As a new or aspiring salesperson, the range of directions your career could take can feel overwhelming.
Sales is a competitive field, and without a solid understanding of the available paths, as well as the dynamics that could determine them, many salespeople can wind up in roles that don’t satisfy them. Luckily, Bravado has teamed with resident VP of sales and veteran deal-closer Margaret Clark to tell you everything you need to know to pick a career track in sales.
- An Overview
- Time For Self-Reflection
- What Type Of Salesperson Are You
- Pick A Pond
- Closing Thoughts
First, an Overview
Within the world of sales, there are countless branching paths your career could take, but almost all of them come from the same humble beginning: a BDR/SDR or sales associate role. In almost all of these roles, you’ll be qualifying leads and trying to hit a quota, working with an account executive to close deals.
For more information on the various roles within sales and their responsibilities, just refer to this graphic from Sales Career Paths.
It’s Time For Some Self-Reflection
First, the good news: You don’t have to have your career goals figured out to the letter the moment you step on the sales floor. Because most entry-level sales roles revolve around some form of lead-qualifying, it’s perfectly fine to dip your toe in the water and get the before you decide if you want to go the customer success route, grind your way to AE, or follow any other career path.
That said, whether it’s now or later, there comes a time in every salesperson’s career when they need to do some honest self-reflection and decide what they want, not what they think they’re supposed to want. You might feel that you should to push for AE for the money even though you’d be much happier in customer success. You might feel like you should go for sales manager for the prestigious title, when an AE role at another company would give you better earning potential later on.
Ignore the shoulds. Ask yourself what you want, not what your peers want.
What Type Of Salesperson Are You
In terms of career paths, it’s helpful to think about your career path within four possible archetypes of salespeople and the strengths and weaknesses that make them successful in their specialty:
The Seller’s Seller
You’re in this for the love of the game. You’re willing to grind it out for a few years with the other SDRs because you’re relentless and you love to win. You’re relentless, tactical, and persuasive. Nothing gets you out of bed like the satisfaction of closing a deal. And the money sure doesn’t hurt.
Potential career path:
SDR -> AE -> Senior AE
You have your eye on the big picture, and have the skills to climb fast. No deal, (or paycheck,) is too big for you. An ambitious team player with notable individual contributor skills, you don’t let anything get you down, and you don’t drag anyone else down along the way. In short: A leader.
Potential career path:
SDR -> AE -> Senior AE -> VP of Sales
Customer Success Superstar
You prize balance between personal wellbeing and professional success. You’re an excellent communicator and know how to juggle people’s feelings and your job responsibilities. You might not be great at handling rejection, and may have a lighter touch than some salespeople, but you see your diligence and empathy as a strength and want a career that lets you solve problems, not bulldoze.
Potential career path:
SDR -> Customer Success Manager -> Account Manager -> Director of Customer Success
Mr. or Ms. Management
You’re a true team player with a steady hand. Other sellers want to score touchdowns themselves, but you like calling plays and making sure the team as a whole is putting numbers on the boards. You’re happy to sacrifice short-term earnings a bit for long-term career satisfaction (hey, six figures is six figures.) You can think like a seller and have the soft skills to support them.
Potential career path:
SDR -> AE -> Sales Manager
Pick A Pond
Maybe you know beyond a shadow of a doubt which sales career path you want. There is still one more key aspect to consider before jumping in: Whether to go the startup route or the large company route. Each have key pros and cons to consider that can play a major role in how your career plays out, but ultimately it comes down to whether you want to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond.
The startup route gives you more freedom, access to individual mentorship, and the opportunity for faster advancement, but at the cost of more risk, both financially and in terms of your career. An entry-level sales associate at a startup might report directly to the VP of sales and even close their own deals! Startups can also be easier to break into, and if you join a successful startup early, the profit on your stock can be substantial.
Of course, this comes with the discouraging possibility that your startup could fail. Your OTE means nothing when you’re handed a product the world doesn’t want and are told to sell it to pay rent. This can also be a major career setback later on. Job interviewers aren’t going to be particularly sympathetic to a salesperson that missed quota four quarters in a row, whether they have an excuse or not. For this reason, it’s paramount that every salesperson—whether they’re desperate to break in or a veteran deal-closer—be picky with the startup they join. Ask how many sellers are hitting quota, and make sure you understand the product-market fit.
Larger companies have an inverse set of pros and cons. Reliability at the cost of freedom. Top companies like Google and Oracle have farm-style training programs. These are extremely difficult to get into and often require a reference. Other large sales departments are easier to get into, but are challenging environments to stand out in, as you may be competing with hundreds of other SDRs.
But this of course comes with significant upside. Oracle isn’t going to fail, and if you become the biggest fish in a big pond, that’s a very big fish. Whereas a startup will give you a significant portion of your comp in stock that could be worth nothing in a year, your 280k in OTE as an account executive at a large company is guaranteed to clear if you hit quota. In sales, predictability is in short supply, but at a large, successful company, you’ll at least be in a machine that doesn’t need fine-tuning.
Start Small, Think Big
When you’re starting your sales career, you often won’t have the luxury of being highly selective, but think about where you want to be and how a role you’re applying for will get you there.
Think like a salesperson. Create a list of promising leads on jobs, work your contacts, and reach out systematically to only businesses you believe you could thrive in. A cover letter is a great opportunity to show you know how to reach out cold. Don’t waste it.
Just remember that success now means success later. Whether you want to be the top AE or not, hitting quota as frequently as possible will always help your odds, so work hard to put those numbers on the boards and rack up wins.
There are no right choices when it comes to choosing your career trajectory, only informed ones. If you’re willing to be honest with yourself about your priorities, have the skills to rise in sales, and make smart moves early on, you’ll be ready to go from sales guppy to big kahuna in whichever pond of sales you choose.
Very special thanks to Bravado's very own Margaret Clark for providing her time and expertise to make this article as informative as possible.