The nature of the education system means the emphasis in business schools is placed on learning concepts such as Porter’s Five Forces and Gartner’s Magic Quadrant both of which sound like they could be from a Harry Potter book. It therefore should come as little surprise that many students with business degrees leave college without any real or practical knowledge about not only how sales organisations work, but what the day-to-day of an entry-level role looks like.
This problem is further accentuated if your degree is in no way relevant to business. Thankfully, sales is one of the few fields that is open to individuals from many backgrounds, irrespective of your degree — if you’re willing to put the work in. But what exactly does that work involve?
Learn how to sell yourself 🙋🏻♂️
The first rule of sales is that people buy from people they like. Good companies know this so as you move through the hiring process, it's important to ensure every touch point whether it’s over email with a recruiter or an interview with a hiring manager is positive.
Your CV, cover letter, and LinkedIn provide ample opportunity for you to make a good impression by showcasing that you are a good fit for this specific role at this specific company. With that in mind, applying to every job with a standardised CV won't suffice. Any good salesperson will tell you personalisation is a key part of the sales process and if you want to stand out, you need to tailor your application to each role you apply for. You can do this by closely examining the job description for certain keywords and incorporating them throughout your CV.
Your cover letter is also a crucial part of this process. Not only does it enable you to draw the reader’s attention to relevant parts of your CV, it allows you to discuss relevant accomplishments in your career-to-date in a greater level of detail. You should try to ensure that there is consistency between the case you make for yourself in the cover letter and on your CV with both elements of your application complementing one another and painting a clear picture of who you are, what your relevant experience is and what you’d be like to work with to the recruiter.
If you're looking to give your CV and cover letter a bit of a revamp, we have a couple of blogs on 3 simple steps to build your sales CV and How to write the perfect cover letter which we'd highly recommend you read (once you've finished this blog of course.)
Show you can do your research 🔎
With any job, the interviewer will be curious as to what research you did to prepare for the interview. This is particularly relevant in sales as another part of being a great salesperson is researching the customers’ needs and asking informed questions on the back of that research to assess whether your product is a fit.
Ensure that you put the time in to extensively research both the person interviewing you and the company in question. While visiting their website is a good starting point, if you want to make a lasting impression, you need to dig a little bit deeper.
By reading the latest on their company blog, finding recent articles about the company on Google News, researching customer reviews on their products on the likes of G2, employee reviews on Glassdoor or by reaching out to a current employee to carry out an informational interview, you can glean some information that other interviewees may not have access to.
Armed with this information, either throughout the interview or at the end, you'll not only have the ability to ask informed questions about the role and the company but you'll be able to demonstrate that you have competency in one of the most fundamental elements of sales — research.
Leverage transferable skills ⚙️
Sales roles require a very particular set of skills, many of which you might have acquired in other roles you've worked in. If you have unpaid experience, whether that’s an internship, charity work or if you’ve been an active member of a college society, it’s likely there are many skills you’ve adopted that can be applied to a sales role.
When preparing your CV you can illustrate your communication skills, problem solving capabilities and organisational experience by using examples to showcase how you got results in the past. If you have numbers or metrics to back these up, that's even better. By demonstrating you have transferable skills, such as the three above for example, it’ll give potential employers a strong indicator that you have the potential to succeed in a sales role.
Educate yourself 📚
Your journey as a student shouldn’t stop as soon as you hand in your thesis or finish your last exam. There has never been an easier time to access information and you should make a concerted effort to use the resources at your disposal. If you want to set yourself apart, you need to find ways to further your education by consuming high quality sales-related content.
Read books and blogs, listen to podcasts, follow thought leaders on LinkedIn and attend webinars to familiarise yourself with all the latest trends and industry jargon and to stay up-to-speed on different selling techniques. Once you do this, identify relevant online courses and set aside some time to get certifications that you can leverage when you’re in the hiring process with a company.
It’ll reflect well on you if you’ve shown that despite a potential shortfall of relevant experience, you’re willing to put the time in to improve and grow. Should you be interested in finding out more about the value of upskilling and how to do it, we've written a blog post on it here. If you’re interested in some free online courses, we’ve got some great resources here that you also might find useful.
Grow your network 🌐
Last but certainly not least, is to grow your network. One of the tenets of a successful career, particularly in sales is to network vociferously. As the saying goes; it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. As you leave college, you might feel like it’s hard to grow your network outside the people in your course or the people you’ve worked with in part-time jobs or internships.
If you’re looking to get into sales but don’t know anyone in the field, start by attending industry events or careers fairs (virtual if necessary) or reach out to people on LinkedIn who are in roles you’d like to get into and seek advice. Ask them about how they got into the job they’re currently in, what the day-to-day of the role looks like and any other questions you might have. If you're looking for some top tips on how you can grow your network as a graduate, we've covered it before in a blog post which you can read here.