Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How can I move from technical to sales?

Just the question I've been pondering about:
I have a bachelor's degree in computer science, and I work for a large steel company as an IT (information technology) supervisor. I'm currently searching for another job and would like to move to technical sales. I have strong presentation and communication skills. I interviewed with several sales companies when I graduated, but I was scared and unsure of taking my career in that direction. How can I get these companies to take me seriously and listen to me now?

You lack sales experience, so your credibility with a sales manager will be low. But you can establish credibility by getting someone to "bring you into sales." You need a sponsor.

Forget about your early nervousness. Clearly, you weren't ready for a sales job then. But it seems you've hit the wall now, and The Wall Says It's Time to Go. Today, your motivation and enthusiasm will go a long way toward convincing a sales pro to help you out. Start simply. Get to know the salespeople who sell to your company. Have lunch with them in the company cafeteria, or meet for a beer after work. Find out who they hang around with socially in your company and tag along. ( Salespeople are always inviting customers out.)

Don't be presumptuous by asking for a job. Instead, get to know what they do and learn what it takes to be a successful rep. After one or two casual meetings, mention that you once considered sales, but you were too young, and now you wonder how you'd perform in a sales job. Let them pick up the thread. When it's comfortable, ask for their advice and insight about a sales career. (You must judge how trustworthy they are; you don't want to broadcast your interest to the wrong people until you're ready to move.) This can be a great way to establish the contacts and references you'll need when you're ready to make a move.

You can do the same with sales reps at your own company. Get to know them. Hang around with them. Ask what they're reading that has influenced their sales success -- then go study the materials and come back with good questions. You could even ask to tag along on a sales call, as an educational experience, to learn more about what customers expect from your company. This is a very smart thing for anyone in a company to do: Visit the customer to learn what it takes to sell the product.

These are the behaviors that reveal you are genuinely interested in sales, and that you are making an investment of time and effort to get in the door. If your IT experience relates to the product being sold, you'll have an even greater edge. All you need is one good sales rep or manager to recommend you to a sales operation. Get a sponsor and you'll get past the "no experience" hurdle.

Don't be too worried about Taking a Salary Cut to Change Careers. Sometimes that's part of the investment you must make.

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