Starting out as a sales rep
Most people believe that to be good at sales, the only requirement is to possess those particular skills. While these are a key element, they are by no means the only necessary experience required.
For those starting out in the business world, it is a good idea to try different employment opportunities. You likely will not fall into what you will be doing for the rest of your career in the first job you take. But for those that do find that sales suits them, the next part of their journey is determining which industry is their best fit.
Two options to choose from for finding your niche
Finding your industry can come in two forms. Either you sell for one industry and have clients that are a wide variety of business types or you specialize in selling to one target market but may end up over the years selling multiple types of services or products to them.
Early on in my career, I started selling printing because I had been in production for so many years before. I knew how the industry worked, understood the needs of customers and the extent of deliverables. This gave me a technical advantage over other sales reps who were brand new to the industry and allowed me to utilize my contacts for new job opportunities and even sell to the same clients as I moved between jobs.
I have known other sales people that specialized in selling to the furniture industry and had developed relations over ten years where it almost didn’t matter what they sold since they knew their customer base so well. Instead of knowing a particular product or service to sell over the course of a decade, they instead focused on their book of business and found this served them well.
Your value and abilities derive from your experience and the connections you make. Even though you may change employers, you still carry with you the knowledge similar to your sales skills.
You may hear people say that, “a good sales person has the ability to sell anything.” However, your success increases dramatically over a longer period of time from having sold within the same industry over multiple years. There is less ramp time involved when starting a new position, employers are more willing to hire you and pay you more because of your skillset & connections and customers have more confidence in buying from you.
Switching industries as a sales person
For those who have been selling in a niche for some time now and are considering a change, know that you will be up against similar difficulties. You may have ten years of sales experience, but you will be learning a whole new environment. Buyers operate differently and there are always those unknowns that you are currently very familiar with.
For me, it seemed like a natural fit to be in the printing industry and while I definitely had the background for it, I never really found the success I was seeking. Many people new to sales end up on a similar journey as those that are changing and while it is a necessary step in your career growth, it does come at a cost.
Know that it can be done. I personally saw the printing industry contracting years ago and after trying out one or two completely unrelated industries, I ended up in digital marketing. Many of my skills were transferable and it was an expanding industry. I was able to sell to those same small businesses, the marketing rules were similar in printing to websites and paid advertising and for me, it turned out to be a solid shift.
Be sure to factor in your longer term career when considering a job opportunity. There is nothing wrong with trying out an industry, but don’t take the short term win just because the money is attractive if you do not consider whether you would stay selling in that industry for the next fifteen or twenty years.