The emblem of the sales industry, for me, has always been David Brent, in the mournful third series of The Office. Sacked and in constant disgrace, Brent is now selling cleaning products out of his car boot. We see him, haggard and paunchy, eulogising a dish cloth to a bewildered caretaker. “Because of the texture and quality of the shammy,” he exclaims, scrubbing at an invisible stain on a wall, “that’s coming off with tap water!”. The customer does not seem convinced. We suspect Brent may be sleeping in his car.
‘Sales’ rarely features in graduates’ lists of dream careers; though they tend to be lower-paid and slower-moving, close relatives - marketing and advertising, attract far more applications. Its relative unpopularity may be, in part, due to its diffusion; while you might seek to join a well-known advertising or marketing company, there are very few specialised ‘sales’ companies. Instead, the great majority of businesses have in-house sales teams, and a huge number of graduate careers begin there.
Graduates’ reluctance to work in sales is also based on a host of misconceptions about what the job involves. There’s a side of the industry Brent didn’t discover - one quite separate from the drudgery of mis-sold PPI and phone contracts, and which does not involve accosting shoppers to secure £3 a month for the Donkey Sanctuary. Business-to-business (B2B) sales is a sizeable, if lesser-known, part of the sales industry, and a very different endeavour. It means selling products not to consumers, but to companies; not dishcloths, but services, resources and technologies at the cutting edge of innovation.
B2B sales deals with the ‘invisible cogs’ at work in different businesses or industries; the security systems, email marketing strategies and pieces of hardware that the customer does not see, but that directly impact a company’s profits. A job as demanding as it is fast-paced, it is neither for the faint-hearted nor the faint-minded. Personality is important, but knowledge and understanding are vital; a 2010 survey by McKinsey found that the second-biggest reason that B2B sales fail is the seller not adequately understanding their own product, its competitors, or its relevance to their customer’s business. If this seems a daunting prospect, it is also the reason why B2B sales roles teach graduates so much that allows them to flourish in other industries; to succeed, you need to grasp far more than a single product. You need to get your head around the precise workings and cultures of each company you work with; the ways different businesses relate to their partners and customers; the shape of entire sectors. It is a job that will likely involve meetings and discussions with people at the top of a company’s food chain - people who often started their own careers in sales, and are equipped to spot pre-rehearsed patter, poke holes in feeble arguments, challenge facts and figures. Business giants like James Caan and Warren Buffett started their careers in B2B sales; poor old Brent was scuppered before he began.
Written by Stephanie Allen, Marketing Executive and Training Coordinator, Venatrix
If you are a graduate who is ready to navigate the challenging world of B2B sales then pick up the phone and call Venatrix today and speak to the talent team on 0203 805 3350.
If you are a company looking to hire high quality junior sales people who have the ability to take your message to market, generate activity and grow into your sales stars of the future call Elaine Tyler on 0203 805 3352.