Identity Crisis

Who Shouldn’t Pursue a Career in Sales?

Bryan ElsesserLast updated on September 5, 2023
6 min

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I’m lucky enough to be at a fast-growing software company that’s made building its sales team a top priority.

Aside from training new reps to become rockstars at their craft, I spend a lot of time interviewing candidates and deciding who will be a good fit for the role.

I’m happy to say that over the past six months, we’ve established a dedicated and diverse team of sales pros. Some of them came in with relevant experience, but a lot of them were trained from scratch.

Regardless of background, the applicants who make it through the interview stages share key traits. Some of these can be learned — others are inherent.

That being said, sales isn’t for everyone. Depending where you fall on a few of these characteristics, you may have a hard time building a meaningful sales career.

Motivation vs. Inspiration

Obtaining quotas isn’t always easy. In fact, it rarely is. How can I trust that you’ll come to work every day with the drive to meet goals and succeed? Are you motivated or inspired?

Inspiration is a temporary state, influenced by outside factors. These include reward-based incentives, like sales competitions, prizes, and bonuses, but can also come from stressors. Failure, money concerns, and the threat of losing your job are also sources of inspiration.

Almost everyone can do good work by drawing from inspiration, but it’s not a permanent solution.

Inspiration has diminishing returns. The stress of missing quota can push you to work harder at first, but after a few months, this’ll leave you burned out. The drive to succeed has to be more natural and constant.

Motivation is different. More specifically, being self-motivated is a character trait that really can’t be taught.

Do you wake up in the morning with optimism for the day? What about optimism toward achieving your targets? When situations become difficult, do you think about solutions or consequences first?

Self-motivated personalities can draw from inspiration the same way a well-rested person can get extra energy from coffee. It helps, it’s nice to have, but it’s not going to make-or-break your day.

There’s no scientific way to seek-out motivated personalities in interviews — It involves interpreting answers to targeted interview questions.

I tend to ask candidates about school, or an activity they’re passionate about. I want them to speak about the regimen they use to be successful in that pursuit. Has this structure made its way into their day to day life or their work?

Basically, what you’re looking for is a person that gets passionate about the things they take on.

What you’re vetting for is people that project passion like a flimsy handshake.

Have You Achieved Targets?

It’s unlikely — especially if you’re an entry-level candidate — that you’ve experienced something quite like meeting quota. And that’s okay.

If you’ve stretched for your goals and dreams, I want to know everything. It’s all extremely relevant. A lot of life experiences can approximate aspects of the sales environment.

However, if you honestly can’t think of a situation where you set a goal for yourself and methodically worked toward its completion, this job will be way tougher than what you expected.

I want to see that candidates have hit a roadblock and worked through it. More importantly, I need to know that you know what winning feels like — and that you loved it.

Iron Mike Tyson has said that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. I want to know about your plans, then the punch, and how you responded. Why? Because I want to know if you have it in you to respond when rejected.

The best candidates chase this “moment of success” and know what it takes to get there.

Working Outside the “Comfort Zone”

To reiterate, success in sales often boils down to Do What’s Necessary.

This means facing rejection, working longer hours at the end of the quarter, and making connections. Good sales professionals recognize that being uncomfortable in the short-term can lead to long-term success.

The Navy SEALs use the motto, “It Pays to be a Winner.” There are long-term gains to short-term pain. Now, comparing the work of an SDR to a SEAL is a huge stretch, but I firmly believe that the struggles SDRs encounter early on are the foundations of a successful career.

Putting yourself in these difficult situations is the minimum requirement. The best sales reps seek out these challenging moments. They thrive off of the satisfaction they get when everything comes together, despite initial hesitations.

Do You Learn Things Really Fast?

Especially in software sales, reps need to learn a ton of product information and sales skills forwards-and-backward.

As if this wasn’t already a huge task, the reality is product information continuously evolves. Updates, integrations, and technical specs are always changing, and if you aren’t staying on top of things, you risk coming across as unauthoritative.

The same goes for sales methodology. The most effective strategies require study and practice: Sandler, Challenger, Gap Selling, Spin Selling, and more. You can always be adding to your craft.

Sales reps must be able to internalize information quickly to the point that they’re conversationally proficient.

Here’s the thing — you don’t need to have a bulletproof memory. Sales is an open book test. Take notes and proactively seek the information you need. Recognize the resources that’ll help you win more deals and go find them. And ask lots of questions along the way.

And there’s another important side to all of this. I’m talking about emotional intelligence.

In the middle of a conversation, can you pick up on social cues and redirect your pitch, tone, and strategy? These types of sales skills are honed with practice, but it’s up to the individual rep to learn from their mistakes.

Change is Good Great

Sales professionals need to be adaptable, but this is especially important in a startup sales environment.

Things are bound to change and change fast: lots of new faces, new offices, and new tools. No two weeks are going to be similar, and this should excite you.

How do you react to this change? Do you try to recreate the environment you had before, or do you embrace the new normal and find ways to succeed?

Not good at rapid change? You can still be a salesperson. I’d probably just steer away from the startup scene.

In Summary: You Need Personal Growth Moments

What this all adds up to is: When things get tough, do you excel or give up?

I call these personal growth moments, and sales professionals need to embrace them and learn from them daily.

Basically, you shouldn’t work in sales if you:

  • Like predictability (nothing wrong with this, truly)

  • Don’t set (and achieve) goals for yourself

  • Need external motivation to work hard

  • Look to others for direction

  • Think good is good enough

That being said, if you’re pursuing a career in sales but don’t have experience yet, I encourage you to seek out these moments of personal growth. Do the things (within reasonable safety) that make you nervous. Prove to yourself that you can overcome obstacles and achieve your goals.

Some people are born risk-takers, but nobody is a born seller (Except babies. Cuteness can sell anything). Intentional self-improvement can make up for a lack of innate skill.

If this sounds exciting, I promise a career in sales can be extremely rewarding.

Published on September 24, 2019.

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