My Career Transition: How Business Development Prepared Me for a Career in Sales

It has now been a year and a half since I transitioned from being a high school English teacher to a Business Development Representative (B.D.R.). At the time of this transition, I had absolutely no idea what the next career path would be for me. At an early age, my brother always told me that a career in sales would be something that I should consider given the fact that I am persuasive, hardworking, and sometimes persistently annoying. In August of 2019, he encouraged me to apply for a B.D.R. position at Altair Data Analytics (formerly known as Datawatch). At the time, I had no idea what data analytics was or even what being a B.D.R. at a software company really entailed, but I decided to give it a shot. After a round of interviews, I was offered a position in September 2019 and have served in this role until July 2020. In my time as a B.D.R., I have learned that it is a fantastic way to jump start one’s sales career. Here are my top four reasons why a B.D.R position is be a great place to start when pursuing a career in sales:

1.     Business Development Allows You to Build Industry and Product Knowledge

As I mentioned above, I did not have the slightest idea of what data science, data preparation, predictive analytics, or machine learning was. I remember before my interview, I had the hardest time conceptualizing the difference between our various products: Knowledge Studio, Knowledge Seeker, and Knowledge Hub. Not to mention our division was at one time called “Knowledge Works”. To me, it was too much “knowledge”! However, when you start your sales career as a Business Development Representative, it is with the understanding that you may not know everything about the software that you are selling. Of course, you should try to know the basics of your company’s products, what they do, and how they fit into your industry. However, always remember that it is a learning process. I feel as if every day I am continuously discovering more and more information about our industry and how our products fit within this industry. Being a B.D.R. means you may not have all the answers, but it is a great chance to be a “sponge” and soak up as much information about the industry, why it exists, and how your product fits in a particular space.

2.     Business Development Exposes You to the Structure of Your Organization

Aside from the Inside Sales team at Altair, there are other teams that contribute to the overall success of our division, such as the Outside Sales team, the Solutions team, Professional Services team, Customer Success team, and even Marketing team. Each team serves its own purpose for the business, yet they all seamlessly work together to achieve the same end goal. Being a B.D.R. gives you a broad sense of what these teams do and their purpose, which can be beneficial because it exposes you to other possible careers within the company if you find that sales may not be the right fit for you. For example, if someone preferred working with our actual software to demonstrate its value rather than trying to get customers to buy our software, then it might be worth for him or her to consider a career as a Solutions Architect. Or, if one enjoys working more with current customers to learn about their usage of our software, he or she might decide to pursue a career in customer success. As a B.D.R. you will be working closely with these teams and they will not only provide a basis for understanding the structure of the organization, but also serve a vital purpose in your day-to-day work. At Altair other team members have been so quick to offer a helping hand, which contributes to an overall positive work environment. For example, whenever I speak to a customer who is considering purchasing our data preparation software, he or she usually wants to see a demonstration of it and how it will work with his or her data. Once the customer sends the data to me, and I have fully qualified him or her, I have had tremendous success collaborating with our solutions architects who are so quick to build out a repeatable model of data preparation/extraction for the customer’s data. In addition, members of our Solutions Team have even taken the time out of their own day to teach me the technicalities of Monarch and the common terms I may hear when speaking to a prospect. Consequently, if one is considering a career in business development, it is important for him or her to have a broad understanding of the structure of the organization, which will allow him or her to see how other teams within the organization can assist you.

3.     Business Development Helps Build Confidence!

As a Business Development Representative, you will be expected to cold call potential customers, which can be nerve-racking. These customers do not know you or your company and have no idea what value you can provide for them. You are essentially disrupting their day, and no one likes to be interrupted. This element of the B.D.R. position is somewhat scary; however, if one can get through this mental challenge, his or her confidence will increase dramatically. It is inevitable—you will fail at first on cold calls, but I like to echo the sage advice a wise man once told me, “From failure comes growth.” Like the way major league hitters approach the batter’s box, you will learn a technique and plan of attack that works best for you when approaching cold calls. At first you’ll make up a script to read from, which can help ease the tension of your nerves; however, once you rehearse that script so many times over and over and continue to have fruitful conversations with customers, you will begin to realize that you do need it anymore—you’ll know exactly what questions to ask because you have asked them a million times and you’ll develop a sixth sense for how to engage in conversation with cold prospects. All in all, cold calling in Business Development is never fun, but it will get better with time and practice! As my favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell said in his book Outliers, “If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.”

4.     Business Development Unveils Your Work Ethic and Develops Your Mental Strength

As one of my colleagues says, “Cold calling is a numbers game.” In other words, you must be prepared to put in the work to find that one customer who is open to listening to the value your software provides. Depending on the organization, some sales teams may ask you to provide anywhere between 30 and 100 cold calls a day. Especially now, during the pandemic, I imagine everyone is prioritizing productivity. In his book, Fanatical Prospecting, Jeb Blount lays out the statistics for interactions or touches one must have to engage with various types of prospects:

·        It takes between 1-3 touches (calls, emails, LinkedIn messages, etc.) to engage an inactive customer.

·        1-5 touches to engage a customer who is in a buying window and familiar with your company brand.

·        3-10 touches to engage with a prospect who is not in the buying window but familiar with your company brand.

·        5-12 touches to engage with a prospect who is considered a warm inbound lead.

·        5-20 touches to engage with a prospect who has some familiarity with you and your company brand.

·        20-50 touches to engage with a cold prospect who has no familiarity with you or your company brand.

These statistics may seem daunting; however, if you are planning on being successful in anything in life, you must to be willing to put in the work. You will get brushoffs, hang-ups, objections, and your daily “Get lost!” (or worse) from a customer, but that will only help you in improving your craft and becoming a step closer to eventually discovering your inner mental strength. Once you have been working in business development for quite some time, you will have arrived at the point where you have heard almost all the ways cold prospects will respond to you, which can then open up the opportunity for you to further improve your craft by practicing responding to objections.

Overall, being a B.D.R. was a great experience for me and a fantastic fit for my start in sales. I embraced these four principles and by doing so, I was recently promoted as an Account Representative here at Altair Data Analytics. It just goes to show that whatever career path you choose, as long as you are positive, persistent, willing to learn, and faithful in the service you are providing for you and your team, good things will come your way.

-Patrick Benedosso-

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