I had incredibly naïve aspirations of what I would be doing upon graduation from university, believing I would fall into some marketing dream role that transitioned me straight from uni onto the path to marcomms riches and fame. How wrong I was, and how equally unexpected it was that I would find myself in a graduate sales role. So here’s what I have learnt about marketing and sales and industry as a whole.
Sales vs. Marketing: The differences, the overlap, and what you don’t learn at Uni.
When you are at university you spend your time scrutinising ad campaigns, devising new products and coining promotional slogans- so stepping into a sales role where the emphasis is on building new accounts and making calls may not be what you expect (it sure wasn’t for me). What I have come to realise though, is that these entry-level tasks are the stepping-stones and foundations to becoming a good marketer.
The consumer insight finding, the promotions, the bang and the colour– this is all marketing you learn about on the theoretical side at university. Sales on the flip side, is the interaction between this theory and the booking brand. Sales has helped me develop a strong sense of what marketing lingo ‘actually’ works vs. what is considered ‘fluff’. While marketing strategy is strongly aligned with driving revenue, there can be a lot of ‘big picture’ strategic thinkers. These people are wizzes at distinguishing the motivators of consumer behavior and the best modes of engagement – but being in a role where I was responsible for turning these feelings into action, in sales you have the privilege of seeing how your team’s strategy is received by the buying brand. This knowledge is priceless as a graduate, and has truly changed my whole approach to marketing. Since having this role I work the marketing process backwards. Rather than analysing consumer trends and making bullet proof marketing campaigns to fill the niche, I work backwards – learn where and which brands’ budgets have a large spend, and build a solution to that problem.
How to be successful as a sales graduate.
To be successful in sales you need to be able to convince agencies/brands that your product is utterly indispensable. Accordingly, you need to be able to project the value of investment using numbers, analytics and case study information, not feelings and emotive intention. While on the job there is only so much that your company can do to train you- my boss taught me how to engage clients, how to speak, and how to present various information. As a graduate the thought of calling a prospective account manager to schedule a meeting is extremely daunting, so you need to have an innate sense of confidence and ambition to do well, or at least be able to fake it.
While you are building this confidence, my advice is to find a technical or niche knowledge that is needed to sell your package that will make you confident, articulate and persuasive when selling. This is truly where your marketing knowledge comes in handy. I was extremely interested in digital strategy, and so I merged this into my grad role with a television production company. I was selling product integration packages for FMCG’s into various television formats. My strength early on was skewing television proposals to include digital integration strategies – I genuinely enjoyed, (in marketing lingo) the importance of finding longevity and shareability for branded content. I could talk about it for hours, and this gave me confidence within meetings.
How to know if sales is for you.
If you are wondering if sales is a route that will suit your personality, you need to ask if you are:
1. Attracted to competition.
Simply, agencies and brands see hundreds of proposals offering a ‘unique opportunity’ to spend their budget each quarter. To be a good sales person you will need to learn that just because your idea is a good one, does not mean that people should be lining up to spend with you. You need to speak to people, open conversations, truly listen to what brands want, and skew your offering to them. If you are a personality type that is quite dogmatic in terms of what is strategically right and wrong for the brand, you will always be waiting for people to come to you. A competitive nature will make you want to make a proposal work for people; you will work harder to make it an easy fit for them.
2. Hungry to learn on your feet.
You need to be constantly learning, and be open to changing your opinion of things.
3. Able to anticipate what clients want.
You need to be able to read the market, your brands and how you can make your product work for them.
How to distinguish what is a good role.
Before you start hunting for jobs you need to be clear on the varying definitions of a sales role. A recruitment consultancy role will differ drastically from a media sales role. It is worth doing a bit of research into the role before applying – ask how much time you will spend on field visits and on the phone.
I have had the benefit of working across television in program sales, digital sales and print media, all through the same company which has given me such a good opportunity to learn about the drivers of the media industry as a whole, and make contacts across a number of media booking and creative agencies which has been a priceless lesson for me, seeing first hand what the culture is like within each. My sales role was highly conversational, working with client briefs, negotiating with agencies – and then ultimately getting the deal over the line.
Equally indicative of a good sales job is in the nature of what you are selling (do you think it is a good sell? If you don’t believe it is, you will never be able to get someone else to) and also, it’s about having a good boss.
As a graduate going into sales you will need a mentor. You are going to learn unimaginable amounts off your first boss – by sitting in on their meetings, listening to their negotiation strategies and how they engage with people. You need to find someone that you respect- because you are going to need to listen to a lot of criticism and feedback.
If I had my time again and was given the choice of a marketing or a sales role, knowing what I know now I would hands down choose the sales job. Selling is selling, and I truly believe my grad sales role opened a lot of doors for me, and especially helped secure the marketing position I am in now; so my advice to you is to get your sleazy sales spiel on and forget the stigma that too often surrounds sales!