Afraid of sales - am I not made for this?
I am wondering what some scientist say about that. Yes, I was years in R&D and in labs and also in technical leadership roles. The problem was that I was never the guy who could actually go and understand the market and have a holistic view of the whole system or drive the strategy of the company.
I was asked from another company that they would have a consultative sales position. Ok, it is also technical but on the other hand it is sales and that scares me.
What I look forward?
- meeting customers, presenting at conferences
- being passionate about that product (yes I am)
- finding a solution to the problem of the customer
- talk to the internal team (engineer, customer support etc) that are located internationally and here in the sales affiliate
What scares me?
- working often alone (going to prospects instead of my development team)
- my strong technical and scientific background will eventually not be valued
- getting "No" most of the time or even being treated badly just that they push their prices down
- to fail if I don't hit the target
- having a career stuck in sales as I am not sure I will like it
Preface: While I have not been in sales myself, I've been in a sales support role. This is normal for my industry (complex technical software), as we have to not only convince management to purchase our products but also explain to the end users how to use it.
If I understand your opportunity correctly, your task won't involve explaining how to use your products. Instead, you will be required to understand the customer's needs so you can recommend the best products from your company's catalogue. Based on that, I would guess you won't be hearing 'no' as often as you think you will; you'll more likely hear "why this product and not that one?"
A couple more factors to consider that you didn't mention:
- you'll gain a much better understanding of the 'money' side of business
- you'll gain a broader over-view of your industry and the industry you're serving
- if you're interests lie in management, sales gives you a broader range of opportunities (technical positions generally lead to technical management)
There is really no difference in job security between a sales track position and a technical track position. Sales people do often have an easier time changing positions because a) they are forced to develop a strong network, and b) sales skills are often more easily transferred to different industries.
Your technical skills are likely to deteriorate over time. On the other hand, you'll gain skills you don't currently have.
You may be the only one on-site at the customer's location, but you won't be alone. You'll have a support team that you can turn to for assistance.
In the end it comes down to your goals and interests. Many people are perfectly satisfied to remain in a technical track. Others find the challenges of the business track to be an interesting change of pace.
You ought to read the ancient article on this site -- but still very valid, by Dick Woodward (and I was a co-author) in Tooling Up, called "His Mother Cried When he went into Sales." [https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/1997/05/his-mother-cried-when-he-went-sales]. It's a good primer for the reasons why someone might want to consider a job like that in the first place, and since it was written by one of our forum advisors who has had a long history of success in sales (Dr. Woodward) it's especially interesting.
I would say that strong fears like you are expressing here are something that anyone would get upon going into a new role that is so different. But there's something about people who will eventually succeed in sales . . . they are able to push past fears. Recognize that your fears are normal, but also that many many people have simply felt the same way but charged ahead. And in doing so, they discovered those fears are really very small, surmountable things and that the life ahead of them is full of new opportunities.
Even a BS degreed scientist with a career in sales can succeed with compensation higher than the CEO. It's not all that unusual. So, consider taking a "shot" at this unique change.
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
Well, Dave beat me to suggesting that article. While it is 20+ years since we wrote it, I just re-read it and the advice is still up-to-date.
A couple of comments on your concerns:
working often alone (going to prospects instead of my development team)
The first time you go out by yourself can be a bit scary - the best way to deal with it is to just do it. Here's a hint - for your first couple of calls, go to customers who are on the "less likely" list as potential sales - this will give you a chance to get "warmed up."
my strong technical and scientific background will eventually not be valued
As long as that background stays current, and you use it in the service of your employer and your customers, it will continue to be valued. One of the most important things in my career has been having the scientific background and the ability to put myself in the customer's place - the customer is often another scientist, and you can ask yourself "what would I want if I were in the customer's shoes."
getting "No" most of the time or even being treated badly just that they push their prices down
You will hear "no" frequently. This does not mean that they are rejecting you - merely that what you are offering does not meet their needs. You can help meet those needs by initially finding out the problem that the customer needs solved. Whatever you do - don't take it personally!
In all my years in the business world, I have only seen one or two occasions where the customer treated the salesperson badly, or even rudely. Sometimes your price will be above the budget, but this gives you an opportunity to turn the customer into your ally and negotiating internally for the purchase ("I know that's the budget, but here's why you should change it.")
to fail if I don't hit the target
Welcome to life - regardless of what position you have, you are going to have goals that you have to meet - miss them too often and there will be consequences.
having a career stuck in sales as I am not sure I will like it
Go back the the article that Dave suggested and ask yourself the questions that are in there. This will help you decide where you want to go. Also read Jim Cathcart's "Relationship Selling" - this book is an important discussion of the type of selling that you will be doing. As a consultative salesperson, you will be working with the customer to identify and meet their needs, and that can be very rewarding - psychologically as well as financially.
I hope that this is useful and I wish you much success.
I second that motion to read Cathcart's stuff . . . I love his tape set about the four different quadrants of personalities and how we communicate. Pop one of his CD's into your car as you drive to the lab in the morning and you'll be learning along the way. Good suggestion, Dick!
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
Thank you all very much for this insights! Yes I think I could really enjoy it.
Now my last question: Do you see a major difference in capital sales (large labautomation) VS software sales? I would prefer the software sales, especially as I have next to my scientific background a strong software experience. I see myself as a technical sales, sales consultant but prefer the software side.
I don't want to be a job hopper as soon as another opportunity exists...
A couple of differences I see:
With capital equipment, you'd be selling something tangible. There will be shiny buttons to press - and bright lights to flash - and parts to break down and be replaced. It's also going to be a durable product that's going to be around for some time (we can all probably point to the workhorse machine in a lab that's been in use for 50 years and is still going strong). You may wind up selling supplies, but you're going to be pretty much booking revenue once over a short term.
Software is much more of an intangible product. There's nothing you can touch, and nothing physical to replace if it breaks. You also generally don't "sell" the product - you sell access to it (i.e. a license). Your revenue stream is therefore much more stable, but it also means you have to constantly make sure your customer renews their license.
I have looked at many profiles on LinkedIn and it looks that a sales career is something I am not sure about. Sales - Key Account - Sales Manager - Country Manager - etc.
I am more looking to move close to product definition and strategy. My current preferred job would be product manager. Is sales the right move? I love science, tech and the commercial part. However I am not the guy with the most self confidence:).
Does a sales consultant for capital equipment lead to a product manager in software or shall I look further?
Thank you all
Most of those positions - Country Manager, Key Accounts, Sales Manager, etc. you do not need to worry about - as a new sales person, you are not qualified for any of them. Those are positions that you move into after you have proved yourself in sales. Typically, you can move from sales into a product manager position - if you are successful in sales. If you want to be a product manager in software, I would suggest applying for a field sales position in software - particularly with a company that you would like to work for.
An alternative path is to be successful at capital equipment sales, move to software sales (sales being a relatively transferable skill) and then upwards into product management. However - remember that sales skills are only transferable if you were successful at the last position - just like everything else.
My colleague, Dr. Ryan Raver, was a scientist at the University of Wisconsin and earned his PhD. He went on to a career in Product Management for companies like Promega and Sigma, and of course now he's a headhunter. But he wrote a nice website with a lot of information on it about the Product Manager career track -- it's on a site called "The Grad Student Way" and is accessible at http://thegradstudentway.com/blog/ . I'm not sure that Ryan has added to it, but he certainly built a nice resource of articles and he's still accessible for questions, although he's working his tail off at CTI and has limited time to email! He also has a regular column in the pharma journal, Contract Pharma.
Dave Jensen, Moderator
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum