How sales lost the scary edge but kept the big financial rewards

Aug 20, 2018

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Advance

Sales is that scary thing where you cold call loads of angry people who don’t want to speak to you, right? Wrong.

Sales is the thing more and more of the smartest graduates are moving into, because it offers an intellectual challenge, a fast-track route to management, and fantastic financial rewards.

Skeptical? Here me out. By the end of this article you’re going to have learnt that sales is nothing like it used to be and you’re not going to want to miss out.

Cold calling to consultation: the development of sales sophistication

Of course, sales got a bad reputation for a reason.

You’ve probably seen it in films and TV shows. Rows of sales people sat at desks, making call after call to unsuspecting targets, trying to flog them whatever product or service their company offers (and which the person on the other end of line probably didn’t want or need). 

 

This is not a million miles from how things used to be for a big proportion of sales people. Cold-calling a list of targets and hoping you can persuade them a) to listen to you and b) to buy something from you.

The issue here, apart from it being a pretty demoralising job, is that it’s the business equivalent of flinging mud at a wall and hoping some of it will stick. Even if the people you were calling were of the right sort of demographic, there was nothing to suggest they might be interested in your particular offer.

And worse, by calling them you were inevitably interrupting their day: launching into a sales pitch with an annoyed prospect is not a great start.

With an approach like that, no wonder sales got a bad reputation.

So what’s changed?

Well, the internet. Companies can now find customers with laser-like targeting through platforms such as Google and Facebook and capture their details online. So when a salesperson does get in touch with a prospective client, that person has most likely not just heard of the company but actively expressed an interest in it (by clicking on an advert or downloading some information, for example). No more mud flinging, thank you very much.

With the advent of far better targeting and more of a pull than push approach (bring the customer to you rather than trying to force your product on them), sales techniques have developed too.

Safe in the knowledge the person they are talking to is interested in what they have to offer, people in sales now spend more time listening to potential customers to understand their problems, then explaining how their product can solve the issues in question.

This consultative approach, which is demonstrably more successful than the ‘push’ approach, calls for those practising it to offer more than just smooth talking. Salespeople are expected to be empathetic, logical and analytical in their approach (more on this later), which has begun to attract candidates with some impressive backgrounds. 

Most notably, increasing numbers of people from top consultancies (like McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Accenture) are moving into SaaS sales. 

Let that sink in for a moment. Your brightest peers from university, who are desperately fighting it out for the handful of top consultancy graduate jobs, might just end up going into SaaS sales anyway. So why not take the fast-track and go straight there?

Methods have changed, but the great earning potential hasn’t

While the methods behind sales and business development have changed, one thing has certainly remained constant: the financial rewards.

Sales is, at its heart, about creating revenue for a company. And those people who contribute directly to a company’s income are the ones who get the biggest rewards.

 

Graduate starting salaries for sales jobs are comparable to other disciplines such as marketing (anywhere between £20,000-£30,000, depending on the industry and size of company). But where they differ is the bonuses on offer. 

Where a marketing executive might get a small annual bonus of, say, 5% of their annual salary at the discretion of their employers, sales graduates might make that each month if they hit their targets. 

Typically this is paid in the form of commission: a percentage of each sale you make goes directly to your pay packet. Commission rates are typically in the 10-20% region, again varying by industry and sales process. 

Let’s do a direct comparison of a marketing and a sales graduate job. Typically a new sales executive might make £10,000 per month in sales, and let’s put them at the lower end of the commission scale, at 10%. And let’s assume the marketing executive’s company are relatively generous and give them a 5% annual bonus. How does their pay stack up at the end of their first year?

Marketing Executive

Sales Executive

Basic salary (monthly)

£21,000

£21,000

Monthly Commission

£0

£1000

Annual bonus

£1000

£0

Annual take home

£22,000

£33,000

 

£11,000 difference, in the first year alone. That is not to be sniffed at! And as the sales person develops and hones their craft, this difference is only going to go one way.

Can you get a graduate sales job with no experience?

There is further good news in relation to graduate sales jobs: they are easier to get than many other positions.

It is no secret that graduate jobs are oversubscribed. Sales, however, is less so than many other areas because of its prior reputation. Yet practically every company is constantly looking out for bright, enthusiastic sales people. 

 

Because of this relative lack of competition, you are far more likely to apply successfully for a sales job than, say, a marketing role. 

Moreover, companies are less demanding in their requirements for graduate sales jobs. Partially because of the limited competition for roles and partially because most companies prefer to train new sales people in their own image, hiring managers will focus on a candidate’s characteristics more than their direct experience. 

This is great news if you find that most the jobs that interest you seem to ask for the kind of professional experience you just don’t have (and would struggle to have built alongside completing your degree). 

Being personable, the ability to listen and understand, an analytical approach to problem solving, a good work ethic: these are some of the core tenets that make great sales people. 

They are also things that can be demonstrated without having done seventeen internships. 

Work ethic? Well you got through your degree and probably held down a job alongside that too. Tick. Personable? Point to your involvement in any societies or team sports (and easily shown at interview too). Analytical approach to problem solving? What about that time you had to mediate between half your friends who wanted to go to nightclub A and the other half who fancied nightclub B? (This is a genuine interview answer we’ve heard. And it was great). 

So for those low on experience but high on energy and confidence, sales seems a natural destination once you graduate. 

What to expect from sales graduate schemes and jobs

As with most graduate jobs, there are a myriad of ways to get your first sales role, from heavily structured schemes to startups jobs.

 

Sales graduate schemes are, of course, heavily promoted online and through careers services. As you would expect for any graduate scheme, they involve the typical application form and various rounds of assessment centres and interviews. 

If you envisage your sales career being in a big multi-national, this is likely the path you will take from university (and given the prominence of graduate schemes, the most oversubscribed). 

There are certainly benefits to going down the sales graduate scheme route: very structured training, support and feedback; better basic salary; and a big name brand on your CV. You will, however, face more competition for roles and your commission may be lower than at a smaller company. 

Conversely, it is probably easier to land a sales job in a small- or medium-sized business, with fewer rounds of interviews and candidates to compete against. You could even take the more direct approach of sending a speculative application to companies you think are interesting; chances are they will be impressed by your get-up-and-go. 

Of course, the training and support may be less thorough in an SME than in a big company but you are likely to have more freedom in your role and the commission may well be more generous. 

One booming area for sales careers that combines both the generous commission and freedom of small companies and the structure of larger graduate schemes is in the world of SaaS. 

SaaS stands for software-as-a-service and essentially means companies who sell software (typically online) through a subscription model. Doesn’t sound hugely captivating, but stick with us. 

SaaS is a massive growth area, with plenty of British success stories. Because SaaS companies, such as GoCardless and OnFido, are relatively new and effectively still startups but also growing incredibly quickly, they have the sort of attractive company culture that you associate with dynamic young businesses as well as the serious financial clout of a more established firm. 

SaaS companies are therefore renowned for not just great earning potential and work culture but also excellent training and structure. As such, people with SaaS sales experience are are known to take home huge commissions and are also highly prized candidates when they choose to move on. 

In short, there are a myriad of ways to get your foot in the door for a sales role and options for those who prefer freedom to learn on their own terms as well as those who prefer rigorous, structured environments. 

Live Graduate Sales Jobs

If your interest has been piqued, the good news is you don’t have to go too far to find a huge range of great graduate sales jobs that are currently open for applications. 

Have a look at the live sales roles on Advance.Careers and start your application now!

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