Don't just look for a job - build a sales career

A major misconception many salespeople have when considering whether to pursue a position within a new industry is that they don't have the relevant experience necessary to make the transition. This couldn't be more incorrect.

If you're up against a sales candidate with experience within the new industry, sure, she has a competitive advantage in terms of industry knowledge. However, you can learn the features and benefits of a product or service very quickly compared with the time it takes to become a sales professional in the truest sense. And if you've truly become a sales professional, you can stand out individually when competing against any candidate.

It's important that we're clear on the definition of a professional. My definition is a person who has the commitment to a calling combined with the education, training, and expertise that an amateur doesn't have. I truly believe that a professional salesperson can sell any product or service to anyone, as long as he has a belief in the product he's selling and the value he brings to the customer.

The No. 1 reason salespeople question their ability to move into a new industry is that they doubt their own experience and competency. I believe this can be attributed to a mistake so many salespeople make: that is, merely holding a sales job rather than building a sales career.

In my opinion, for a salesperson to truly excel, she must invest the time and education necessary to learn the profession. Simply calling yourself a professional salesperson and printing as much on a business card doesn't make you any more professional than carrying a little black bag will make you a doctor.

Many times I wonder what would happen to a person in a sales job if he would spend just 10 percent of the time in learning the sales profession as it takes to become a doctor, lawyer or an engineer. How much success would he have? How much money would he earn? And most importantly, how many clients would he help?

If a person is willing to make the commitment to become a professional salesperson, there are five characteristics she must honor to build a successful sales career.

They are:

  1. A will to learn. Salespeople must realize that they really are in a profession and they must learn it. It's easy to hang a shingle and call oneself a salesperson; and the entry bar into selling is often very low in terms of the schooling and education required. Don't be fooled by these low requirements. School is never out for the sales professional and you must always focus on improving your abilities.
  2. The need to intern. As in any other profession, whether it's medicine or mechanics, you have to serve the apprenticeship. A glaring way people go wrong is that they're attracted to the great earning potential in selling. If it were as easy as accepting a position, everyone would be doing it and the profession wouldn't pay what it does. You must pay your dues and serve your internship to learn your profession.
  3. Sense to specialize. This is the step that can help you move into a new industry. This is because outstanding sales professionals become an expert in a specific area.

    For example, when I was in the insurance industry, I could usually determine how successful an agent was with one question. I'd ask, "What type of insurance do you sell?" If the person replied with, "Auto, life, health, home, fire, whatever you need," I knew I was talking to a less than successful salesperson.

    A specialist, however, would reply with, "I help high net worth individuals protect their assets" or "I help employers develop unusual benefit plans to keep their valued employees," or whatever their area of specialization was. I knew this person was highly focused, and therefore, likely highly successful.

    And since most salespeople aren't specialists, by demonstrating to a company within a new industry that you've become a specialist in your current industry, it will be assured that you'll invest the time and dedication to become an expert in its industry, too.

  4. Time to fraternize. Successful people associate with successful people. Ensure that you're associating with the type of people who will uplift you toward your goals.
  5. Desire to contribute. Give back to the profession. It's been said that what you do for yourself dies when you die; what you do for others lives on forever. True professionals give back to their profession by coaching, mentoring and advising other young professionals.


If you reached "professional" status, don't shy away from career opportunities in different industries. If you have the desire to enter a new industry, turn your lack of industry experience into a strength by demonstrating to companies that you're an expert in your current business, and that you will become an expert in theirs as well.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.