How to get a job in tech
Making the transition into tech sales from another industry can feel like a fairly daunting task. The good news is with the right focus and effort; you can systematize the work involved and streamline the process to be a good learning tool for later on.
Firstly, let me start out by saying: Modern B2B sales is NOT for everyone. While the stereotypical used-car salesperson narrative no longer applies, there’s no denying the grind and relative difficulty in early commercial conversations. There’s absolutely no shame or stigma in realizing this is not a good fit for you if you’re not getting some level of enjoyment and fulfillment. This is especially true when you think about sales careers long term. Be honest with yourself, your values and your desire to truly get involved.
An open secret in this world is the fact that it NEVER gets easier YOU just get better (or you don’t!).
Burnout is real and it happens faster than you think. The easiest way to burnout is to not find some enjoyment to a small degree even the worst aspects of the job.
How do you know you could be successful in tech sales?
In my experience after working with hundreds of reps and having thousands of conversations with other sales leaders, a few attributes and qualities stick out amongst high performers
1. Drive – Some folks call this “being on it” or “motivated” but there’s no denying the power that comes from someone who is determined to succeed. This will help push you beyond where you think you can be and outside your comfort zone. Drive will keep you moving forward to success even in the hardest of circumstances
2. Curiosity – Sales is a puzzle. You receive information and singulars from the market and your projects, and you need to interpret and communicate back with value and relevance. No two situations are ever really the same; so you do well having an appreciation for nuance and context. If you are the type of person to get flustered at finger traps and brain teasers; the idiosyncratic and irrationality of buyers may throw you for a loop.
3. Attitude/Mindset – At the end of the day, no one can make you give a damn. You either want to be good, or you don’t. You either rise to the occasion, or you don’t. If you keep a solid mindset it will help you push forward when all seems lost or hopeless
4. Organization – There’s a lot to balance between outbound/inbound activity responsibilities, administrative tasks, interpersonal relationships to manager and of course: a number to hit. If you are the type of person to “wing it” or just “show up and dance” you are going to lose over time in the long run. This is not a career where folks can sloppily fail forward. The pace and volume of work increases exponentially and if you’re thinking purely linearly you’ll just lose on mathematics alone.
Okay, so you have some of these qualities and you’re determined to keep going. How do you start?
My first piece of advice on this, is to reflect and be honest about an industry you’re already curious and invested in. For example, if you’re coming from real estate – it would make sense to first start looking into startups that sell to real estate personas. Not only will you have the desire to engross yourself in the industry (podcasts, articles, books etc) you’ll also understand the culture and vernacular of the folks you’re communicating with. Similar examples for teachers moving into tech, look at companies that focus on educational software or sell to schools and universities.
If you’re looking to completely separate from your previous life; think about what you’re interested in outside of work. Like crypto as an example? There’s certainly a startup that caters to some problem or niche that exists in that industry. Interested in finance more broadley? There’s a lot of organizations that play in that area. Heck, if you like to travel – try to work at AirBnB. Real Estate, Manufacturing, Retail, Transportation even Hospitality all have extremely valid crossover roles at all sizes. (Note: finding these roles can be simple google or more dedicated crunchable searches, but that’s a new topic!)
It’s so important to have an interest in your industry because it will help you keep sharp and up-to-date on what’s happening and how your prospects think about their world. When I first got into tech I was selling legal software. Honestly, outside of Sam Waterson on Law & Order, I had little to no interest in law vs something like data science or cybersecurity. What that meant was I always felt like an outsider. I could never really break through and be seen as “in the space” as I was to some degree purposely keeping myself out. You can try to fake this and force it, but people can usually tell who’s genuine and authentic and who’s low-key a poser.
Okay so you know what type of company you want to work for and the types of people you want to effectively communicate and sell with. What’s next?
Think about the size of the org you want to work at, they are not created equal. You need to have a good sense of your risk appetite and how much ambiguity and uncertainty you can realistically tolerate.
On one end of the spectrum, there are the early stage startups. (Pre-seed to around Series B)
At a small org, you can grow VERY quickly. Percentage wise, you usually will represent a large portion of the overall team which translates typically into a higher degree of autonomy and authority. It’s much easier to stand out here and make an impact. For more outgoing people this can be an environment to thrive. Smaller orgs are also better at adapting to change in the sense there’s generally less bureaucracy to worry about when making changes.
On the downside, there’s less resources. Some companies’ business units are teams that are 500 people strong; and some are 2 desks in the back corner. This makes them more approachable to some extent, but also limits their bandwidth. Similarly, most onboarding and induction programs at smaller companies are less structured. If you’re very self disciplined and motivated this isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not unheard of for new reps to start and be given a google doc and told “good luck!”
There also might not be true PMF (Product Market Fit), which can make sales much more difficult if the market awareness is limited. To counter this in my experience, smaller orgs will pay a premium for talent; you may command a higher salary here if you’re very motivated. Lastly, there’s always the risk of closure. Smaller orgs fail frequently, just how it is. Keep this in mind as you explore opportunities.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the gargantuan orgs that might not even really be startups anymore. Here, you’ll likely be one of hundreds or thousands. Harder to standout in the overall org, but usually individual departments and teams have their own culture and advancement processes.
Larger orgs will usually have a more structured onboarding process, more resources dedicated to specific departments, and not as many early phase growing pains. This is a really good line of questioning to get into with anyone in the hiring process; drill into how well they truly bring people to competency in the flow and language of the business.
Downside: If you’re interested in gaining accelerated responsibilities, advancement can take much longer. It’s also an adjustment if you change roles down to a smaller firm because you may be dependent on the resources from a bigger outfit. It’s easier to feel less connected with people outside of your specific department if you’re not intentional about making time to connect cross-functionally.
Mid-size companies can have the best of both worlds, but by no means are they perfect (everything is a job in the end!). They get a mix of the downsides too! The upside here is if you can catch a rocket before it really takes off, you can do really well if you snag some equity and establish yourself for the long haul. A big risk however is if they never get to the critical mass where true growth can happen. This can lead to loss of top level people causing inertia and stagnation.
Ok we know the industry, we have an idea of the size of the org. What now?
Now you do the job! SDR is one of the best paths into tech sales, and a big part of that job is: Prospecting & Outreach…so let’s do that for hiring too!
● Make a list of companies you want to work for and research them.
-Develop a Point of View about their business and how you would fit in.
● Build a list of “leads” or hiring managers, recruiters, people on the sales team.
● Conduct outreach! Send emails, LinkedIn messages (phone calls if you’re bold) and have an objective to get an interview or set a meeting to learn more about the role
If you are dedicated and diligent around this process, it’s a matter of time before someone snags you for their team. Good BDR’s are hard to find let me tell ya 🙂
-Malcolm J. Smith-
Malcolm is a highly motivated and dedicated sales development leader with a keen eye for talent and a passion for coaching and mentorship. He is currently leading a team of BDR’s at Databricks, the Data & AI Company. When he’s not coaching reps to success; he’s finger painting with his 18 month old daughter Lottie 🎨👶, role playing as an amateur food critic with my wife Melissa 🍷, watching a documentary 📺 or sometimes wondering around a mall in Jersey on a Saturday wondering how a life long New Yorker ended up on this side of the Hudson. 🤯”