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Where do You Fit in the Sales Cycle?



With the quarantine keeping many people at home, some software sales professionals might have more time to reflect on their current work situation.


There’s no doubt that recent times have pushed a reset button on the entire world, and even among tech companies. Now might be the perfect opportunity to explore the possibility of a different role in the software sales cycle, even if it’s just to get a change of scenery.


You might be contemplating a move up within your company. Or you might be thinking about a lateral move to a different company with a different product. Some software sales professionals might consider moving to a new region, which comes with a whole new territory to manage.


And there may even be sales professionals in other industries who have had their eye on the software industry, and are thinking about what it has to offer.


Tech sales and software sales offer some of the most incredible potential for success and career advancement of any industry. Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, and even Mark Cuban all had tech and software sales as part of their path to leadership.


Let’s take a look at all the roles in the software sales cycle and see where you might fit in.


9 Roles in the Sales Cycle:


  • Sales Development Rep

  • Outside Sales Rep

  • Account Executive

  • Post Sales Account Manager

  • Sales Manager

  • Vice President

  • Sales Operations

  • Sales Engineer

  • Sales Development Rep


Sales Development Rep


A sales development representative (SDR) is responsible for building new relationships with potential clients. They build these bridges by cold calling possible clients and presenting what their company has to offer. The goal of these cold calls is to facilitate a meeting between new clients with an account executive or other sales professional on the team. Though there is plenty of potential for commission-based earnings, the starting pay and commissions tends to be lower than that of an account executive. Usually a SDR will advance to a sales manager or account executive.


Outside Sales Rep


An outside sales representative builds relationships outside the company’s home market. For example, a company based in Los Angeles may hire an outside sales rep to develop some client relationships in Australia. Outside sales reps enjoy more flexibility and independence, never (or at least not often) having to report to the office. Though there are no coworkers to compete with on a daily basis, starting salaries might be lower than that of an account executive. Like the SDR, an outside sales rep might transition into an account executive or become a sales manager.


Account Executive


An account executive (AE) is responsible for meeting with potential clients to close deals. As AEs are the sales professionals who convert potential clients into actual clients, they are integral to the success of any tech or SaaS business. Account executives also must get to know the client’s unique needs and facilitate a solution that will develop a long term positive relationship. AE starting salaries are good, with lots of opportunity for commission and upward mobility. However, the responsibility to close deals means that more work is required to develop their sales skills, and the quality of the product they sell can itself play a part in their success. An account exec might go on to be a sales manager or VP of sales for the company.


Post Sales Account Manager


Even when the deal is done, the work isn’t finished. In fact, for the post-sales account manager, it’s just begun. A post sales account manager manages the client relationship and serves as a point of contact between the client and the tech company—which may include working with engineers to make sure the client can use the product effectively. The post-sales account manager will also attempt to renew client contracts and upsell other products or services. The wider range of responsibilities lands them a larger starting salary than most of their coworkers. However, commissions and earnings caps will generally be lower because the post sales account manager is not directly closing deals with new clients. Opportunities for advancement point towards sales management and VP roles.


Sales Manager


A sales manager is responsible for overseeing a team of sales professionals, and as such they need to have a strong set of people skills in addition to sales skills. While they won’t typically do much selling themselves, they are often drawn from the ranks of proven sales professionals. Sales managers are responsible for motivating and guiding their team to execute the sales strategy made by the VP, while monitoring progress, making adjustments where needed, and reporting back to the VP. The starting salaries tend to be higher and there are excellent opportunities for commission. There is also less customer-facing work, but more responsibility and company oversight. A successful sales manager might be promoted to VP.


Vice President


The vice president, also called VP or head of sales, is responsible for the sales efforts of their entire company. They are responsible for the overarching sales strategy that will guide the sales teams and be implemented by sales managers. In smaller companies, the VP might manage a sales team as well. The starting salary and commission opportunities for a VP are high, but perhaps the best benefit is the opportunity to transition laterally to other leadership roles within the company. A VP position can sometimes have a high turnover rate because the success of the sale strategy is largely dependent on the VP. In terms of career advancement, a VP might move on to another executive position such as CEO or CFO. In some cases, their leadership experience motivates them to start their own companies.


Sales Operations


Larger companies need a support team for the sales team to make sure operations are running smoothly and generate marketing materials. Sales operations is also responsible for evaluating the sales process, identifying relevant issues, and reporting back to the sales leadership. Sales operations professionals can earn great starting salaries, but there is often little to no opportunity for commissions, since their direct work does not involve sales. However, because they are involved in the implementation of sales strategy through both marketing and analysis of the sales process, they may move into leadership roles such as VP of sales.


Sales Engineer


The products sold by a tech or software company are often founded on a delicate technical process—while at the same time reaching for the most accessible user interface. The challenge of implementing a SaaS product is handled by the software sales engineers. A software sales engineer may join the sales team at meetings with potential and current clients to answer technical inquiries about the product. Sales engineers can earn salaries comparable to software engineers, and they may be eligible for commissions as well, since they are involved in the sales process—however, some companies don't offer such commissions. Sales engineers with strong emotional intelligence and business acumen can transition into account executive roles and sales managers. Because of their intimate product knowledge, they may go on to be executives such as a CEO, CRO, or CTO.


What role in the software sales cycle is right for you?


It’s important to realize that the different roles in software sales are more than a ladder of experience. Yes, certain roles like a sales development representative may be more entry level in nature—but some sales professionals feel comfortable in these roles and will continue in them for years, either at the same company or at different tech companies. Other software sales professionals are more ambitious about growing their income, and will work hard to move up the corporate ladder, or move over and up at a different company.


But in addition to experience, other factors to consider include lifestyle, personal goals, and personal strengths. Someone with an interest in marketing or accounting might be better off in a sales support role, while someone who appreciates a flexible work schedule and enjoys meeting new people would thrive in an outside sales role. Some individuals may be average account executives, but exhibit superior management skills. It’s important to consider what your strengths are and what matters to you, in addition to contemplating salaries and bonuses.


Working with a software sales recruiter can help you pinpoint what role in the sales cycle will suit you best, and whether you should attempt to move up, laterally to the same type of role, or explore something new all together. Send me an email at mike@michaelblair.com and let’s discuss where you might fit in best.

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