Where do you want to start your sales career?
A lot of aspiring salespeople will apply to the biggest, most established companies and only send their resumes to smaller ones if they get turned down.
If you ask us, however, that’s exactly backward. The smarter move is to begin your sales career at a start-up or early stage company.
And it’s not just because start-ups are a good way to get your foot in the door and work you way up to those corporate giants. It’s because working for an early stage company is both rewarding and a perfect, hands-on education in selling.
Here are five reasons selling for a start-up can be an important step in your career.
1. Working for a Start-up Will Make You Incredibly Resourceful
When you join a sales team at a large corporation, you’re entering an environment where there is a set and established way of doing things. You’ll be shown the ropes, handed a guidebook, and then put right to work.
You will be able to put a little spin on things now and again – mix a little personality into your sales pitch – but for the most part, you’re going to be expected to follow a formula.
Things are a lot different when you join a start-up. Early stage companies don’t have a formula for selling their product yet because they simply haven’t sold enough of them to have a clear and concrete idea of what works and what doesn’t.
There’s no template at a start-up. In fact, when you join an early stage company as one of its first salespeople (if not the first), you’ll be expected to write the template with the founders and other early joiners. And it is not a one-time process, you will rewrite the template countless times. This will be become invaluable experience.
Selling for a start-up means having to think on your feet. Every sales call you’re on will teach you in real-time how effective your approach is. And you’ll learn how to change tactics midway through a sales call when you realize you’re simply not speaking to a client in a way that resonates with them.
That makes it a challenging environment, but it’s also very rewarding. There’s no better way to learn how to sell and how to sell effectively than by building a company’s sales strategy from the ground up and evaluating and monitoring it as you go.
2. You Will Learn to Be Self-Motivated and Autonomous
The hierarchies in start-ups aren’t as rigid as they are in more traditional companies. You won’t have sales leaders breathing down your neck to make sure you’re productive, and the founders are far too busy to micromanage their salespeople.
That doesn’t mean you can get away with being a slacker – you will have targets to hit and you will need to explain yourself if you fall short of them. But no one will be on your backside to make sure you’re doing what needs to be done to hit the right metrics.
Since you’re accountable for your own productivity, your success will depend on how quickly you can adopt good time management practices and effective habits.
It can be difficult to manage that much autonomy, but it has a lot of benefits. For one thing, it comes with a lot of flexibility. If you exceeded your targets, no one will really care how you did it as long as you can replicate it (again, there’s no template). The skills you develop that keep you productive with minimal supervision are also skills that will make you attractive to future employers, even if they plan to hand you a playbook.
3. You Will Become Tenacious
Sales is an iterative process and getting to your goal involves a lot of trial and error. Even if you’ve found a formula that works, you will need to continually hone it so that it doesn’t lose its effectiveness.
Failure is built into the sales process. Every win is built on a series of setbacks – on customers who never respond to your follow ups, leads that go cold, and contracts that slip from your hands just when you think they’re about to close.
To succeed, you need to power through that failure. You need to stick to your strategy even if the results aren’t always perfect. You also need to treat every prospect like they’re going to turn into a paying customer, even though you know most of them won’t.
Even when customers do buy, it requires some dedication on your part. Almost no one ever buys or even shows major interest in you when you first reach out to them. You need to follow up, follow up, and follow up again.
That’s true of all sales. So, what makes start-ups so special?
Well, it’s because everything you’re doing is tentative. You’re selling a product that still has to prove it has staying power – you landed a few rounds of customers, but interest in it might dry up quickly. On top of that, you’re the one figuring out how to sell this new product. You’re not using some tried-and-true method; you’re drafting the strategy and customizing the tactics as you go. You have to put a bit of faith into what you’re doing and keep working at it even if you have no idea whether it will pan out until it does.
If that doesn’t teach you to be tenacious, nothing will.
4. You Will Be Given More Scope and Responsibility
Start-ups have a reputation for being casual. That’s not because people are laid back – some of the hardest workers you’ll find are the ones trying to grow early stage companies. It’s because everyone works more closely with each other at a smaller company.
Bigger companies are siloed. Every department has its function and it doesn’t interact with other parts of the organization unless it has to. That makes sense, because keeping everything in its place is the only way to make a machine of that size run smoothly.
When you work for a start-up, however, you’ll need to wear a lot of hats. You’re working with such a small team that there’s no way you can just sit down and sending out emails day after day. You’ll be expected to take on a bigger role and often be involved in every part of the sales process – from assessing leads and making cold calls to big picture strategizing. Even if you’re part of a growing team, sales will be treated more like a collective project.
And while there are departments, there aren’t really any silos at your typical start-up. You’ll have the opportunity to work directly with the founders, the developers, and others throughout the organization.
Getting first-hand experience with the different parts of your company will be invaluable when you start selling. Knowing the intricacies of how a company works and getting a sense for the different kinds of mindsets that are typical from different departments prepares you for selling to people with just about any job title. This will become especially important if you’re ever involved in complex sales, where you have to convince people from multiple departments to adopt the solution you’re selling.
Even your work with the sales team will make you a hotter commodity for future employers. Having a hand in every part of the sales process – and even better, creating a lot of it – is more appealing to an employer than telling them you were just put on the phone and made calls all day.
5. You Will Get Killer Networking Opportunities
Sales is fundamentally about nurturing relationships. As you learn to build those relationships, you also master the art of networking.
The best salespeople also educate their prospects and offer them solutions. It’s hard to do that without getting at least a few grateful and welcoming contacts.
When you work with a start-up, however, your networking opportunities multiply. That’s because early stage companies often include everyone, even their sales team, in all sorts of events, funding pitches, and so on. This gives you an opportunity to meet people in different positions at various businesses.
Being at a start-up, in other words, will give you the opportunity to shake hands with people you would never meet if you were spending your time at a desk or in a cubicle at a larger corporation.
Is Selling for a Start-up Right for You?
There are some great benefits that come from working with a start-up, but it’s certainly not for everyone.
It takes a certain kind of person to sell in an early stage environment. With no guidebook for how to do things, you’ll need to either be self-motivated, a little bit creative, and highly responsible or you’ll need to learn those skills. Those don’t come naturally to everybody. But once you’ve proven that you have those abilities, you’ll have a much easier time getting hired and commanding a higher rate.