It’s no secret that tech sales pay is off the charts and tech is a good choice. Company valuations are high, investors are eager to invest more, and leadership teams are scrambling to build world-class sales organizations to hit their ambitious target revenue metrics.
Silicon Valley is best known as the original homeland of unicorn tech products. Los Angeles, Austin, Denver, and Miami – among many others – are quickly following suit as ideal hubs for fast-growing startups, vastly expanding the pool of job opportunities for sales professionals and those in tech.
Simply put, the block is hot. If you’re already in sales and thinking of making the leap into tech, this one is for you.
In this article, we’ll break down what to expect when making the transition from other industries to tech sales and how to successfully get into tech sales, land, and thrive in your new role.
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- First Steps
- Navigating Venture Stages
- Cracking the Tech Sales Interview
- Parting Advice
Before we start, let’s clarify one commonly misunderstood concept: the use of “SaaS,” or Software-as-a-Service, and “technology” interchangeably. SaaS is a licensing model, not an industry-like technology.
SaaS is a revenue model that enables companies to sell software on a subscription-based model. While SaaS implies that we are talking about software (Software as a Service), it does not mean that SaaS is a category of software. SaaS is simply the revenue and access model that is implemented by the company when they decide how they will sell and deliver the technology to the market.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s dive into the weeds of landing yourself a tech sales role.
Adjust your resume
Tweaking your resume to suit a company and specific role should be a given for whatever new job you’re seeking. When moving into software sales from another industry, focus on numbers and achievements rather than duties. Quantify your success in an easy-to-understand format.
Remember that your resume is to get your foot in the door. You can continue selling yourself once you get to the sales interview stage with a recruiter.
Talk to recruiters
Speaking of recruiters, talk to them! Do what you do best. Research to find as much information you can about the industry and company, then use early conversations with recruiters to learn even more using strategic questions (a great chance to use your discovery skills). Leverage this rapport and knowledge to position yourself for any open roles.
Understand your “why.”
Prepare answers to questions about why you want to make the switch to tech and why you’re interested in the specific company. Doing so will help in the interview, but it’ll also help keep you grounded throughout rejection.
You're in sales, so rejection isn’t a new concept to you. But when switching industries, you’ll likely face a lot of rejection on the grounds that you don’t have previous experience selling tech. It can be frustrating and may seem unfair, but don’t let it discourage you. There are plenty of companies that will hire people from different industries, especially if you focus on your willingness to try new things and can demonstrate how you’re a fast learner.
Remain open-minded to vertical movement
Moving to SaaS from another industry may mean having to accept a role that’s a ‘step-down.’ Not all companies are open to lateral movement for reps coming in from different industries.
Here are a couple of guiding questions to gauge what the transition might look like for you:
- Have you been successful in your past sales role in a measurable way?
Ex. Hit 120% of quota
- Are the activities you’ve been successful in the same and/or similar to the activities you’ll be doing in the new role?
Ex. Were you cold calling in your former industry?
Are you going to be cold-calling in the next role?
- Do you have people in your sales network who can refer you?
If you have 3/3 or even 2/3 of these things, you should be able to find a path that does not lead to a demotion in your next role. Especially if you already have closing experience and have worked in an AE role, shoot for the stars and interview for that next AE role. It’s only vertical movement from there.
If you have 0/3 or 1/3, however, you’ll most likely need to take a step backward before you can take a step forward in your career trajectory in this new technology company's industry. Taking a step down is a humbling experience that’s also an opportunity to learn the products and sales cycles deeply. Use it to ground your knowledge in the space.
Navigating Venture Stages
If you’re new to the world of startups, navigating the differences between funding stages can be quite an undertaking. Here’s a quick rundown of what each stage means for the sales organization and the company as a whole:
Early-Stage Startup (Seed-Series A)
This is a very early-stage startup that has a working minimum viable product (MVP). This is the stage in which startups focus on developing a product and investing in market research in pursuit of strong product-market fit (PMF). Most seed-stage startups do not have sales teams, so if you joined one, you would likely be the only person or one among a few.
Series A is typically the stage when companies begin to build out their business model for monetization. The company will be iterating on the product and could even experience a pivot. It’s a highly experimental phase involving a lot of trial and error, but you will have a ton of leverage and influence.
As a sales rep, gear up for a wild ride. Sales teams at this stage will be setting up the org structure, building out more formal processes (or making processes, period), adjusting what and how they sell, and defining their ICP. Think of a job that is going to be a full time job, on top of a full time job. In addition to your larger goals, you’ll likely be building the plane as you fly it.
Your work in tech sales truly has an impact on the business, you typically have a direct line to leadership and, if successful, you will walk away from this role with a laundry list of wins and experience to list on your resume. As such, expect longer work hours (though it’s still important to know and maintain your boundaries!) and more pressure to win. Hitting your targets means your company has a better chance of securing its next funding round. If you love figuring things out on your own and having autonomy, and you have the grit to fail every day and constantly pivot, the nuance-heavy early-stage sales team is for you.
Growth-Stage Startup (Series B-D)
Companies at this state are aggressively trying to scale. Expect a lot of volume and hustle. Yes, there will be lots of process improvements throughout this cycle, but the most important area of focus for the whole business is revenue growth, so expect to sell and sell and sell with process priorities lower on the list or to be major priorities of leadership, not mid-senior level or junior level sales folks.
Expansion-Stage Startup (Series E+)
Companies at this stage are established with demonstrated success and a steady customer base. Funding may be used to expand the workforce, diversify markets, and acquire smaller companies. These organizations will oftentimes have their sights set on an IPO, which means sales teams play a particularly crucial role in driving revenue with potential customers. Working for a late-stage startup means you’re joining a seemingly well-oiled machine process-wise. You will most likely wear no more than one hat unless your role specifically says so.
In the interview, ask about the direction of the company. Is an IPO on the horizon? Are there plans to acquire competitors? Are they looking for an acquisition themselves? Each path will determine what your day looks like as a salesperson.
Later stage teams have the comfort of experience. They already know what works and what doesn’t work in the sales process. They have customer stories and testimonials. They know how to train new hires and have a solid sales onboarding experience ready for when you start your role. You have a question? There's an answer! The product you are selling has market fit and recognition, so you may also have a healthy inbound sales function. This means less cold-calling, more warm emails and demos.
Depending on the company’s size, working at a public company means you’re likely one of a dozen or even one of 100+ people with your same title and function. Movement takes time at organizations like this, so you should go in really liking the specific thing you were hired to do. The people that thrive in these roles excel at their specific role and they are also masters of internal sales networking. The more friends you have on other teams and the more relationships you develop with leadership and your peers means the more you’ll learn how the company really works outside your bubble. Staying informed on what’s really going on and coming next can better prepare you for strategic moves internally.
If the shoe fits…
When choosing which size company you’d like to work for, ask yourself how you want to spend your day and where you want your career to take you. Are you excited by the prospect of working within a nebulous environment with shifting priorities and focuses, or are you drawn towards more structure and implemented processes? Use the above information about each of the stages to help you decide where you fit based on how you answered these questions.
As for where you want to take your career, look at who you are jealous of (this is real advice one of us received). If you are jealous of a buddy because they work at Google or Microsoft and have all the fancy benefits and company name recognition - then go do that next. If you get jealous when a friend posts about a new fundraising round, higher title, cool projects or pivots, go to a startup.
This advice aside, the opportunity itself will determine how much you will like a specific tech sales job.
Is a senior leader gunning for you to take this role (hello, mentor)?
Does the company have perfect product-market fit?
What’s your territory?
Who’s your direct manager?
What systems does the company use?
Figure out some of the bigger pieces, then look for a specific opportunity with the right mix.
More resources on choosing a company:
🌱 Green flags to look for in a healthy startup:
- Demonstrated product-market fit
- A strong leadership team (seasoned veterans, clear vision, values that align with your own)
- Strong ARR growth (e.g. 50% y/y for past 3 years)
- Top VC backing
- Sales culture: a lot of companies don’t give the sales org the respect it deserves. Look for an org that has a strong sales culture and mentality
🚩 Red flags to watch out for:
- Marjority of the team isn’t hitting quota
- Low base and high OTE
- High internal churn rate, especially if it’s management
- Not offering stock options
- Toxic culture: this is when ‘fast-paced’ crosses the line
Cracking the Tech Sales Interview
Mama, you’ve made it. You have reached the elusive interview stage, and now it’s your time to shine…and prep, prep, prep.
Check out Nailing the Interview on Bravado Academy for information about typical sales processes, what to expect, and general tips on how to position yourself in interviews.
This should go without saying, but do your due diligence. Beyond the basics, look into the company’s core values. Companies don’t hire solely by which candidates have the best stats. They also take into account personality and value cohesiveness, so be ready to share what you will bring to the table beyond your metrics. Don’t shy away from demonstrating who you are as a person – show off your sales prowess and humanize yourself.
Some recruiters might also be skeptical about hiring candidates with a lack of tech experience.
Do your part in mitigating their fears by:
- Sharing your enthusiasm to try new things and how this has helped you in past roles. Demonstrate your willingness to learn and how you’ll be super successful given the chance.
- Focusing your conversation around ways that you’ve prioritized tasks and stayed organized at past jobs.
- Communicating how you will adjust to using new tools and processes (a common struggle with non-tech folks getting into their first SaaS role is adjusting to the technology).
- Position your skills as transferable and a value add to the team. Diversity of thought and experience is a critical element companies are really looking for in candidates. Coming from a different industry means you have done the same job in a different way, and with that comes valuable knowledge and outside-the-box solutions.
- It takes guts and ambition to pivot industries, both of which are hugely important character traits to possess in sales. Show it off.
Some companies/recruiters are lazy and want a slam dunk candidate that will not need a lot of training (i.e. someone that sits in the exact same role at a competitor). Obviously, these companies are not going to be a fit for you and vice versa. Look for a company that sees your ambition, transferable skills, and interview talent (you definitely need to crush the interview) as valuable, not as reasons not to hire you. You may need to throw your resume around a lot and call in favors to get in the door, but stick with it and you’ll find the right path.
A few more things about interviewing
Find out what kind of person the company is looking for in terms of traits and values. Understanding the company’s core values is a great place to start. Prepare anecdotes that demonstrate how you reflect these core values.
For BDR interviews specifically, ask what the company what prospecting tools they use. This can be done in an email before the interview, but be sure to give yourself enough time to do some quick research and watch a tutorial.
Unicorn startups will often list the sales tech or methods they want you to know. If not, find the hiring manager on LinkedIn and see what they're liking. Most unicorns will focus on phone, email and video methods, with some social selling or direct mail depending on the vertical.
I went from elevator service contracts to SaaS. First adjustment was understanding the rejection I was bound to get in the interview process because I had "0 tech experience." The job I ended up getting was when I followed up with, "I was able to learn how to sell elevator contracts to major universities and property management firms for 6 figures. Is there anything that I can do to make you prove I'm ready?"
Longer, more technical sales cycles. More stakeholders in each deal. Gotta be a lot more organized, both on a strategic and tactical level. Leverage as many resources within the company as you can; ops, legal, marketing, product, services. With SaaS, it takes a village.
When selling software, drop "we are a SaaS platform" from your pitch. You are a software company that has developed a technology that solves challenges for your customers in a specific domain. SaaS has nothing to do with what you built, and frankly, 90+% of software and/or services is now SaaS based...so you saying so is redundant.