Sales is an excellent, high-paying career path for the right minded individual. A lot of people wonder if you need a degree to work a sales career. Especially when many sales representatives will earn well over $100,000 per year.
So for such a high paying, exciting career, do you need a university degree for a sales job?
You are not required to have a university degree for a sales job. Unlike a Medical Practitioner, there is no pre-requisite qualification needed for a career in sales. Only in Sales Management roles does a degree become a requirement.
Many people believe that the right personal attributes have more influence over your success than a degree.
There are key personal attributes that you should look for, the most important ones have been characterised over the years.
Personal Attributes Important to Sales Success
Tenacity and Determination – You don’t get into sales because you are lazy. Salespeople are highly motivated, both from an intrinsic and extrinsic place. Often you will be inundated with work. For a salesperson, this as an opportunity to serve customers and succeed.
Intelligence – in a 30 minute conversation, off the cuff, you need to learn about challenges and pain-points of a prospect, and articulate how the product you’re selling will provide value to their specific situation – all whilst making a genuine emotion connection! Being intelligent definitely helps to reach the greatest heights.
Resilience – A sales role is difficult, you will go through many rejections before getting success. Being resilient is incredibly important, particularly in the first 1-2 years of working any sales role.
Emotional Intelligence – The ability to persuade and influence those in your pipeline comes down to your emotional intelligence. Often sales is about actively listening, you need to empathise with their unique circumstances, rather than continuously speaking about your product when they aren’t ready to listen.
Be Coachable – Being able to learn quickly is extremely important because things change very quickly within a sales environment, but also because most of what you learn is on the job. When it comes to sales calls themselves you will make mistakes, it’s inevitable, but being coachable will help you learn from what went wrong.
How Can I Learn About Sales?
As there’s no formal training for a salesperson, most of what you will learn is on the job. You learn from your colleagues and all companies will give you training.
Training occurs when you first start. Then again at different stages as you progress in the role.
With that said, I know many competitive salespeople who take matters into their own hands when it comes to learning. Books, online training and even Youtube are all valuable resources at any stage of your sales career.
Something I personally enjoy about sales is the constant journey of learning.
You may learn a new strategy about persuasion, and the very next day you can test how effective it is. If it works, you just found a technique that could potentially make you more money and success!
Some resources I can recommend include:
– Hubspot Sales Blog
– Close Blog
– Gong Blog
If I have a Degree, will it help me?
A degree will certainly help your prospects of getting a job in sales, particularly your first job. This is not because you will be able to sell better (there is no course on that), but it’s a proxy for discipline and industriousness.
Having a degree in a relevant area will also give you more credibility on the given area, and this may give you a deeper understanding than someone without one.
For example, if you have an engineering degree and you’re selling engineering software, this will give you a level of knowledge you can use to your advantage whilst discussing the product.
From experience and having an understanding the nature of sales conversations, degrees within business, finance, marketing or even science would provide some value.
When it comes to executive management positions these will require at least a Bachelors degree and probably a Master of Business Administration. This is because you need to have an extremely high level of business acumen which is required to make overarching company decisions. However, this is not a sales related role.
The Sales Career Path
There are a couple of typical entry level positions in sales; door-to-door selling and a Sales Development Representative (SDR).
In door-to-door selling you are usually trying to get people to sign up for a service within a given territory. As an SDR your primary goal is to cold call to book meetings for more senior members of the team.
Both roles require resilience because you’re working cold leads and this makes the chance of rejection high. The positive is understanding the fundamentals of sales, which can often lead to promotion quickly with high performance.
Moving forward, after 2+ years in an entry level position you can move into an end-to-end selling role.
End to End selling is when a sales rep will manage a deal from start to finish, from prospecting, to closing the deal.
In an end-to-end role your title is typically Business Development Manager, Account Executive or Territory Manager. Skills in influence and negotiation become more important.
You start to engage with Marketing Managers, business owners, and even CEOs in some instances.
The sought after industries in these kind of positions are medical, technology/software, digital marketing and cybersecurity.
The next progression is a more senior role within end-to-end selling, you will start on mid-market deals and hopefully enter into the realm of enterprise selling.
Enterprise is epitome of end-to-end selling as only the best reps can get this far. Typically it’s only the best companies that can offer such positions.
Enterprise selling is managing complex solutions, multiple stakeholders, and long sales cycles. The commission on such deals is the considerably higher though.
After many years on the front lines selling, many reps may choose to transition into Sales Management. This is where you are meeting prospects and on the phone less often.
The day to day duties become more operational, and the best aim to become great coaches to empower their team’s performance.
Many Sales Managers climb the ranks and eventually sit on an executive team. It’s at this point in your sales career where a degree is required.
What do Other Salespeople Think?
Working with a lot of salespeople I decided to ask their thoughts on if a degree is required.
Some of them have degrees themselves, but out of the 86 in my team only 16 said they thought you needed a degree!
The key reason for “Yes” was the opportunity it opened for sales management, whereas “no” was because they had done well without one for years.
The ultimate answer is no. You do not need a degree to work in sales, and in fact, to have a successful sales career.
As there are various different roles within sales you may find having a degree more useful in certain areas.
When you consider the price of many degrees, the opportunity cost of studying solely for a sales role is incredibly low.
To conclude, although you don’t need a a degree where is there is a distinctive advantage is in sales management roles, as well as upper management roles later in your career.