When I tell people I work in “sales at a tech company”, some react in a way as though they expect me to start flogging them some shady gadgets, especially in the UK and Europe. Americans have already figured out that software sales is a pretty cool gig, since some of the smartest young professionals across the United States are moving to the West Coast to start their careers in software sales. For one thing, the average annual compensation for sales executives at US tech companies can be upwards of $200,000.
So what’s the disconnect? Why do some find this career alluring, while others seem allergic to the idea of a career in sales?
As a member of the sales team at MuleSoft, I was thinking about this recently while attending Sparks, LSE’s student-led entrepreneurship conference, where I heard several successful entrepreneurs tell hundreds of young graduates and students their inspiring stories. Even though these entrepreneurs come from a range of ages and backgrounds, they were unified by a single thread that helped drive success in their respective ventures.
That commonality is the importance of developing sales skills as early as possible in your career. One entrepreneur, Andrew Heath, co-founder of Alphasights, quite boldly and explicitly said that two of the most important skills in building a successful career, especially as an entrepreneur, are sales and people management.
The reason I found this compelling was that it came from someone you’d least expect to say this — someone who followed the traditional career path of talented graduates earlier in his life. As a Cambridge alumnus and former Boston Consulting Group (BCG) consultant, it’s empowering to hear him discuss the importance of developing sales skills.
Ironically, we’re always selling. All the time. Whether it’s selling an idea to your team, yourself to a potential or current employer, a product to your customer, or your business to a venture capitalist. Taking the time to develop those skills is time well spent in building credibility as a shrewd business person.
Not everybody wants to become an entrepreneur, but everybody wants to feel like they’re making a difference at their job — that they’re doing something that has an impact. When working in sales development, young and ambitious people can start making their mark on the business. They can start influencing the mindset of markets and industries very early in their careers in a huge way.
Disruptive companies like Salesforce and Google, by necessity, had to educate the market for years before transforming the way their customers started to think about what they do and how they do it. Companies don’t just innovate internally, they require thought leaders, who are building IP across the industry, to help educate and guide the market. Sales and Business Development teams are key to helping these companies innovate by continuously educating and helping customers to shift their mindsets to understand their challenges and explore how they can start to evolve their business models. My favorite example is Mark Benioff, the founder and CEO of Salesforce, one of the fastest growing software companies of all time, who actually started his career as Sales Development Rep at Oracle.
Wherever there is rapid and unprecedented growth, sales and business development teams are driving massive expansion. And in my experience, probably the most fun and practical business experience you’ll receive early in your career is at a well funded, high-growth technology company with significant potential to disrupt their market.
Understanding and managing the perspectives of many different stakeholders, both internally and externally, whilst constantly going above and beyond to solve real business problems is what we as Sales Development Reps and Sales Executives at high growth companies have to do every day. It’s an environment where the proactive and curious progress rapidly in the organization, and learn real-life business skills with support of highly experienced and dedicated teams around them.
You may not want to be a CEO or the founder of your own startup, but I believe the best way to start your career, with a meaningful, impactful, and yes, a fun job that will set you up for the rest of your career, is in sales. If you’re thinking about a career in this space, drop me a LinkedIn message, I’d be happy to chat, or check out our Careers page for opportunities to work with me at MuleSoft.
If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can hear straight from a panel of tech sales leaders from different backgrounds in our free discussion and happy hour event, Breaking Into Tech Sales, on May 3 at 5:30 p.m.