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Sales is not a career field most military leaders immediately consider as an option during their transition from the military to civilian life. Military leaders tend to gravitate naturally towards operations, management and project management - because that is what they are comfortable with. But, those things that made you a great military leader are exactly what make a good sales representative: your intelligence, drive, your goal-oriented and competitive nature, great communication skills, strong interpersonal skills, a desire to be the best, and a desire to be challenged. Read on to learn more about the benefits of a sales career, typical positions in sales, career progression, and what to expect in this field.

Why Sales?

A career in sales can be a challenging but very rewarding field for former military leaders. A successful salesperson should be driven, able to work autonomously, an achiever, and somebody with outstanding communication and presentation skills. You should be goal-oriented.  Companies want driven individuals to be the “face” of their organization.

A sales career can be very rewarding financially. Typically, a top performing individual in sales can make more than his or her counterpart in the Operations or Management fields. Sales is a pay-for- performance field.  The better you perform, the more you earn. 

Sales is a very autonomous career. You may work for a company as part of a sales team, but getting the job done daily is strictly up to you. Research, client calls, scheduling, presentations, follow-up, and closing a deal are ultimately driven by you alone. An individual’s success in sales is primarily defined by your personality, drive, ability to influence people, and time management skills.

Benefits of a Career in Sales

Compensation

You are almost certain to make more money in sales than in most management or operations positions. Companies need to sell products or services to survive and reward successful sales people extremely well. The compensation is designed to reward and retain performers. The better you do, the more you earn. Professional level sales roles are paid a base salary plus commission and usually include benefits like car, cell allowances, and an expense account. 

Route into Executive Leadership

Eight-five percent of chief executives and senior managers either started their career or have spent some time in their career in sales and felt that their roles in sales were critical to their professional development and career progression. It gives you an appreciation of what happens at the “tip of the spear”—at the customer interface. As a military leader, you have already developed leadership skills and have solid leadership experience. After performing well in a sales role, former military leaders are routinely selected for promotion into leadership positions faster than their peers. Not all great sales people are good leaders, so this can be a great advantage to you starting a new career.

Control Over Your Schedule

In general, you are in control of your schedule. You make your own appointments and run your own day the way you think is best. As long as you are producing positive results and meeting or exceeding your established goals, you have the freedom to set your own schedule. 

Job Security

Companies know that successful salespeople are not expendable. If you were to lose your job, or choose to leave it, it is relatively easy to get a new job if you can demonstrate a “track record” of success in sales. A successful sales person should always be able to get a job and make a living. Sales is also a great way to build your reputation inside your company. The CEO will know who the top sales representatives are within their organization.

Helping Others

Sales is about assisting others in achieving their goals and solving their problems by introducing your company’s products and services. It is not about forcing others to buy goods and services that they do not want. Sales is about working diligently to discover areas where your company’s products and services will add value, having a clear understanding of the needs and desires of your customer, and then working to fill these needs. When done properly, problem solving in this way will earn their respect, gratitude and their business.

Typical Positions in Sales

Listed below are some of the most common positions available to transitioning military members in the sales field:

Industrial/Technical Sales

Industrial or Technical Sales is a specialized business-to-business sale of generally high cost technical products (machinery, specialized equipment, etc.). Candidates should possess a strong sales profile and typically have some technical experience. The technical experience required can vary greatly from some basic technical aptitude to an engineering degree and hands-on experience.  Compensation generally consists of a base salary with commission or a bonus plan.

Pharmaceutical/Medical Sales

Pharmaceutical and Medical Sales are client-focused sales careers with the primary end user being doctors and medical professionals. Candidates must possess a strong sales profile and outstanding communication and presentation skills. A strong technical or medical background is usually preferred.  Both fields require significant preparation and research. 

Outside Sales Rep/Account Manager

Most sales positions not mentioned above are generally classified as an outside sales representative. These positions are available across a broad swath of industries. And while the products you represent vary widely, the position requirements do not –  represent your company and products to clients in a professional manner through direct contact with potential clients.  Strong communication skills and customer service skills are a must.

Career Progression in Sales

A position in sales can also open a lot of doors for you in the future within an organization. An individual with a successful sales background and strong leadership experience from the military can successfully move into a wide range of roles in other areas of the company, such as training, brand management, marketing or operations. Some military members that enter a sales career when leaving the military choose to spend their entire career selling or in a sales manager role due to the great work/life balance that can come with a sales career, as well as the fairly unlimited earning potential. 

What to Expect in Sales

There is always a place for a sharp and enthusiastic sales person, and, given the correct training and support, most bright people who are willing to work hard and learn will succeed in sales and make a better than average living. However, as in all things, there are some challenges to overcome to be successful in a sales role.

Hard Work

A successful career in sales requires hard work and a strong overall work ethic. If it were easy, more people would be doing it. It is commonly said that for every one person who says “Yes!”, there are nine who say “No!”. If you need to find five people a day to say “Yes”, you will have to talk to fifty people a day. If you aren’t extremely motivated and don’t have a great work ethic, a career in sales is likely not for you. 

Results Matter

Sales is a profession where you are judged almost exclusively by your results. You must be goal oriented, organized, and self-motivated. If that doesn’t describe you, you should not consider a career in sales.

Disappointment

As mentioned above, a lot of people will say “No!” and will not be interested in the products or services that you are offering them. If you are the sort of person who will take these disappointments to heart, then do not consider a career in sales. You must be able to handle rejection and disappointment. 

On Call

In many cases, as the Sales Person, you will be the smiling face of the company you represent. In fact, apart from the driver who delivers the products you have sold, you may be the only person from your company that your customer knows in person. So, when things go wrong, as they sometimes do, it will be you that the customer calls, demanding satisfaction, even if it is after hours. 

But remember, no matter what job you hold in business, you spend a lot of your time selling: selling ideas to your bosses, your colleagues, your juniors, your suppliers and your customers. Spending time in sales prepares you to communicate effectively.

Sales Resources from Orion Talent

Orion Talent has an extensive resource guide to help veterans and transitioning service members find a career in sales. 

In addition, read our Veteran Spotlight on Jeff Moehling, a U.S. Army Captain who is a Senior District Sales Manager with Eli Lilly and Company. Jeff has been with the pharmaceutical company for over 20 years. 

If you are ready for the next step in pursuing a career in sales, search our current openings in sales.

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