Breaking into sales.
July 23, 2011 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Salespeople: I'm considering changing careers and entering sales - possibly in the real estate industry. How do I decide what to sell and how do I get started from there?

I have about 6 months experience with inside software sales that was part of a short-term project several years ago. I enjoyed it, but the project ended and I moved on to other things. I now have a bachelor's degree in a completely unrelated, non-business field.

I'm interested in sales because I like the work and the income potential, as well as the independence and the freedom to earn money commensurate with the amount of effort I'm willing to put in.

I've long considered real estate sales, but the continuing down market has me a bit scared about making a living as a newbie.

What sort of factors should I consider when it comes to deciding what industry to enter, and what suggestions would you have for a beginning salesman?
posted by iamisaid to Work & Money (5 answers total)
Try and get a job as an assistant to a real estate agent, you'll learn while you earn. You will end up knowing a lot about transactions and what can go wrong.

I started out as the office manager of a property management company, got my license, started doing rentals and now I'm mostly doing sales. It was very helpful to get experience before I was on commission only.

Before I got the job with the property manager, I interviewed at some franchise real estate firms and they all told me that it was a bad idea to get a job as an assistant, that I needed to just go to real estate school and jump right in, commission only full time. Glad I didn't listen to them.
posted by Melsky at 9:03 AM on July 23, 2011

Real estate has a seven to ten year apprenticeship program in most agencies. If you choose to work in a large city, you will probably be required to do rentals, commercial real estate or work as a contractor on a large residential plan where you will be given OTE but probably not a set wage. Real estate is almost always a commission business and so your earnings are based on your ability to network and close sales. That is not to say it's a bad industry to be in. If you can work out a good plan and become close to people who want to buy or sell a house, it's a good way to earn good money. Like fundraising for me, the biggest challenge is getting someone to close on a deal that involves a lot of risk. There's an essential fear/thrill factor that is on a scale different from inside software sales, which is often based on leads developed by others. If you are not a natural networking personality, it might be a bad decision for you.
posted by parmanparman at 9:05 AM on July 23, 2011

At a first cut, you generally have to make a decision about pursuing a sales career from either an inside sales perspective, or an outside sales view. You've worked inside sales briefly, and you can identify some of the skills needed to make a person successful in that role: good phone skills and voice, ability to ask leading questions, product/service knowledge, negotiation skill, productivity interest, and ability to turn objections into closing situations. Your appearance is minimally involved, and you rarely need to be much of a diagnostician or situational thinker. Inside sales people often excel at fire-and-forget product sales, like software, consumer insurance, auto service advisors, business supplies and raw materials, retail durable goods and other medium to big ticket, long itch cycle goods. Sometimes, "inside sales" is also used to describe job situations where the actual work is sales support for outside sales people, or various marketing activities, but I don't think of such positions as "sales," and unless they pay individual incentive in some form, like commission or bonus, neither should you.

Outside sales people are generally needed where the product/service being sold requires extensive qualification, configuration, onsite customer service or management, or satisfaction supervision over time. Outside sales people are responsible for varying degrees of traveling, and generally wind up working longer hours, when traveling is factored into the overall work schedule. In exchange for the travel burden, most outside sales jobs pay well, but that pay level requires a high level of production to be economic for their employers and customers. Therefore, successful outside sales people are generally effective situational thinkers, very strong closers, and often develop significant repeat business relationships for products/services that are short itch cycle/high turn. They're generally delegated some degree of negotiation latitude, and may control inside or field support personnel necessary to fulfill commitments to their customers. Compensation for outside sales people tends to be heavily commission or bonus dependent. Outside sales people work in fields like real estate, industrial machinery sales, industrial service sales, and international sales. In commercial product/service lines, outside sales people directly meet and interact with many levels of customer personnel, and their personal appearance, manners and professionalism can play a great role in their success. At the highest levels, outside sales people may need to be skillful trade show workers, effective business hosts at social functions, and capable of meeting social roles for the business in public relations and corporate charitable situations.
posted by paulsc at 9:28 AM on July 23, 2011

If you like sales software sales can be a fairly lucrative career - and usually comes with a decent base salary plus a lot of upside on commissions. Real estate agents are essentially self employed, paying a cut (50% when you are a newbie) of your commissions to the broker you work for, plus covering all your day to day expenses of doing your job out of your own pocket.
posted by COD at 4:47 PM on July 23, 2011

You might want to take a look at pharmaceutical sales jobs, as well.
posted by mauvest at 5:46 PM on July 23, 2011

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