By Lisa Pearne
If you’re looking for a sales job, chances are you’ll land one. Whether it’s the right job is a different question.
More so than other fields, sales jobs vary. At one company, salespeople might target a few enterprise accounts using account-based selling. At another, salesmen might network with hospital staff to sell medical supplies. At a third, someone might dial lead after lead to sell insurance. Someone who thrives in one of these roles might flounder at another.
Companies struggle to hire sales associates for this very reason. Employers spend an average of 41 days trying to fill technical sales seats versus 33 days for other roles.
To find the right opening, you must first know yourself. Carefully review your strengths, and apply to roles that might be a match. Then, once you’ve secured an interview, ask questions to learn whether your assets align with the role and company culture.
What Strengths Matter in Sales?
“Listen to your heart” is more than a cheesy Roxette lyric. It’s good advice for identifying your workplace strengths. Author David Parnell defines workplace strength as “any ability that is enjoyable, applicable, and that you are better at than most of your colleagues.”
Identify roles that stimulate you. Is solving complex problems your forte? Do you love to lead? If you’re unsure, try Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment. Next, list which skills your colleagues praise. Look at which of those competencies overlap with your interests. Those are your workplace strengths.
When I’m hiring sales professionals, I look for four particular strengths:
• Work ethic: The best salespeople are achievement-oriented. California Casualty has a trusting, independent culture, so recruits must hunger to hit their numbers without a manager peeking over their shoulders.
• Tenacity: Failure happens in sales, so it’s essential to persevere through disappointments. Even Steve Jobs faced setbacks, including being fired from Apple. But as he said, “It is best to admit [mistakes] quickly and get on with improving.”
• Integrity: I’d rather my sales team miss a goal by doing things the right way than hit a target by acting unethically. “In looking for people to hire, look for integrity, intelligence, and energy,” Warren Buffett once counseled: “And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”
• Confidence: Top salespeople are willing to pitch big clients or cold-call prospects. Assertiveness and passion close deals; there's no room for self-consciousness.
Every sales role is different, though, so don’t fret if your strengths lie elsewhere.
4 Questions to Find the Right Sales Role for You
Once you’ve found your strengths, it’s time to quiz hiring managers. “Good questioning skills will help ensure that the job is a good fit for you and give you the ammunition you need to explain to the potential employer why you’re a good fit,” advises sales coach Wendy Weiss.
To land your ideal sales job, ask prospective employers the following questions:
1. What are the requirements of the position?
Dig into specifics like how many hours per week salespeople work and how many dials it takes to get a sale. If you’re patient, you might be suited to a role that involves long sales cycles and 50 dials per sale. But if you crave a faster pace, you’ll want a transactional position with short cycles and high volumes.
2. How do reps overcome their biggest obstacles?
To ensure your strengths can sow success, ask a potential employer how reps conquer challenges and make sales. Are there ongoing service or pricing issues? Can reps offer discounts to disgruntled customers? When you’re in insurance, for instance, customers call when they’re stressed about auto accidents or home damage. That’s why it’s a good field for someone who can calmly walk people through their options.
3. How does the company live up to its ideals?
Research the company’s values. Does the company have a code of ethics? What’s a situation that recently tested those values, and how did the company stay true to them? If honesty and integrity matter to you — and they should — be sure the company is a place you’d be proud to work.
4. What separates you from the competition?
When I applied to California Casualty, I knew that the company goes to great lengths to fulfill its customer promises. I trusted that we’d pay claims quickly and treat people right, so I felt confident selling the product. If you’re applying to a company that swears its medical products are cutting-edge, investigate what makes them unique. Curious people thrive when they’re selling distinctive products.
Every sales job is unique, which makes finding the right one tough. But that’s the beauty of sales: No matter who you are and what your passions are, the right sales role is out there. Learn your strengths, be inquisitive, and go find it.