In a long and varied career, I have spent a couple of decades in sales, sales training, sales management, and running my own businesses.
How to Get Hired Without Any Sales Experience
Getting your first role in sales can be difficult, even if you have relevant qualifications. Employers often prefer to hire people for sales jobs who have sales experience. And of course it is difficult to get experience with sales unless you have previously worked in sales. Here are a couple of ways to resolve this "catch 22" scenario and still get that first role in sales even without experience.
After all, we all start with zero experience.
1. Find a Mentor
When trying to break into your first sales role you need to find a way to "gain experience" or absorb "sales wisdom." One way to do this is to find a mentor. Do you already know someone in sales? Is it the same person who encouraged you in this direction?
If you do know a successful salesperson, why not ask them to be your mentor? That way you will gain from their acquired experience and put yourself on the fast track to success.
Concerned that if you ask them, they may say "No"? This is the first concern anyone has when considering a career in sales. It is commonly known as the fear of rejection. Address your fear by considering the following. Firstly, why would this salesperson not agree to mentor you, after all, it will cost them nothing but a little time. Secondly, they are also likely to feel good about themselves by helping you; this is something we all feel when we help someone else. Often, they will be flattered. And also, you will be meeting one of their fundamental needs: the need to be understood.
And remember everyone likes to talk about himself or herself.
Expect a positive "Yes," you are more likely to get it! If you do end up getting a "No," it’s simply a "No". Life goes on and it is a pointless exercise to worry in advance about why they might reject your offer, or mentally "beat yourself up" after the event. Go for a Yes, expect a Yes, and you are likely to get a Yes.
2. 'Shadow' a Sales Person
Another way to gain "experience" in sales is to shadow a sales representative for a day or two. You can get a real feel for sales watching a professional meet their customers/prospects. How do you set this up? There are a few ways, but the easiest is to either ask your mentor (as above) if you have one, or directly approach the sales department of an organisation. To do this, define which type of area of sales you wish to be in (i.e. commercial, pharmaceutical, industrial, business-to-business, etc.), and then narrow this area down to medium-to-large, successful companies in your geographical area. Now you need to take positive action. As with the example above, expect a positive outcome.
Remember a No is simply a No: life goes on, you will not be psychologically crushed, you will not go to jail, and your friends will not desert you. So, think like a successful salesperson and expect a Yes!
3. Take Action
Now make a short list of no more than ten companies in your chosen area and their telephone numbers (if there is a number for the Sales Department then use that).
Set a couple of hours aside where you can be alone and undisturbed (just you and a telephone). Call up the first company on the list and confidently—that is, with positive expectations— ask to speak to the General Sales Manager. Now the person you may eventually need to speak may be someone else or have a different title, but this will get you going in the right direction. Try to get the Sales Manager's name in advance , for example from the corporate web site.
when you get through to the Sales Manager concisely and simply explain who you are, what you want and why you want it - then ask them if they can help - that’s it - short and straight to the point.
A note: when I say short and to the point, I do not mean you should rush. Keep your voice steady calm and even. If you feel yourself tensing as you are about to make the call, this is likely to speed up your speech or make you fluff your lines. So breathe deeply and slowly. As you dial the last number, briefly think of something that makes you happy; this will make you smile inwardly or outwardly and reflect in your voice when you start to speak.
When explaining who you are, what you want, and why you want it to the Sales Manager it will help if you keep a note of the main points you want to get across in front of you. You could write a script of the whole thing, but I have found that people using a script often rush as they approach the end of the call, or change the tonality of the voice so it becomes unnatural or "stagey."
4. Refine and Practice Your Pitch, in Detail
Let’s have a look at the main points of your "pitch" in a little more detail:
Explain who you are. This is obvious, but it’s the simple details that can get missed and start a dialogue off on the wrong foot. So, tell them your name.
Explain what you want. You are looking to start a career in sales and would like to gain some first-hand experience with a seasoned sales professional.
Example: “I want to start a career in sales, and I’m looking to "shadow" a top-notch sales professional out in the field.”
Explain why you want it. Again, make this concise and to the point. Don’t ramble. If you can’t find the "right" words, then pick the simplest.
Example: “I feel this would give me a deeper understanding of sales and enhance my chances of breaking into a sales role.”
Ask if they can help. Again, keep it very simple and concise.
Example: “Would it be possible to spend some time on the road with one of your top salespeople?”
Write your own pitch in your own words, using the examples above to guide you.
The Sales Manager's Possible Responses
They are likely to answer in one of three ways:
- They may ask you some questions, which is a good sign. You will need to answer their questions honestly and concisely. In other words, be prepared: consider the questions that you might be asked in advance of picking up the phone). For example, they might ask what experience you had previously with meeting customers. Answer their questions until you feel you have answered them all satisfactorily and then politely ask again if they can help.
- Another possible answer may be "No." If this is the case, politely thank them for their time and end the phone call.
- The most likely answer, if you have gone in a confident, well prepared, concise, and polite will be a "Yes." Again, be prepared for this (don’t sound surprised!). Simply express your pleasure, thank them and ask them what you need to do now.
Example: “That’s great, thank you. How do I go about it?”
The Sales Manager will then tell you what to do: in all likelihood, give you the sales person’s telephone number or arrange for you to come in and meet them).
How to Get Hired: Dos and Don'ts
Here are a few does and don’ts when using this approach.
- Don’t be apologetic in your words or manner (i.e. don’t use words like "sorry" or "bother")
- Don’t mumble or talk too fast
- Don’t be too familiar (e.g. using their first name without being invited to)
- Don’t ramble on and on
- Don’t be tempted to fill pauses with words: if you have asked a question, let them answer
- Be prepared (see above)
- Be confident in achieving a positive result
- Be prepared to be flexible (e.g. If the best salesperson lives 100 miles away or wants you to hit the road at six in the morning with them, then do your best to go with it, after all you have everything to gain, so make it easy for them).
Showing Your Experience
Shadowing a salesperson, although not the same as on-the-job experience, will give you ‘some’ experience of what a life in sales entails. Also, and more importantly, it will tell potential employers that you are serious (about getting into sales), are willing to take positive action in pursuit of your goals and you are willing to face up to potential rejection—These are all great characteristics that employers are looking for in sales people. So next time someone says they are looking for "some experience," you can tell them all about the experience you went out and found.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Jerry Cornelius