How Much Sales Experience Do You Need to Get Hired?
How much sales experience you need to get hired is greatly dependent on your transferrable skills, the job you’re after, and the size of the company you’re applying to.
So we’re going to break all that down into helpful bites to aid you in finding the sales job that’s right for your level of experience. From “no experience at all” to “years of sales kung fu,” we’ll point you toward the jobs that match what you have and what you’re looking for.
What counts as sales experience?
This is one of the most important questions most job-seekers need to ask themselves, of course. What have you done in other jobs that might count as “sales experience” that won’t also get you laughed out of the office by a hiring manager?
The good news is that many valuable sales skills can be learned anywhere. The heart of sales is communication — not only communicating what you want but also listening to others and figuring out what they want. And, of course, figuring out how to scratch that itch they have.
Any sales, lead-qualification, or business-development position is going to count as useful experience. These are obvious.
However, positions in retail, customer service, real estate, paid or unpaid internships, charity, or even a strong record of Girl Scout Cookie sales could help you out. You’d be surprised how valued transferrable knowledge and soft skills really are in the sales business.
Sales experience by job
The sales experience you’ll need, of course, depends on the sales position you’re after. We’re going to break down by role the average experience hiring managers are looking for so you can not only discover what you need but also take a good look at the long view of your potential career.
Entry-Level Sales Positions — Little to No Experience
While the idea of an entry-level position requiring experience seems a bit satirical, it’s a surprisingly popular joke that has some roots in reality. According to the Science of the Job Search, over 60% of entry-level jobs ask for at least three years of experience.
However, there are plenty of entry-level sales positions that require almost no experience. There are also sales-adjacent jobs that could grant you enough experience to break into sales after even a year of experience.
Retail – Average Experience: None. That’s right. It may not be exactly what you’re looking for, but retail skills are extremely transferrable to a sales position. Almost every sales position up and down the ladder of success has to deal with the following on a regular basis: angry customers; confused clients; people teetering on a purchase; questions about the product/service, both simple and in-depth; inventory shortages; fickle customer loyalty; changing market desires; and the need to pour on a little charm now and again.
A retail position, even for a short time, has been a crucible many future sales reps have had to face.
Insurance Sales – Average Experience: None. Insurance companies are big and tend to hire a ton of low-level sales positions that come with their own training. You’ll earn commission (sometimes it’ll be your own salary), learn how to communicate with potential clients, and practice your basic pitch and closing abilities on dozens of people daily.
Lead Qualification – Average Experience: None. Another entry-level role that isn’t 100% sales, entry-level lead qualification puts you in charge of sorting and evaluating leads before passing them on to sales reps. This job usually requires only a little training in the team’s CRM before you’re off and running. Plus, you’ll get tons of exposure to the sales rep, giving you the opportunity to network and pick up valuable sales skills.
Mid-Level Sales Positions – Some Experience
When we talk about mid-level sales positions, what we generally mean is the person who is doing the everyday sales in any given industry. Here are just a couple of the most common mid-level sales positions to help you calibrate your target.
Sales Representative – Average Experience: 1 to 3 years of experience, or proof of transferrable skills. The titles for a sales representative vary wildly from country to country and business to business (even between companies in the same business), but the basic “salesperson” job is going to align with the common position of “sales representative.”
The hiring paperwork might call it a field salesperson or an inside salesperson, but this is the level of sales where you operate relatively autonomously and are charged with closing deals and making customers happy. You’re meeting and talking to clients regularly, you’re fielding their questions successfully, and you might be traveling to get the job done.
Obviously, hiring managers are looking for proof that you’ve dealt with customers and closed a deal or two in your time. “Be a sales rep already” is useless advice, of course, but don’t be afraid to apply if you’ve worked in any of the entry-level sales positions we mentioned in the previous section.
Sales Engineer – Average Experience: 3 to 5 years of sales experience, 3 to 5 years of technical experience. Sales engineers are a tricky combination to find, and they reap commensurate salaries ($100,000+ on average) for their versatility. Typically, sales engineers serve as sales representatives and technical experts for products or services that your average layman wouldn’t be able to sell or explain properly.
Many sales engineers work in the B2B field and have to be well-versed in the more technical aspects of complicated equipment or highly specific services. Generally, hiring managers are looking for experience in two separate avenues. They want to see that you have a few years of experience working elbow-deep in the engineering, maintenance, and possibly even the design/construction of the technical equipment in question.
But they’ll also need proof you can close a deal and schmooze with the best of the sales reps.
Account Executives and Management Positions – Years of Experience
Now we enter the management tier, where proven experience in sales is absolutely key.
Account Executive – Average Experience: 3 to 5 years as a sales rep, or sales development experience. Account executives are a step or two up from sales reps (generally, nomenclature can change from company to company). An account executive is explicitly responsible for a client’s entire portfolio at the company. They handle all of the communication, they tend to lead a few other reps on the account, they troubleshoot problems, and they are the one who meets the client in person more than anyone else.
Most companies will want proven experience as a sales rep or in sales development, along with healthy closing stats, before you’ll be considered for a position as an account executive.
Sales Manager – Average Experience: 5 years as a sales rep or an account executive. The sales manager leads an entire sales team, which could be anywhere from 5 to 50 salespeople, depending on the company. Being a good salesperson isn’t enough here: you’ll need to demonstrate leadership skills.
You’ll need to set goals for your team, train newbies in the CRM, and track and report weekly/monthly/quarterly/yearly numbers.
Five years of experience is a hard minimum for applying, and experience as an account executive is extremely useful.
Regional Sales Manager or Sales VP – Average Experience: 5 to 10 years in sales and management. Regional sales managers and sales VPs are high-level sales positions who can put you on the C-suite track.
A regional sales manager keeps a lot of plates spinning: they’re organizing budgets, distribution, and numerous teams of salespeople while keeping their eye on the company’s financial situation (and future) at a very high level.
You’ll need 5-10 years of experience in sales and management, at least a four-year degree, and a certification or two in leadership, distribution, and possibly finance.
Sales experience requirements depend on the size of the company
While knowing the average experience for the role you want is important, you also have to consider the kind of company you may be looking for. Companies of different sizes have different training abilities, which means you might need to decide in advance what kind of company to start applying to.
Smaller companies tend to look for salespeople with more hard experience in the role they’re applying for. Companies with only a few salespeople aren’t going to have the time or the bandwidth to create the extremely in-depth training systems, comprehensive wikis, and codified apprenticeship programs that larger companies might have.
Also, smaller companies tend to ask their employees to wear more hats, meaning a new salesperson could get quickly overwhelmed with a host of responsibilities they never thought they’d be saddled with.
Large companies have more time to train new salespeople and, in fact, may prioritize new salespeople so they can be trained according to the company’s culture and specific methods. In essence, they want to create the kind of salesperson they find most useful for their particular product and style. You’re far more likely to find an entry-level sales position that asks for no sales experience at a company that has the time and resources to handle them.
If you’re struggling to find an entry-level sales position, your first thought might be to think small. Resist that urge. A big company with a huge sales team is far more likely to have the training infrastructure and the desire to take on fresh newbies who don’t have to “unlearn” bad habits.
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