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What's It Like to Work in Sales at a Startup?
Sales associates are responsible for driving revenue. They’re generating leads, closing deals, and doing whatever it takes to help the startup grow.
Depending on your personality, working in sales at a startup can either bring you a lot of money or a lot of teeth clenching. It’s true that sales is a grind — it’s not rare for a sales associate to call 80 people in one day. On the other hand, sales is also one of the only jobs that has a direct relationship between how much you succeed (and therefore how much money you bring home) and the amount of work you put in. A job in sales will teach you how to be persuasive, how to persevere, and most importantly, how to hustle. You’re not likely to learn these specific skills, this quickly, in any other job.
When hiring managers see that you’ve crushed sales goals at a startup, they immediately know you’re motivated, can work hard, and aren’t afraid to talk to people. There’s no better crash course on the world of business and entrepreneurship than working a sales job at a startup.
What Does the Sales Team Actually Do at a Startup?
While each sales job is different, certain responsibilities are consistent across the sales funnel. Regardless of industry, it’s important to remember that, depending on the size/mission of the company, a sales associate could be responsible for just one of these functions, a couple of them, or all of them.
Before sales can be made, the sales team needs to figure out who would be interested in buying. Sales associates create lists of different people/companies that would benefit most from the product they’re selling. These names are called leads (mainly because they’re contacts that can potentially “lead” to a sale). The list usually contains names, email addresses, and sometimes even phone numbers.
Reach out to prospects
Sales team members usually make first contact with the leads via email or, if they have their phone numbers, by cold-calling them out of the blue. The best sales forces are able to be creative with how they get in touch with particular leads.
It’s important for sales associates to make sure the leads they’re pursuing are actually able to use the product/service. This process is called “Lead Qualification.” Basically sales teams qualify leads to figure out if those leads could eventually turn into sales. If not, there’s not much point spending more time trying to sell them. On the other hand if the sales team thinks the lead could use the product, they’ll attempt to close them. Sales teams usually qualify leads by asking them specific questions that are relevant to the product or service they’re selling.
Perhaps the most important job of the sales team is to close. It’s the salesperson’s mission to do whatever it takes to close the deal. Different companies have different strategies for the actual sale, but overall, convincing a lead to buy requires confidence, knowledge of the company, empathy, warmth, and persistence.
What Are Some Qualities of Successful Sales Associates?
The best sales teams are quick on their feet, personable, highly competitive, financially motivated, and confident. A huge part of this job is rejection. If a lead hangs up after being cold-called, the salesperson can’t take it personally and needs to move onto the next call. Finally, the most important quality a sales team member can have is a genuine love of people. Being good at sales means being able to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Basically, it’s an ambitious extrovert’s dream job!
What’s the Growth Potential of a Sales Associate?
If you’re lucky enough to get a sales job at a startup, there’s a lot you’re going to learn. If anything, being in sales is like a bootcamp for professional confidence and career development. As sales teams are constantly thinking about revenue and monetization, it’s the best way to learn the true meaning of business. By working in sales, you’ll become fluent in the language of selling, confident in pitching anything, and capable of building trusting relationships with a wide array of personalities.
Working in sales also yields a huge potential to grow within a particular company. If you consistently crush quotas and drive revenue for your startup, there’s no limit to how much you can grow. If you start off in a lead generation role you could quickly be promoted to closing deals; down the road you could even end up managing a whole team of salespeople. Eventually you could take on a role as Director of Business Development, VP of Sales, or even CEO. Finally, a role in sales also gives you all the insight you need into starting your own company, as all founders need to excel in outreach, interpersonal networking, and follow-through.
It’s no secret that sales is a challenging job. Sales associates are constantly operating outside of their comfort zones and facing rejection is just part of the day to day. It’s also no secret that the sales team is a vital part of any company. Every successful startup leader, including countless company founders, have learned how to effectively communicate a product’s value to people outside the company. By generating leads, qualifying potential customers, and closing deals, sales teams are the ones ultimately making sure that a company’s hard work translates into dollars. Getting a job in sales will teach you volumes, not only about a specific company or product, but about how to operate as an effective member of today’s workforce. With a background in sales, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish professionally and with a strong sales team working hard, there’s nowhere a company can’t grow.