It offers fresh challenges, excellent rewards and the potential to build on your Services-honed skills – so is field sales on your careers shortlist?
Sales people get a lot of flak. While they may not be quite at the top of people’s hate lists when it comes to the most despised professions around (an honour usually reserved for the likes of journalists, traffic wardens and politicians), not many of us can honestly say we like being sold to – particularly when you get a ‘cold-call’ just as you’re sitting down to a meal.
So why would you want to move into a sales role? Quite possibly because you recognize the opportunities the profession offers. You’re aware that, particularly in field sales, there are real opportunities to have a successful and extremely satisfying career. And you know that company directors and managers appreciate good sales people, because it’s they who bring in the money any company needs to survive and prosper.
WHAT IS FIELD SALES?
Unlike the telesales people who may well interrupt your meal without realizing, field sales professionals rarely deal with the public; this branch of sales is concerned with business-to-business (b2b) relationships in which companies buy and sell products and/or services to and from each other. That said, there can be a huge variation in roles. “It can range from people working for big stationery suppliers – who are literally going around door-knocking offices on a regular basis – to people working for the likes of BT Global, selling £5 million deals to overseas governments,” says Carol Pillinger, Director of Education at the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management (ISMM). “Both need the same basic skillbase – communication, listening, questioning, that sort of thing – but equally, they can be very, very different. At the top end it’s very much about relationship-building and understanding your client’s business. At the other, it’s much more about understanding your product and putting over its benefits.”
“Field sales is an often misunderstood vocation, yet almost every company relies on it for their very existence,” adds Scott Deane of Meta-morphose International, a leading recruitment company. “It is no exaggeration to say that a field sales executive (FSE) is on the front line of their organization – if they fail, the company fails.”
Field sales staff operate in virtually every industry in the UK – from agriculture to transport. Because they are “out in the field” – travelling and meeting both new and existing business customers – FSEs are quite literally their companies’ ambassadors, which is why business success or failure is so often in their hands.
IS FIELD SALES FOR YOU?
Contrary to what you might think, being a good field sales person isn’t necessarily just about having the gift of the gab. “It’s about being a people person,” says Carol Pillinger. “Also you need to have a general understanding of business, because sales is about solving problems; it’s about providing solutions. I must stress it’s not just ‘Here’s a product, do you want it?’ – that sort of sale is now done over the internet or through a contact centre.”
Anyone leaving HM Armed Forces is likely to have exactly the skills and attributes to make it in field sales. You’ll have the resilience and persistence to keep going, even when faced with rejection on a daily basis; plus, as Scott Deane says, “you’ll know when a battle cannot be won, and when one is worth fighting.” You won’t be afraid of hard work, and you’ll understand, innately, the command structures within companies and organizations, and how to deal with them. You’ll also have the self discipline, enthusiasm and drive to succeed.
There are genuine advantages to choosing a field sales job: FSEs enjoy an unparalleled freedom thanks to the fact they’re responsible for their own schedules. And it really is the case that the harder you work, the more you’re likely to earn. “Most field sales roles boast high commission,” explains Scott Deane, “but they frequently offer a basic salary as well. More often than not, FSEs have no ceiling on what they can achieve financially.”
A large number of managing directors and CEOs started out in sales; indeed, our own publisher here at Civvy Street comes from a sales background. “A good sales person has the natural drive to stand out from the pack while retaining a team ethic,” says Scott Deane, “so has the seeds of a potential leader. Furthermore, having worked on the front line gives an FSE the ideal insight into how sales relationships work – perfect grooming for positions further up the ladder.”
“There is a real shortage of good sales people,” adds Carol Pillinger. “Sales people flit from one place to the other; it’s really difficult to keep the good ones, because – my goodness – people headhunt them all the time. So prospects are huge, but you have to put the spade work in; you’ve got to understand what you’re doing. It’s not a quick win situation.”
GETTING INTO FIELD SALES
So how do you go about making a start in field sales? “I would say talk to some of the sales recruitment companies,” says Carol Pillinger. “Or, if you’ve got a technical background in a particular sector – and that’s what you want to go into – then you ought to be directly approaching companies working in those areas. There are also sector-specific magazines out there like Salesforce (which is technology-focused) and The Grocer.”
Although the sales profession is one that prizes personality and experience, a growing number of employers are beginning to acknowledge the value of sales qualifications, which allow you to combine technical knowledge with your own practical experience. “It also says to an employer that you really want to do this, that you actually want to understand what’s involved in this profession,” says Carol Pillinger. “There are still plenty of employers who will take you on without them, but if you want to work with quality companies and have no sales background whatsoever, a qualification is a great way of saying that you’re really interested in sales – because you’ve taken the trouble to learn about it.”
The ISMM has devised its own programme of professional qualifications; these vocational awards are approved by the government’s regulatory body for education in England and Wales – the Qualifications & Curriculum Authority (QCA) – and are included within the National Qualifications Framework, meaning they are eligible for public funding. ISMM courses can be studied through colleges, training companies and in-company training departments accredited by the ISMM; they’re designed to be flexible, and can be taken full- or part-time, face-to-face and/or by distance learning. Qualifications range from very low-level introductory qualifications up to a university-level Diploma in Strategic Sales. A similar range of beginner, intermediate and diploma-level qualifications are also offered through the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
According to Meta-morphose International, a field sales executive is “the unsung hero of every organization,” underlining the demanding and important role they play in the success or otherwise of a whole range of businesses. So if you’re looking for a challenging and rewarding career where you can build on your Services-honed skills, then field sales could be for you.
Institute of Sales & Marketing Management
01582 840 001
The Chartered Institute of Marketing
01628 427 500