As an active quota-carrying Senior Account Executive in the SaaS sales industry, I know the challenges of getting sales experience, and then getting it all across to land your next sales job.
But there’s no need to worry; with some hard work, persistence, and tricks of the trade, you can gain the necessary sales experience and become a top candidate for the job.
Whether it’s mastering specific sales tools, having more charisma than a Disney Prince at a ball, or developing the ability to deliver a sales pitch smoother than my wedding dance (Ok, not that one!), all these traits can be developed with time and practice, and hiring managers know that.
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can get sales experience, describe it, and ace your interviews.
What Is Sales Experience and What Counts?
Sales experience is a broad term that encompasses any role or activity where you’ve had to persuade or convince someone—whether it’s a product, a service, or an idea. This is super important to remember. You don’t need ‘sales’ in your job title to land a sales role.
I used my consultancy background to move into sales so I can speak from experience on this. All you have to do is think of it from a different angle and the floodgates will open.
So what counts?
- Customer Service: You suggest suitable products or services which is a form of selling
- Marketing: You create attractive campaigns to drive purchases
- Leadership: You sell your vision to motivate your team
- Consultant: You need to sell your experience and advice (in my case, also identifying upsell opportunities)
- Volunteer work: Yes even volunteer work counts. It can involve fundraising or selling things to customers
So if you’ve ever had to sell an idea or persuade someone about something, you’ve gained valuable sales experience.
Types of Sales Experience
If you are new to sales then you need to understand the different types of sales and how each one operates. You will also want to make sure you go after the right role to best serve the sales career you want.
I’m a field sales rep so I travel a lot and get to be client-facing which I love. If you are starting out then you might want to consider telemarketing or inside sales. You can often land these roles with little to no sales experience. See it as a stepping stone!
Here’s a round-up of the types of sales experience out there.
That’s a quick round-up of the most common types of selling. When looking at sales experience, it’s important to understand the type of sales job you want to go for. That way you can tailor your experience to it. Or even go out and get some experience that would be the best fit for that type of role.
How to Get Sales Experience
The most obvious answer is of course to land a sales job. That will be the fastest and most widely accepted way to gain sales experience.
However, if you don’t have any work sales experience then you do have some other options.
One way to gain sales experience is by volunteering at non-profits where you have to fundraise or sell products to collect donations. This can help you develop your communication and persuasion skills, as well as your ability to close deals.
Another option is to join a direct sales company like Avon or Mary Kay to gain first-hand sales experience. This can often be a lower barrier to entry and can give you the opportunity to learn from experienced sales professionals and develop your skills in a supportive environment.
Take a course
Taking a sales course or attending workshops on sales and marketing is another way to gain valuable sales experience. These courses can help you learn about the latest sales techniques and strategies, and provide you with the opportunity to practice your skills in a safe and controlled environment.
Read a book
One way to gain sales experience is through reading books from experts in the field. Books like “The Art of Closing the Sale” by Brian Tracy, or “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini, can provide you with real-world techniques and strategies that can bolster your understanding and approach to sales.
Participating in sales-related extracurricular activities or internships during school can also be a great way to gain hands-on experience in sales. This can help you develop your skills and build your network of contacts in the industry.
Ask for sales tasks
Offer to take on relevant sales tasks at your current job, such as customer outreach or sales reports, can also be a great way to gain experience. This can help you demonstrate your skills to your employer and potentially lead to new opportunities within the company. You can also leverage that at an interview for a new sales role.
Depending on your current situation, there are many different ways to gain sales experience. It’s important to find the approach that works best for you. But by taking the time to develop your skills, you can start to position yourself for success.
How to Get B2B Sales Experience
Business to Business (B2B) sales requires a unique set of skills and knowledge vs selling directly to the consumer (B2C).
I have developed these skills over the years but it’s tough when you first start out. Here are my essential tips to help you get ahead.
- Network: Network with company executives and sales leaders that are working in the field you want to get into. Use tools like LinkedIn to build a professional-looking profile that is clear on what you are trying to achieve. Then start to build your network. It can be daunting at first but remember, you only need one opportunity and there are stacks out there!
- Shadow: You can also learn from other sales professionals in the industry and gain valuable insights into effective sales techniques. Some organizations will allow you to shadow sales folk on a temporary basis, larger organizations sometimes also offer mentoring programs and have an annual intake. Reach out to some sales leaders and HR reps and start to get a feel for what might be available.
- Courses: Many universities and online learning platforms offer courses that cover the fundamentals of B2B sales, such as prospecting, lead generation, and closing deals. These courses can help you develop the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in B2B sales. It will also show potential employers that you are serious and are willing to invest in yourself – this will go a long way, trust me!
- Trends: Stay up-to-date with industry trends and practices. B2B sales is a constantly evolving field, and it’s crucial to understand the latest technologies, strategies, and best practices. Reading industry publications, attending webinars, and participating in online forums can help you stay informed and up-to-date, whilst building your knowledge and experience.
Gaining B2B sales experience requires persistence and dedication. You have to be proactive in seeking out opportunities and building relationships. This will start to open doors and will help you land that first B2B sales role.
Succeeding in the sales sector demands a unique set of relevant skills that extend beyond just hitting your sales quota and closing deals. These skills, essential for gaining practical sales experience, are greatly valued by employers. All successful sales reps will master these skills early on.
- Communication: Starting conversations and creating strong connections with customers is key in sales. Active listening to understand customers’ needs and providing appropriate responses are crucial aspects of this skill.
- Relationship Building: Establishing and maintaining strong bonds with customers, stakeholders, and team members is fundamental in sales. Strong relationships often lead to repeat business and client retention.
- Product Knowledge: A comprehensive understanding of the product or service is critical for successful sales. Deep product knowledge helps to communicate its benefits effectively and handle customer queries confidently.
- Leadership qualities: Inspiring, motivating, and leading teams towards common goals are pivotal attributes for sales professionals. Effective leaders distribute tasks efficiently, offer support, and lead by example.
- Persuasive Pitching: The capacity to pitch a product or service convincingly is vital. Anticipating potential objections and addressing them effectively builds credibility and trust with the customer.
- Technology: With the rise of AI, there are so many new tools around, and it’s important that you embrace them and show you can keep on top of it. Things like AI presentation software and AI note-takers are becoming part of every sales person’s toolkit.
- Opportunity Qualification: This can be tough to learn but is super important. There’s a saying in sales, it goes like this ‘If you’re going to fail, fail early’. Read up on a few qualification methodologies and make sure you follow one.
What I’m trying to get across is that for anyone aspiring to make their mark in sales, mastering skills like communication, relationship building, and product knowledge is imperative. Developing these skills will help you get to where you want to be.
How to Describe Your Sales Experience
When asked about your sales experience during an interview, it’s crucial to describe it in a compelling manner. Highlight specific accomplishments and successes, such as exceeding sales quotas or enhancing customer engagement. Don’t be dry! Use stories and narratives that will engage the interviewer and make you stand out.
Use numbers or data to quantify your achievements, such as the percentage of increased sales growth or customer retention rates. Provide examples of critical sales skills, such as negotiation, relationship-building, or strategic planning. This all helps to get across a rounded sales individual.
No sales experience but worried you will be asked this? Keep reading, we have you covered!
Sales Experience – Preparing for Interview
Any interview can be daunting. But when you are interviewing and think you are short of experience, it can be even worse. I have been there, done that! I have also sat in on interviews and conducted some myself so take my advice on this one and listen closely on how to crush the interview and land the job.
Typical interview questions
No matter what sales job you are going for, the hiring manager will most likely be a sales professional who has often walked the walk and talked the talk. But you will be surprised by how many of them just ask basic and obvious sales-related questions.
They aren’t interview experts, they are sales experts – NEVER FORGET THIS.
Here are some classics:
- Can you tell us about your previous sales experience?
- Can you describe a challenging sales situation you faced and how you overcame it?
- How do you manage your sales pipeline and track your progress?
- How do you create long-term relationships with your customers?
- How would you deal with a customer who is hesitant to buy your product/service?
Do you have a solid answer for each one? If not, keep reading and I will get you prepped.
Preparing Interview Question Responses
This is where I come back to the ‘they aren’t interview experts, they are sales experts’. Yes if you have HR in there they are more interview experts but 99 times out of 100, it’s the sale manager that will be making the decision. So your answers need to be suitable for a salesperson to hear.
Which means it’s about crafting a compelling sales narrative. To do so, think of every answer as a mini sales pitch showcasing your skills, experience, and drive.
Let’s take the question: “Can you tell us about your previous sales experience?” Instead of listing your previous jobs in a dry and boring fashion, share a captivating story. I remember I once told an interviewer about a time when I managed to secure a deal with a notoriously hard-to-please client.
I not only laid out the strategies I used but also painted a picture of the determination it took and the EXPERIENCE I gained from it. This story allowed me to display my negotiation skills, resilience, and adaptability, which they loved.
For questions that involve problem-solving like, “How do you deal with a customer who is hesitant to buy your product/service?” reflect on your past experiences. Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your answer.
For instance, I might share a situation where I converted a skeptical customer by understanding their needs and concerns, customizing my pitch, and offering a tailored solution that they couldn’t resist.
Your preparation will also be most effective when you understand the company’s values, sales philosophy, and goals. Do your homework. This is essential if you are lacking in direct sales experience, as it’s something a seasoned seller may not do. Tailor your answers to align with their vision.
Avoid Common Interview Mistakes
Now that you’re armed with powerful answers, you might think you’re home-free. Not so fast. Even the most seasoned salespeople can stumble during an interview.
One of the most common mistakes I see salespeople make is neglecting to ‘close the deal’. I once walked out of an interview thinking it went great but forgot to ask for the next steps. The outcome? I never heard back and I didn’t have anything to go and say to them ‘You said that you would….’
Just like you would with a potential customer, be sure to express your interest and ask about the next steps before you leave the interview room. A sales manager loves a closer, so close that interview!
Another pitfall is not asking the right questions. In my early career, I asked generic questions that could apply to any company. Big mistake.
Your questions need to show that you’ve done your research and that you’re considering how well you’d fit in the team and culture. Ask insightful questions about their sales strategies, team dynamics, or recent developments. They love this!
Finally, remember to sell yourself. I used to believe my resume would do all the talking. Wrong again. A sales job interview is the perfect time to showcase your selling skills. Approach it like a sales meeting where the product you’re selling is yourself.
What to Do if You Have No Sales Experience
If you lack sales experience then you need to align your current skills with the role.
For instance, if you have customer service experience, emphasize how you have resolved customer complaints and how you proactively provided excellent customer service. You can also highlight transferable skills, such as teamwork, time management, attention to detail, and a strong work ethic.
Sales is also moving more towards a tech-enabled role. With the rise of Artificial Intelligence, it is now starting to take hold in the sales sector. For example, ChatGPT has many uses in sales so mastering a tool like this and bringing a new-age AI sales exec persona to a role will also help you stand out and show you have some fresh ideas.
Showing your passion and knowledge of the product and industry will also go a long way. I have seen a Sales Development Representative hired on this alone. Sales can be taught, but passion, charisma, and enthusiasm can’t!
Don’t underestimate that!
How to Handle the Sales Experience Question When You Have No Sales Background: Practical Advice
If you haven’t got any direct sales experience, don’t fret. Unless you flat-out lied on your job application, they already know this, yet you still got the interview, right?
So we need to think of something you have done in other roles or in your personal life.
Have you asked your friend to go on a trip but they weren’t convinced? How did you convince them? Did you suggest to your boss a better way of doing something but they weren’t sure it would work? How did you get them onboard?
Remember, you are speaking to a salesperson. They would much rather hear stories about how you systematically and thoughtfully convinced someone to do something they weren’t sold on than hear a list of the last 2 or 3 sales jobs you had.
If I were you, I would get 2 solid examples in my head with a rehearsed response. And don’t be afraid to bring the elephant into the room. They know you haven’t got direct sales experience so how you answer this question will show a lot about your character and how you handle (what they know is) a difficult question for you.
And don’t forget to demonstrate your eagerness to learn and your commitment to delivering results, even with no prior sales background. This will go a long way!
Sales experience can be tough to get. But you can use other work and even personal life to shape sales stories and show why you would be a good fit for a sales role. You could even just learn skills and tools that show you are super keen – such as building target org. charts or target prospect lists. It all adds to your experience!
Whenever possible, participate in relevant activities, such as volunteer work, internships, and workshops. Highlight transferable skills, show your passion for the industry, and use data to demonstrate your successes.
You’ve got this – go smash that sales interview!