All sales jobs are not created equal nor are the people who win them. Your success in sales will be largely determined by whether you have a job that best fits your personality. Finding the right job requires the four key decisions below:
Decision #1: B2B or B2C?
There's a world of difference between selling business to business (B2B) and selling business to consumer (B2C).
B2B requires specialized knowledge about your company's industry and the industry into which you're selling. It generally involves diagnosing a customer's challenges and then coming up with a customized solution. Corporate buying decisions are often made by committee, which means you must feel comfortable working with a diverse group of decision makers, influencers, stakeholders, and naysayers. A B2B deal entails weeks or even months of intermittent activity--meetings, phone calls, back-and-forth documents--as the deal moves through the customer's bureaucracy.
By contrast, selling B2C is mostly a matter of knowing your product and being able to "read"a customer. B2C sales are faster-paced and easier to manage. They are usually completed in a day (or a week at most), and when consumers buy a product, typically there are only one or two decision makers (like a husband and wife).
However, in today's wired-up world, most consumer products are sold online, with only occasional intervention from live salespeople. And with the exception of big ticket items (like cars, boats, houses, and furniture), B2C selling generally means lower wages. There's simply more money to be had in B2B selling.
Bottom line: If you enjoy meeting new people and don't mind the relatively low pay, look for a B2C sales position. If you've got business smarts, industry experience, and plenty of patience, look for a B2B sales position.
Decision #2: Hunter or Farmer?
The term "hunter"refers to a salesperson who brings deals and closes them. The term "farmer"refers to a salesperson who grows sales inside an account after that account is already a customer.
In the wild world of professional selling, the "hunters"get most of the attention and most of the glory. This is partly because popular culture invariably pictures salespeople in the hunter role, such as Al Pacino's character in the movie "Glengarry Glen Ross"or Will Smith's character in "The Pursuit of Happyness."Business culture echoes this prejudice, especially in companies where corporate growth is defined as "acquiring new customers.?
Ironically, in many companies the "farmers"book more business, and the business they book is often more profitable. As a general rule, it's much easier (and less expensive) to sell to existing customers than it is to prospect and cultivate new opportunities.
Most companies have a combination of hunters and farmers. The hunters spend the majority of their time cold calling, qualifying prospects, investigating needs, writing proposals, presenting, and closing. The farmers, by contrast, spend the majority of their time developing long-term relationships, fixing problems, and hand-holding through installation and support issues.
Bottom line: If you're naturally gregarious, resilient, and aggressive, look for a classic hunter job. If, by contrast, you tend to be thoughtful, empathic, and detail-oriented, you'll probably be happier as a farmer.
Decision #3: Inside or Outside?
With "inside"sales, you do your selling primarily over the phone or maybe using Web conferencing. You may initiate opportunities by cold calling, or you may field inquiries generated from a website or even from a customer service request.
With "outside"sales (aka the "field sales?) you may do some initial phone work to book a sales call, but you'll generally be making those calls in person at the buyer's place of business. These are the classic "road warrior"sales jobs.
Inside selling is all about how your voice communicates a personality across a telephone line. If you're going to be successful at it, you must have the gift of sounding credible, helpful and knowledgeable, even if you're sitting at home in your pajamas.
Outside selling also requires a "good voice"because it entails making plenty of phone calls. Beyond that, though, it requires in-person people skills, a professional appearance, and a willingness to tolerate the inevitable hassles of business travel.
Before you decide which is right for you, be forewarned that there are a lot more inside sales jobs available than outside ones. According to Dr. James Oldroyd, a professor at the leading Korean business school, SKK GSB, in recent years corporate hiring of outside sales reps has leveled off at 0.5% annual growth, while hiring of inside sales reps has been growing at a lively 7.5% annual clip.
Bottom line: If you're basically attractive, dress well, and enjoy traveling on an expense account, look for a job in outside sales. (Good luck!) If you'd just as soon stay close to home (or even work from home), an inside sales job is a better fit.
Decision #4: Commission or Draw?
Classic sales jobs are "commission only."If you don't sell, you don't eat. However, most sales jobs aren't so harsh, and you get a draw (aka a minimum salary) that acts as a safety net.
The big money is always in the commission-only jobs. It's a simple matter of risk/reward. You're taking on more risk (and your employer, less risk), so you get more reward when you succeed.
If you're going to be successful at working commission-only, you'll need to be a bit of a shark. "Sharks tend to hunt alone, aren't afraid of stealing food from other sharks, are subject to feeding frenzy with a hot prospect and they need to keep moving to keep eating,"explains Jeffrey Gitomer, author of the classic how-to-sell book, The Sales Bible.
Commission-only sales jobs tend to be high stress and demanding. If you're not careful, they can eat up your every waking moment, because the more you sell, well, the more you sell. They also require a lot of personal flexibility. You'll need to be self-directed, a self-starter, and a natural entrepreneur who's ready to jump to a different firm if that's where the action is.
Sales jobs that include a draw tend to have less churn, more stability, and a standard benefit package. You'll make less money than you would on straight commission, but you're probably not going to get fired (or starve) if you have the occasional bad quarter.
Bottom line: If you can handle the pressure and are confident in your ability to sell, go for a commission-only sales job. If you're just getting started in sales or aren't sure you can make the cut, look for a sales job that pays a draw.
BIO: Geoffrey James is an award-winning journalist and author of Inc.com's daily Sales Source column. Previously, he wrote Sales Machine, the world's most-visited sales-oriented blog. James has written hundreds of articles on sales and marketing and has helped thousands of sales professionals communicate more effectively. His newly published book is "How to Say It: Business to Business Selling" (Prentice Hall, 2011).
Write to Geoffrey James through GeoffreyJames.com.