benefits of a Career in Tech Sales
Getting a job in tech sales comes with many benefits, some of which may be the ability to work remotely, high average salaries and earning potential, and job mobility.
As more and more companies offer remote work or hybrid models, the expectation of having to come into the office to make a successful sale is dwindling. Remote selling is beneficial for both salespeople and companies as it allows reps to have more independence and companies can spend less on office or travel-related expenses.
The average salary for a technical sales representative in the United States is around $84,000 in 2022, which is approximately 40 percent higher than the U.S. average. Salary is an important factor when it comes to making a career choice, and those in tech sales have the opportunity to make base salaries and bonuses or commissions from the deals they close.
Getting a job in tech sales also offers career mobility and advancement opportunities. Sales and marketing positions rank second for the most in demand positions, which means there are often many open sales roles in tech. Although most tech salespeople start as a representative, there is typically a clear career path within an organization that employees can work toward. An example of this might be a sales rep that transitions to account manager then to AE to sales manager.
Disadvantages of a Career in Tech Sales
As with any career, there are also disadvantages to a job in tech sales. One disadvantage is that it is often difficult to adjust to the industry if your experience has mostly been in other sectors.
The tech sales process differs from more traditional sales industries. Reps in fields like retail or insurance primarily sell to buyers at the tail end of the sales funnel. The buyer has already made their decision, and the main difference maker is whether the rep is likable or not, Jordan said. That success doesn’t always translate to tech sales, where buyers have more choices and the deals are more complex.
The culture surrounding sales teams in the tech startup industry may also present some difficulties. Some candidates come from places that still promote a “coffee is for closers” culture. As a result, they may think their ability to sell sawdust to a lumber mill is an attribute, but it’s an immediate turn-off for hiring managers at tech companies.
One major downside to tech sales is the pressure to meet quotas. Although this is common in most sales industries, tech companies rely on clients renewals of subscriptions more heavily than other industries. The pressure to maintain an ongoing relationship with clients is both vital to success and a challenge to sales reps and account managers.