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How to Get into Software Sales

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Ten years ago, if you had asked us how to get into software sales without software sales experience, we would have told you that it’s close to impossible without starting at the bottom. The explosion in the number and size of software companies is changing this. For example, we recently helped an experienced sales professional with nursing home sales experience land a dream SaaS (Software as a Service) sales position. Not only did she not have to start at the bottom, but she also earned a nice increase in her compensation package. Getting into software sales is still difficult, but we’re going to share our insider knowledge and explain how to get into software sales. 

SaaS vs. Software Sales???

If you already know the differences between SaaS and traditional software sales, you can skip to the next section. If not, it’s essential to understand the distinctions between the two. Traditional software solutions (think IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle) are also known as On-Premise Software. With On-Premise, the software is installed on their clients’ computers or servers. Once installed, it is maintained by the clients’ staff or an outsourced team. 

SaaS or Software as a Service (think Zoom, Hubspot, or Slack) is hosted in the cloud and is maintained by the SaaS provider. Removing the need to physically install the software program simplifies onboarding new clients and allows for a much faster growth rate than a typical On-Premise software company can achieve. Because of this, there has been an explosion in the number of SaaS companies. Although it’s difficult to pin down the exact number of SaaS companies, there are almost 7,000 SaaS companies in the marketing space alone. Read SaaS vs On-Premise to educate yourself further on the differences between SaaS and traditional software. 

Although it’s important to know the difference between software sales and SaaS sales, we will use SaaS and software interchangeably throughout this blog as you will take the same steps to get into either.

Paths into Software or SaaS Sales.

Ten years ago, it was challenging to get into software sales without industry experience. With the exponential rise in SaaS companies’ number and size, the demand for talented software sales professionals has outpaced supply. Software companies have been forced to look outside their industry to compensate. Don’t hear that getting into software is easy, though. With that noted, let’s look at two paths that can get you into software sales.

Path 1 – Start at the Bottom. 

Most SaaS companies have either BDR (Business Development Representative) or SDR (Sales Development Representative) roles as their entry-level sales position. Some companies have both. A BDR typically focuses on qualifying inbound leads for an inside sales team. SDRs are usually tasked with prospecting for new clients. 

Depending on the company’s size and growth rate and your performance, you should expect to spend 6-24 months as a BDR or SDR before getting promoted to an inside sales position. 

Path 2 – Leverage your Existing Sales Experience.

If you already have a strong track record in sales, you might not want nor need to start at the bottom. Our team of software sales recruiters is increasingly finding SaaS companies open to interviewing stellar B2B sales professionals for higher level SaaS sales roles. The key to getting into a higher-level software sales role without experience is finding a SaaS company that sells to the same clientele as you. 

Let’s go back to the example we gave at the beginning of this blog. Our SaaS client had narrowed down their candidate pool to two finalists. One had experience selling a SaaS solution to nursing homes, and the other had a decade of experience selling wound care supplies to nursing homes. They were both impressive, but our candidate with wound care experience ultimately won out. She had a stronger track record and impressed the leadership team by going the extra mile with preparation before each interview.

If you want in and don’t have software sales experience, be prepared to stand out by going beyond expectations. This journey starts with your resume.

Software Sales Resume.

Software sales roles attract applicants—lots of them. Without software sales experience, you will face long odds unless you understand how companies process incoming resumes. Most software and SaaS companies use ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) that are designed to filter out resumes that don’t match the job. We’ll be taking a deeper dive into this topic in future videos, but here’s a simplified overview.

An ATS is a computer program (or bot) that scans and scores every resume received for a job opening. The resumes that score well are forwarded to the recruiter or HR professional responsible for working that position. Your resume will receive a match score determined by how many of the keywords the bot finds on your resume based on the key skills and traits, and experience listed on the company’s job description.

Earn a high enough match score, and your resume will make it past the bots. The way to do this is to optimize your resume for each position you apply to. Fortunately, there are tools to help you. We like skillsyncer.com. Yes, it’s a lot of work but research shows that 75% of resumes are never read by a human.

If your resume is fortunate enough to make it past the bots, you will still face long odds. Research reveals that the average recruiter spends less than 7 seconds during their first scan of your resume. Here are some keys to making sure your resume gets noticed during that 7-second pass:

  • Make your sales accomplishments stand out via bullet points.
  • Use exact figures such as “107% of a $1M quota (2020)” vs. “exceeded quota”.
  • Use clean, easy-to-read formatting.

In short, give overworked recruiters a reason to call you, or they won’t. Speaking of calling you, experienced recruiters will look at your Linkedin Profile before picking up the phone or emailing you for an interview. Again, they are usually massively overworked and anxious not to waste their time.

Optimize Your Linkedin Profile for SaaS Sales.

There are two big reasons why you need to optimize your Linkedin Profile. 

  1. Once you optimize your Linkedin Profile to align with software sales, recruiters will start finding and reaching out to you. Linkedin’s job matching algorithms will also begin sending software sales job postings to you. 
  2. Your Linkedin Profile gives employers their first virtual impression of you. Read Why Your Linkedin Profile Picture is Costing you Job Opportunities

Once you’re comfortable with your Profile Picture, the next step is to add the keywords that recruiters will be searching for to your “About” and “Experience” sections. For example, we note below that consultative selling is the sales approach that most SaaS companies use. “Consultative sales” or “consultative selling” should be on your Linkedin profile. You will find other common keywords as you optimize your sales resume with the SkillSyncer tool we recommended above. Be careful and don’t list skills or experience that you don’t authentically possess. 

If you would like help, you can work one-on-one with one of our experienced sales recruiters to optimize your Linkedin Profile or optimize your Sales Resume.

After you’ve secured an interview, do the necessary homework to ace it.

The Software Sales Interview.

Google “software sales interview tips” and you will find a wide range of suggestions. Keep in mind that interviewing with a larger company like Hubspot or Salesforce will be different from a small SaaS startup that currently has 3 sales reps. With that noted, we have observed several skills and traits that almost all software companies look for.

Curiosity. This ties in with a question-based, consultative selling approach. One of the best ways to display curiosity during an interview is to come prepared with intelligent questions. An excellent place to start is Smart Questions to Ask at the End of the Interview. To clarify, you don’t have to wait until the end of the interview to ask these. A well-placed question can transform the interview from a canned question and answer session into a free-flowing conversation that ends with you as their top candidate. 

Ethics. Beyond the obvious of why ethics matters, the customers of SaaS companies are usually sophisticated. Educated customers hate to be misled and won’t stand for sales games. Software sales is not the Boiler Room.

Resourcefulness. We define resourcefulness as the ability to go over, through, or around obstacles. If software sales were easy, there wouldn’t be much money in it. Since you don’t have experience in software sales, you will have a lot to figure out. Come to the interview prepared to share specific examples of how you successfully navigated difficult selling situations where you had to figure things out.

Flexibility and Adaptability. Change might be the only constant in the software industry. Especially with smaller SaaS companies, the word “pivot” is commonplace. Can you demonstrate that you can be nimble and change direction when needed? 

Consultative Selling.

The consultative approach to selling is the gold standard in software sales because it works. If you don’t know what this means, start educating yourself before your interview. A great place to start is The New Conceptual Selling by Miller Heiman. Trust us; Sales Managers will be impressed when they find out that you took your homework one step further by reading this or a similar book.

Know What You’re Getting Into with Software Sales.

There is a lot of money to be made in software sales. Before you jump in with both feet, understand that there are downsides to this choice of profession. Over the past 12 months, software companies’ value has dramatically increased because they are much easier to scale than most traditional companies (Amazon is a dramatic example of this). The downside of this massive inflow of money and potential for rapid growth is enormous pressure. Although this doesn’t apply to every company, you most likely won’t find work/life balance in software sales. To get ahead in this field, be prepared to work whatever hours the job requires. 

Good luck, and let us know if you have any other tips that helped you get into software sales.

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Chris Carlson

My name is Chris Carlson and I’m the founder and President of Sales Talent. This blog grew out of my desire to document and share what I’ve learned in my two plus decades of sales recruiting and leading Sales Talent. We post a new blog once a quarter on the 3rd Thursday of every January, April, July and Oct. These posts are aimed at sales professionals and leaders that speaks to talent selection, team building, or career advancement. If you have a topic that you’d like my take on, please reach out to me.

You can find Chris Carlson on LinkedIn or contact him directly at:
[email protected].