Friday, January 11, 2008

Sales as a Career Route

For the marketing MSc student from strathclyde university 2007-9.

If you are really set on staying in Scotland, or some other 'wing' of the country which lacks marketing departments, then sales is a very definite option.

Also, from your extensive research (!) into career routes in your chosen area you may have come clanging into the plain factor that a sales job is vital as the first step or couple of steps: I'm thinking here product management within B2B or other areas like travel/tourism, insurance etc.

Is drinking your joy? Beer and spirits get sold at all sorts of levels and so working on a pub-pub basis can lead to account management with Guiness Distillers and so to marketing there in!

From the point of view that marketing jobs are like blue moons in scotland, sales rougly relating to the area you want to work in, or with an acknowledged brand name, can be a good waiting room. In fact it will put you in pole position for many jobs and entry to various career routes which are more or less impossible without work experience.

Strategically thinking also about your career - people management

If you really want to get up the ladder in larger companies or into leadership in new starts, spin outs and gasselle companies then you will need to have man-management experience. This means being a line manager, hiring and firing, doing admin for your "reports", steering meetings, collating results from your reports, doing annual reviews and generally making underlings lifes miserable with challenge management and 'change is the only constant'.

Many, many marketing people lack man-management per se as avbing line-reports. Like me, I have had big project responsibility, maybe 15 people involved, but never actual line reports! As a PM or marketing assistant manager aspirant, you may well find your hopes dashed by the company bringing in new blood who have 'people-pushed'. This can mean dicks from other industries who are wiley enough to get you to make them look good despite their lackings.

Beware the leap froggers!
On this point also, you may well land a job as a marketing assistant in a big firm, with the presumption that you will get progress after a couple of years- ONLY to find out that they promote people to PM and other positions from sales with or without marketing qualifications. You should sound out the ground on this ...but be careful - take the marketing job by all means - it is your core career- but maybe have a detour into sales to get into PM for example - or infact really the core of product marketing. For other functions, like e-business or CRM you may also find you are back in the qeue whilst people desperate to get out of sales lever their way in!

Why bother?
I guess a heck of a lot of marketing grad's work in sales as their first job and either keep it as a lifestyle option or move up the ladder as a career. It is by no means a back water career, but don't forget that if you don't apply your learning in marketing MSc within a couple of years, then it begins to go out of mind. You can refresh with CIM or courses in e-marketing etc.

As I have said earlier, a sales job with out and out persuading people to give you the time of day and in addition to listening to them and getting your ideas acceptd is brilliant preparation for a wider career in marketing or other functions for that matter.

A more project oriented position, say account executive in marketing services, or e-business will equip you with skills and detailed 'hands on' delivery which will stand you in good stead or be a great career anyway.

So what type of sales job ?

You really want to be working in a "professional" job related to your first degreeo perhaps, marketing services or general interest. Find out about the supply chain of products and services relating to your interests and qualifications- it could be in books, trianing, IKT, chemistry, analysis, you name it everything a business needs is sold by someone, and a good deal of other crap they think they need.
What to look for:

  • If there is any significant travel then it should come with a car ( DON*T BUY YOUR OWN CAR!! it doesn't work out to your advantage)
  • There should be a significant element of formal training with in field training NOT just 'car park conferances' with your boss. You should be trained in products/services by te experts. Sales training should ideally be SPIN or other formulated and evaluated techniques.
  • There should be a well established customer base AND/OR
  • an exiciting new product
  • A good, simple CRM system for you to use as a tool
  • a clear benefit and position in the market
  • realistic pricing
  • Good marketing support
  • career development potential OR
  • you can move into marketing with the competition or customers!


  • significant in house training of up to 6 weeks at HQ
  • internal sales i.e. telesales and meeting bookers who cold call for you
  • good brands
  • some loyal repeat business customers
  • "pitch" or tender preparation work ( good for marketing later)
  • good basic salary over 14K
  • a clear career path
  • lots of fellow trainees
  • getting in an exciting company early with a good offering in the market with good margin yet excellent and easily apparent customer benefits.
  • a significant maketing department with a PM function and decent budget
  • a marketing department/HQ in a place you would like to live
  • Or a competitor with HQ in say Scotland.
  • Others who have trodd the same path into marketing or customers/suppliers marketing.

It could be you start in a job doing telesales and reactive sales in house before moving out to a territory job. It may happen that you have either been sidelined from a marketing job inteview ( 14 hour round trip for this myself to remploy, tossers or should I say biacch!) or going to a sales job dressed up as marketing, a marketing job with some sales or a small company who decided shoe leather is worth more than your grey matter in the office! These are all acceptable IF the job takes you towards your career goal.

What to avoid:

  • Companies who do not pay your travel expenses to interview
  • telesales to, or door to door with consumers ie households
  • Google, yellow pages or the phone book as your CRM system
  • commission only jobs
  • otherwise lots of promises and might happens with regards to the job and the company
  • mostly cold calling to new potential customers
  • companies with poor finances ( loss more than two of the last five years and growth under 5%)
  • A CRM / Sales management system that wakes you up and asks if you have sold anything by 10am ( seriously, it's out there on lap tops!)
  • Companies vulnerbale or currently the subject of takeover bids on the stock market
  • commodity product sellers
  • companies with sales management calls to far off time sones ie evening conference calls to the states all the e3ffing time
  • Photocopy companies
  • selling advertising space
  • very "me too" in office, IT or financial products
  • a poorly defined benefit situation
  • unknown brands
  • shoddy carpets, bad coffee- shitty little grotty companies (marblehead for instance)
  • overpriced business services or overpriced products
  • being the sole sales trainee with no mates on the course/intake
  • having a huge terratory and being expected to work it.
  • very niche products with spread out and few customers
  • arrogant, overbearing, controlling sales bosses
  • -- -- a sense of arrogance about the place in general
  • (sales oriented companies with little marketing)
  • re-sellers ( most often to be avoided, but some can be a good or only career move towards their suppliers or customers e.g. packaged beers)
Biology First Degree?

So if it is within biology, then research tools or biotech products would probably be the first "in". But medical sales can be a bit of a hassel- dragging round hospitals or GP surgeries and getting the cold shoulder all the time. Selling to vets or dentists can be easier, although the terratories are often bigger. With most of these type of proff' representative you can bet that the 80:20 pareto formula rules, certainly with new business growth, so can focus on the " low hanging fruit". These type of jobs often recruit new graduates and I have written before on how to get around the old "sales or marketing?" question. It can pay to be in sales or customer services , even in a shop which needs to give service, as a temporary job while you push yourself through all these interviews. It shows you are willing to work and meet people at least

The interview process can be gruelling. You can expect a fair bit of rejection from recruiting consultants ( the usual first screen) but perciviere and learn what to say by experience and feedback from them. They will then get you infront of the regional sales manager for your prospective "patch" and then you will no doubt get invited to a 'selection day'. One I went to had an evening event before which was actually terrifying to begin with- a team building exercise with toy bits ( a well known belgian pharma company with a gorgeous UK personnel manager!) . You will be grilled to see how you respond to difficult situations and they will undoubtedlty pick on your MSc in marketing. ( astra zeneca were very pro MSc Strathclyde though ten years ago)

Marketing services: sales and account executive roles:

PR, advertising, direct mail, internet, CRM, e-business, training, marketing consultancy, market research....

Now these can be a bit trickier to get into, because there is a lot more demand when it comes to 'advertising agency' land. People stand in a queu to work 16 hour days delivering the latest crappy ad' in the locals for toyota or Lidl.... also people work even longer hours doing the account bit for anything advertised on TV. To get ahead in this queu, those savey are taking a 'temp' job or career route into a smaller agency or a specialist in say, Direct Marketing or media space buying. The big agencies suck them in, and I'll say this only one more time, You Don't Have to DO A YEAR before you get up in the world by changing job!!! McCanns for example were fed up taking in graduates who went through their two years of training courses, experience and probabation only to leave. So they took folk from small, hectic agencies or other big TV agencies looking to move. Think Pole position once again.....

These jobs can be both highly rewarding and very demanding. You can easily see your client 3pm, drive an hour back to the office and find yourself writing up reports or even managing designers long into the evening whilst the client side Sod swans off at 5.01pm!

Rewards though- yes. In my jobs within agency and consultancy land I would say that the learning was richer and the job actually a lot less frustrating than being in a large marketing department with many egos! Often you get to swing in and do the juicy bit of marketing- creative briefing, graphic design management, going to printers, dealing with the press and various under-suppliers of goods, services, design.

The hands on and 'can do' experience, plus the exposure to the ACTUAL price /costs of the nitty gritty can stand you in fantastic stead for any "client side" job. Also it is of course a route into starting your own business, often as a partnership with creatives you get along famously with. One man bands ( sweetapple PR for example) are great fun and often work within other agencies walls or in small, funky warehouse hotdesk places with other new starts and creative resources.

specialists abound

For any given area of 'expertise' there is probably a marketing agency or six which boast specialism in a field or another. Biotech, computer games, sports name it. Alternatively there may be a big agency wit a specialist client or division, like at McCanns, who would be very interested in your competanse with regards to account management, or other support such as writing, proof reading and sourcing images etc etc.

In the Sticks...

Marketing services also are to be found in the 'provinces' i.e. there are local ad'agencies and even some national ones out in the sticks. If you struggle to find them or are clever at networking, then ask some local newspaper media sellers (easy to find!) what local creative agencies there are and start networking. The manchester area is a very rich region for small full service B2B and consumer "shops" and new media specialists. They have enough customers (marketing departments) to sustain critical mass whereas scotland lacks so relatively good a market for such wares ( which is partly scottish enterprises/LEC/locate in scoland's "bad").

In a local yocal company doing newspaper ad's, direct mail, web sites etc you could do well by offering a six week work experience trial, gratis, or doing your 2008 summer MSc project with them if they are relevant. Beware very small agencies. 6 employees would be a good starting point. Use this to either get a job there or spring board to your next stepping stone.

Market Research Bureaus
A very rich seam for direct entry from marketing study are the market research companies. Millward Brown and TNS Gallup are the biggies and have both interviewed me several times. They paid travel too. This is a really great career move because you get to use your noggin and also you get project management experience and also to really make a difference in supplying data, analysis, ideas and suggestions at a strategic level. It is much under exploited by MSc students because of their 'agarophobia' on the wide world south of shawlands! In scotland it is really cinderellas wee chubby mousey haired sister when I was last looking as far as profile and career worth!

At the end of the day is it really so tough??

Well it depends a lot on you and it can of course develop a new-you! Take my ex Gill, a sy retiring type up and till she took a sales job and came right out of her shell after a year selling limited edition prints and frames.

In a business/marketing services job, i.e. account management/exec roles you will need to be a good listener and note taker and good at organising and relating actions to people in your team. You will also need to be good at spotting opportunities and being very civil and even sociable with yyour clients. you shoulld be good at engenering trust in others, and building working relationships. You can expect a good working environment, but quite long hours because of the 'preparing and aving meetings followed by organising' nature of the job. Avoid a wide geographic terrartory, or many demanding "distance customers" if you want a life. A good deal of flair, organisation, self confidence and interpersonal skills are needed in the outset.

In a professionals product sales ( medical, print, value added IT/software, biotech, chemicals etc etc) you should as mentioned avoid a job at your level with a lot of cold calling. You should have some customers who are significant sources of revenue now and can be developed. You should have support in finding and qualifying new customers and pitching for their business. Generally these jobs are often a bit of a drudge actually and dogged types often thrive because they just eat thorugh the CRM and customer enquiries and orders and their workflows and potential needs. These are however most of the jobs relevant to PM roles. They vary in drudery and hours you need to work and travel, but you can get out into marketing in say 18 months to two years or even earlier if the chance arises.

Other sales jobs demand much more hard nosed resilience and brutal determination -and ability to flirt, which is why they often go to bitchy or slutty types! I mean jobs with a lot of cold calling and maybe a poorly differentiated product or bad pricing in a competitive market. Knowing te type who I studied with, I doubt many took or lasted in such jobs like selling ad space or photocopy machines.

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