Top 3 tips for a successful career in sales

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
October, 2015

Potentially excellent starting salaries, sky's-the-limit commission and countless lifestyle benefits; it's easy to see why a career in sales is attractive to many graduates

While there are lots of jobs around, there is also a lot of young talent. It is therefore vital that you make yourself stand out by understanding exactly what it takes to excel.

We asked several experts what sets apart the top candidates for graduate roles. So, here are the top three tips for becoming an outstanding salesperson.

Be confident, positive and tenacious

Having unwavering faith in yourself and the product you are pitching is vital; especially given your efforts will often face resistance or end in rejection. Chet Patel, managing director of BT Wholesale Market, says the best salespeople always remain self-assured.

'You need to be able to transfer belief in yourself and your product to the customer if you're going to be successful,' he says. 'But never, ever confuse confidence with arrogance.'

Chet also believes that reacting positively to knock-backs is essential. Each sale can be full of obstacles, so you must have the belief to overcome any challenges thrown your way. 'You may have put a lot of time and effort into trying to land a deal, but it didn't work out,' he adds. 'You have to be resilient and dust yourself off, and believe that you will land the next one.'

Communicating with conviction can help transmit your passion for sales in an interview. Researching the industry, the company and the role will allow you to emphasise how your strengths and experiences make you the ideal candidate.

Listen, empathise and enthuse

Listening carefully to your customer and understanding their needs is incredibly important in making the right impression from the outset. Claire Snell, talent director at Unilever Europe, says that selling revolves around asking open questions and listening actively.

'There's a common misconception among graduates at assessment centres that it's all about talking, especially in group exercises,' she says. 'But it's often the applicants who listen well, summarise and lead the group to a decision that impress us most.'

Unleashing your personality is equally valuable. Coming across as authentic and engaging will endear you to others and gain their trust. Jonathan Ball, sales executive at BMW, studied MA Management and Entrepreneurship at Edge Hill University. He believes that building a strong rapport with customers is the key to success, and he sought to emphasise this ability in his job interview.

'People buy people; you've just got to convince customers that you're the best person to sell the product to them,' he says. 'An interview is the ultimate sale. You're selling your talents but, even more importantly, you're selling your personality.'

Create opportunities, rise to challenges and seek to develop

The very best candidates possess genuine entrepreneurial drive and spirit, claims Claire. Something as simple as trading on eBay can go a surprisingly long way in showing you are able and agile enough to create your own breaks. 'By being able to demonstrate that you can craft opportunities where they may not obviously exist and see these through to execution and delivery, you'll show that you have a natural talent for selling,' she says.

Rising to challenges and possessing an appetite for self-improvement are also similarly important. Be comfortable with critically reflecting on past experiences. Jamie Dunning, sales vice president at Mars, says networking is a great way to open up new doors throughout your educational and professional career. 'We look for people who can demonstrate their drive for results and a willingness to get stuck in to complex projects,' he claims.

'Development is at the heart of our culture.'

For more information on how to progress your career and develop the selling skills employers are looking for, see sales training.