Sales in one sentence
A salesperson is primarily responsible for sourcing and closing new customers, upselling existing clients, and forming business partnerships.

Who do they work with?
Sales works most closely with Marketing and Customer Success.

Sales is a high-value startup role

As a salesperson in tech, you will primarily be responsible for sourcing potential customers, understanding their business use case, and demonstrating how your company's product or service can serve them. Sales a highly valued role within any startup -- according to Gartner analysis, business buyers say direct (human) interaction with the company they are buying from is the most important factor influencing their purchase decision.

In other words, the sales team can make or break a technology company. Aside from a high-value role, tech sales roles are also the most available, according to Glassdoor research.

Sales is an excellent way for college students interested in startups to get their foot in the door and learn more about the industry. Most entry-level opportunities are as Sales Development Representatives, where you will spend most of your time prospecting potential customers and qualifying them as good fits.

After you've put in your time as an SDR, you'll graduate the Account Executive position where you will spend more time pitching prospects on the company’s offerings.

Learn from the pros

Meghan Harris
Account Executive
LinkedIn (SF)

Meghan is an experienced sales professional currently working as a Mid-Market Account Executive for LinkedIn out of their San Francisco office. She sells LinkedIn's line of recruiting tools called Talent Solutions to medium-sized businesses.

Starting out

"I started with entry-level sales development. Most sales people start in a Sales Development Representative (SDR) role which involves sourcing and qualifying leads to then pass on to the Account Executives.

In my case I was working with inbound leads, which are people who have already expressed interest in the product by reaching out to LinkedIn to get more information. I would have quick qualification calls with those leads, no more than 5 to 7 minutes. Our volume was really high so I would call and try to quickly identify if this was a hot lead worth passing on to the account executive.

I had to identify what their budget was, how this purchase needed to be authorized within the organization, how dire this business need was, and what their timeline to purchase was.

For those coming straight out of college, SDR positions usually don't require sales experience but you'll need to have great verbal and written communication skills and to be a quick learner."
Moving on up

Meghan was promoted to Account Executive after about a year in the Sales Development role.

"Now, as an account executive the sales process is more involved. I'll usually have an intro call to go into more detail about their business needs and make sure it's a good fit for their use case.

Then I'll actually take them through a product demo and show them how it works and how they could use it. Following the demo I'll have a decision call where I go over an objections they may have and get into the specifics on pricing and hopefully they say yes and I can prepare the contract and send it over for approval."
Fork in the road

"Most people that want to work in sales start as SDRs and then they can either go the Account Executive route or the Relationship/Account Manager route. After an Account Executive closes a new sale the Account Manager becomes responsible for nurturing that existing client and looking for ways to expand a client's usage and spend."
Keys to success

"In general being able to manage your time well and have a good outreach cadence is key -- making sure that everyone who needs to be hearing from me is hearing from me every quarter.

Now that I'm working with these bigger accounts I'm learning how to be more strategic with my outreach. They've probably heard from LinkedIn a billion times before so I need to do more research into the state of the company before reaching out. Did they just get funding? Did they post something interesting on LinkedIn? What are some more targeted things I can bring up in an email?"

Another important skills is learning how to accurately forecast what you'll realistically be able to bring in each quarter. I have a quota, my manager's quota depends on that and as a company we need to declare our expected earnings so those forecasts need to be tight.

If I'm working on ten deals, they're not all going to close and I need to be able to assess that rate accurately. "
The most challenging part of the role

"Everyone talks about the highs and lows in sales and it is really true. When you're doing well and you have this great momentum you're on top of the world and it's super fun. But then when you're in a slump and everyone is saying no or the timing is off and no one's getting back to you it's really tough. Trying to stay as even-keeled as possible is important, and it sounds easy but it's definitely not.

You're tied to your quota every single quarter so it's not as easy to go on vacation for a couple of weeks and rest easy knowing someone else is filling in for you. You're not going to get leeway just because you were out of the office."
Tips for would-be salespeople

"Sales is a grind. If you don't like what you're selling, or you don't believe in it, you're going to get over it really quickly. A lot of sales has to do with your conviction and if you're not excited about what you're selling, it's not going to be a long term fit.

You want to make sure during the interview that you get a sense of how innovative a company's product is. The product line I'm selling at LinkedIn is always changing and we're always adding new features. It's a lot easier for me as a sales person to circle back to a lead if I have something new to share with them.

You have to find what motivates you. You're going to well in sales if you're motivated by money of if you're motivated by that recognition of being at the top of the leaderboard. Everyone can see how you're doing at all times. I think that can be a positive or a negative depending on what type of person you are.

There's always room for you to grow in your role because the industry is constantly changing. I've gotten a lot of value from ongoing training that LinkedIn provides. You'll want to look into how an organization invests in training their teams."

Other resources

Our podcast interviews with sales pros