How can I get started in software sales?
Let’s cut right to the chase.
If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re not just looking for more theory. You want to know how the sausage is made–which is exactly what this section is about: how you can set yourself up to land you first sales job, even if you have zero relevant experience today.
First, I think it’s necessary to outline some of the most common activities entry-level sales people spend the vast majority of their time on–so we can talk about specific steps you can take to demonstrate the skills that go along with those activities.
Here’s a common breakdown of how entry-level sales roles at tech companies (for example, sales development representatives–SDRs for short) might spend their time on any given day:
• Reviewing their calendars and scheduling the day’s activities
• Daily sales standup to discuss deals in their pipeline
• Prospecting and lead-list building
• Researching prospects to personalize outreach
• Cold calling
• Cold emailing
• Following-up with prospects
• Discovery calls
• Scheduling demos with account executives
• Populating a CRM with prospect information
• Responding to inbound phone calls from webforms
• Searching LinkedIn or other platforms to connect with prospects
• Tracking and maintaining records on the day’s activities
This isn’t a perfect list–but it’s a solid starting point for the steps we’re going to talk through about how you can get started. If you read the list closely, hopefully you noticed a theme: most activities make use of a tool or software in addition to a sales rep’s manual effort.
So, in order to prove you’ve got what it takes to land your first sales job, I recommend demonstrating just that: a basic familiarity with tools, in addition to the ability to leverage them to your advantage.
Below, I’ve outlined a number of different specific tactics you might try (and document) in order to prove to a hiring manager you’re worth considering for a sales job–even if you have no experience:
The purpose of the following exercise is to prove you’re capable of identifying the value proposition of a product and who it benefits–which is a useful skill in sales.
First, go visit the website of a company that interests you. Bonus points if it’s a company that’s actually hiring for entry-level sales roles. But it doesn’t matter if they’re not–this is just an exercise to start that you can repeat.
Spend some time reading through their products, pricing, and any customer testimonials. Take notes. Try to hone in on exactly who their customers are–not just what companies, but who might be the person at their customer companies that makes the buying decision. (For example, a company that sells marketing software might be focused on selling a product that makes the lives of marketing associates at startups easier, but the actual decision maker is the VP of marketing. That’s something you’d want to note.)
The purpose of this next exercise is to prove you can perform basic lead and prospect research–which is a big part of an entry-level salesperson’s job:
Okay, so, once you’ve got some basic notes, I’d recommend coming up with some ways you might be able to get in front of that type of customer.
This is where the tools and systems will really come in handy. For instance, if you want to find marketing associates at startups, there are great resources for that–go check out LinkedIn and AngelList and run some searches for titles. Take note of your results and refine your search terms until you get the results you’re after.
The purpose of this third exercise is to demonstrate your ability to transform search results into useable leads–which is how reps at a lot of early-stage companies actually get their lists of people to contact:
In the next step, you’re going to turn your research into a usable set of leads. That basically means figuring out how to extract the contact information from a platform like LinkedIn and getting it into readable format for your CRM software.
To do this, I’d recommend adding a few tools to your belt–like LeadIQ, ZoomInfo’s ReachOut, Hunter.io, WhitePages, and Google Sheets or Excel. Essentially, you want to go from search results on LinkedIn or AngelList (or whatever platform) to a .csv file that has a name, title, company, email address, phone number, and any other valuable information you can extract. Getting all of this information cleanly into a dataset–as a .csv–makes it possible to easily import this to your CRM, then plug it directly into a sales process.
To do this, check out or install one of the tools above (like the browser extension of LeadIQ or ReachOut). Then, as you’re performing searches, use the tool to capture contact information. Most of these tools offer a free trial, so use all of the credits you can. Once you’ve used your credits, go look at the list and download it to a Google Sheet or Excel file. Make sure the data is clean (all the phone numbers are in the same format, etc.).
And that’s it. We’ll use this in a later step.
The next exercise is to show you can think linearly about a sales process for a specific type of potential customer–this is where you can really earn some points:
Using the information you’ve collected so far–like the type of company who might buy the product the company you research is selling and your list of potential customers–draft up a plan for how you’ll reach out to those people, what you’ll say, and how many times you’ll contact them. You don’t have to actually perform these actions right now–this is just an exercise to prove you can think through it.
For example, you might come up with a plan that involves five attempts to contact them by email, phone, and LinkedIn over a ten-day period.
Here’s what that might look like in application:
Day one: a short and sweet cold email that asks what type of software/tool they’re using to solve a specific problem–and if they’re not the right person to answer the question, asking if they’d be willing to introduce you to the right person.
Day three: if there's no response to your email, then a cold call to the contact with the goal to learn what software/tool they’re using and how much they’re paying (bonus points if you can get them to schedule a demo or a more in-depth call)
Day four: if no response, another cold call
Day seven: a response to your first email, reiterating the question
Day ten: a short LinkedIn message
Again, you don’t necessarily have to run this process–this exercise is more about showing you’ve thought through what a successful process might look like. (Bonus points if you actually write out each of the email/LinkedIn messages or a short script for the phone call. Even more bonus points if you actually attempt to sell something while running your process.)
At the end, put together an outline of the process you came up with. We’ll use this in the final step: how to actually apply.
Finally, in this exercise, we’ll outline how to actually go about getting the job.
Assuming you’ve run the above process for a specific company, now it’s time to bring all the steps together. I recommend using two tools to highlight everything you’ve done in this exercise: Google Slides and Loom.
Start by creating a new slide deck. Add the company’s logo and colors to the cover slide with your name and the role you’re interested in. Example: “Hey Acme Corp., I’m Mitchell, and this is why I’ll crush it as an SDR.”
Bonus points: to take this to the next level, go use LinkedIn to try to figure out who the hiring manager for the company might be (even if it’s just your best guess). Then address the presentation to that individual. It makes it feel even more personal.
Then, in a few slides, outline what you like about the company, why what they do matters to you, and how the skills they ask for translate well with your existing skills (even if you don’t have a ton of experience). Then, spend two to three slides outlining the results of the exercise you put together. Don’t go too into the weeds here–you’ll cover this in the Loom video. Then, on a final slide, add how they can get in touch with you.
Once you have your deck finished, hop on Loom, and record yourself on-camera talking through the slides. Explain the content, and go into a little more detail about what you learned through the exercise and how you can apply that to be successful in the role.
Then, last step–this is critical: after you send in your application, go back to LinkedIn, find the person you think might be the hiring manager, message them and share your video, slides, and the lead list you created. While you’re at it, go ahead and send an email as well (“I want to make sure you saw this”). Then, if you don’t hear anything back, follow up every 24-72 hours until you hear something.
This is sales–so you’re trying to get a response (even if it’s a "no"). If you can prove you’re capable of persevering through rejection until you hear something, then it’s a good signal. Sure, use your judgement, and try not to be annoying. But remember, if you don’t have any experience, leveraging your effort and willingness to work hard can both be secret weapons.
So I know that’s a lot of information. But I promise you, running that exercise until you get results will do more than just land you a job–it will provide you a solid base of learning about the fundamentals of sales that will translate directly into the job once you land it.