Skip to Content

Close more deals with the latest sales trends and tips from Salesblazers.

Discover What Sales Experience Is — and Why You Already Have What It Takes to Succeed

Illustration of a person transitioning their career from student to salesperson on a blue background
If you're just starting on your path to sales, remember that skills from many professions are transferable to sales roles. [Studio Science]

Want to break into sales? Learn how everyday experiences can translate into high-impact sales skills.

Each day, you sell something, often without even realizing it. When you coax your kids out of bed in the morning to go to school, recommend a favorite restaurant to a friend, or just convince yourself to go to the gym, you’re selling. So, whether you’re in sales or not, you’ve got sales experience, my friend.

My own sales experience has shown me that selling is not just about closing a deal. Read on to learn how to connect with people, recognize their needs, guide them toward a decision, and become better at what you do in the process.

What you’ll learn:

What is sales experience?

Sales experience describes an individual’s history of convincing others to make a purchase. For example, have you worked in a restaurant? That’s sales. Ever gone door to door asking neighbors to buy Girl Scout Cookies? Sales.

Sales experience can also include convincing someone to invest in you or take action. For example, have you gone to a job interview and talked up your qualities and why they should hire you? That’s also sales.

As I showcase below, sales experience is not just about getting more deals under your belt. It’s about honing specific soft and hard skills that make closing deals easier, regardless of the industry you’re working in.

(Back to top)

B2B vs. B2C sales experience

Whether you’re just starting your career or coming to sales from another industry, you’ll want to decide what type of sales role your experience is best suited for. Let’s look at this in the context of business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales:

  • In B2B sales, you’re one business selling to another. The process typically involves higher-value transactions and longer sales cycles with multiple decision-makers. This type of selling is about understanding business needs and challenges, personalizing solutions, and convincing multiple stakeholders to make a purchase decision.
  • In B2C sales, you sell directly to the consumer. B2C deals are usually more straightforward with lower-value transactions and shorter sales cycles. Here, value, benefits, emotional appeal, and brand perception play a significant role.

Regardless of which type of sales you pursue, it’s helpful to develop a versatile skill set that can adapt to varying sales environments. For instance, soft skills like effective communication, empathetic listening, and adaptability will serve you well no matter what you sell. These skills help you become a dynamic salesperson, able to successfully pivot between different sales scenarios and industries.

(Back to top)

Why is sales experience important?

Sales experience gives you the ability to understand pain points, capture and keep attention, and get others to take action; in the case of reps, sales experience makes it easier to get prospects to buy. Over years of selling, you develop authority, confidence, negotiation tactics, the ability to overcome obstacles like objections, and other important skills that increase your chances of success.

Simply put, the more sales experience you have, the more attractive you become to potential employers and the more likely you are to excel in the field.

(Back to top)

Benefits of having sales experience

The benefits of having prior sales experience go beyond the obvious (like making more money). Let’s walk through two that are top of mind for me:

Better understanding of customer needs

With sales experience comes the ability to learn how to read people and ask the right questions. Here’s an example:

  • Problem: Imagine you’re selling a cloud-based project management tool. A prospect shows interest, but they’re hesitant.
  • Solution: To understand why, you engage them in a conversation about their current project management challenges, which leads them to open up about their struggles with remote collaboration and meeting deadlines, things that have negatively impacted their bottom line.
  • Outcome: Armed with this insight, you explain how your tool’s real-time collaboration features and automated deadline tracker have helped other customers improve their workflow and increase their productivity by more than 50%. This customer, looking excited, starts asking you for more information.

Rather than waste your time on specs and features that don’t address their immediate challenges, you’ve listened to this prospect. You’ve shown them that you understand their needs, and offered a solution that could make a difference for them. And just like that, you’ve gained sales experience you can use in the future!

Enhanced communication and negotiation skills

Learning how to negotiate a deal while building positive relationships is another important skill that comes with experience. Here’s what this might look like in practice:

  • Problem: You’re selling a software solution to a company. The prospect is interested but concerned about the cost.
  • Solution: Rather than immediately dropping the price or blindly standing firm by the original quote, with experience, you can spot trends, such as price concerns, and approach the prospect more strategically. Listen and empathize with their concerns, then get creative.
  • Outcome: You create a custom package with just the essential features they need at a more manageable cost on a three-year subscription basis. This gets them in the door on a good foot, and you can work on upselling or cross-selling down the road.

People appreciate when you are understanding and flexible. If you’re able to negotiate a deal on the spot, with the potential to upsell in the future, it’s a win-win for everyone. But new reps, eager to close, don’t always see that; sales experience opens the door to these kinds of solutions.

How to gain sales experience

By now you’re probably thinking, “Great, but how do I get this experience?” Here are some approaches that I’ve seen lead to successful sales careers:

Consider internships and entry-level sales positions

Internships and entry-level positions are classic ways to dip your toes in the industry and see if it’s for you. If you’re interested in B2B sales, roles like sales intern, business development representative (BDR)/sales development representative (SDR), and account coordinator/junior account executive are likely good starter positions. For B2C experience, a job like retail sales associate will give you hands-on experience with customer interactions, product demonstrations, and understanding consumer behavior. Online job portals like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor, company websites, career fairs, and networking events are all good places to look for your first role in sales.

Look for networking and mentorship opportunities

Networking is a huge part of any sales job. It not only helps you connect with other industry professionals, but it’s also a good way to find potential customers. Attend sales industry events, join the Salesblazer community or one of the many sales-related groups on LinkedIn, and reach out to established sales professionals to connect. Finding a seasoned mentor or sales community can be a game-changer, accelerating your knowledge and opening doors to new opportunities.

Hone transferable skills used in other roles

If you’re transitioning from a different career path, remember that many skills are transferable to sales. As noted earlier, skills like effective communication, problem-solving, empathy, and adaptability are crucial in sales. For example, being adaptable to learning new sales tactics, processes, and even software can help you keep up with advancements and competitors in the field. Take time to hone these skills, either in role-playing practice with colleagues or via special training/courses (more on this below).

Pursue online sales training and certifications

Register for training and enroll in certification programs to gain sales experience. Online training is convenient for those juggling other commitments, and certifications from reputable sources not only boost your knowledge but also add credibility to your resume. For instance, explore Trailhead’s training and certification programs to earn impressive credentials and skills for the future.

Remember, gaining sales experience is a continuous journey. There’s no clear finish line. Sales is a dynamic field, and staying on top of the latest trends, tools, and techniques can build your competence and confidence, whether you’re just starting your career or transitioning from another industry.

(Back to top)

How to develop critical sales skills

You probably already have some basic sales skills; as I mentioned up above, everyone is a bit of a salesperson, whether they know it or not. Let’s focus on two of the most important skills in a salesperson’s toolkit: active listening and empathy.

Active listening

This goes beyond just hearing what a customer says. It’s about understanding their needs, concerns, and motivations. Harvard Business Review breaks down the process and even gives a cheat sheet for how to become a better listener.

Here are my takeaways:

  • Pay close attention to what the other person is saying. Validating others is a simple but effective way to show you’re engaged. If someone says, “I’m having a hard time recruiting qualified talent,” you could respond with, “I hear you. It’s a real concern for a lot of businesses right now. What have you been doing so far that you don’t feel is working?” This answer confirms that you’ve heard them and asks a follow-up question to get more information.
  • Ask clarifying questions to uncover other issues. The example above shows you how to flesh out a response for more information and gain a deeper understanding of how the details and the bigger picture are related. Asking follow-up or clarifying questions can often lead to other selling opportunities you may not have seen initially.
  • Repeat what you’ve heard: For example, you could say, “What I’m hearing is that you’re looking for ways to improve your hiring practices to attract more qualified applicants. Is that right?” This shows that you’ve heard what they’ve said and gives them a chance to confirm, deny, or elaborate, all things that keep the conversation going and help you get to the crux of an issue.

Empathy

This is a chance to walk in your customer’s shoes. It’s about understanding their situation, challenges, and emotions. When you approach sales interactions with empathy, you’re not just selling a product or service. You’re also providing a solution that validates and addresses their needs.

Here are three tips to help you connect with your customers on a deeper level:

  • Be curious: If you’re attending a networking event or a social gathering, try to engage someone you don’t know and see how much you can learn about them by the end of the conversation. Ask them about their experiences and listen to what they say. In sales, the more curious you are, the more you’ll be able to ask the right questions and get to the heart of a customer’s challenges so you can offer the right solutions.
  • Change your perspective: In sales, it’s not about you or what you sell. Making a sale means solving someone else’s problem. If you’re selling educational software, interview some educators to learn about their daily workflow, challenges, needs, and wishes. Tailoring your sales approach to address the specific pain points and aspirations of each customer makes your pitch more relevant and impactful. You can’t do this well without stepping into their shoes.
  • Look at personal biases: What’s important to your customers has to become important to you if you want to connect with them. For instance, if you know your customer values sustainability above all else, highlight your product’s positive environmental impact in your pitch. You may not personally care about sustainability, but saying that to a customer will not only show them you don’t care about their values, it will likely derail the deal. Know why something matters to your customer and try to frame your product in a way that supports their values.

These are both important to building rapport and trust with customers. Trust is the foundation of long-term business relationships. It can turn a one-time buyer into a loyal customer.

(Back to top)

Success story: How a professional with a non-sales background found success in sales

I’ve always believed that the key to excelling in sales is a combination of one’s personal and professional experience and their unique strengths. Let me explain.

I once coached a woman who came to sales from a job running educational programs for underrepresented minorities. Despite having no formal sales experience, her professional background and extensive network of contacts made her an asset to the team; she was gifted at listening, empathizing, and connecting.

She was hired as a business development manager for an educational startup, and I coached her for just 90 days before she assumed her role as a one-person department. In no time, she was driving multimillion-dollar revenues and was quickly promoted to head of sales.

Like others I’ve worked with, she excelled because she understood that her experience was her superpower. Whether you’re coming from a different industry or think your skill set is unrelated, there’s a place for you in sales.

It’s about growing three things: your industry knowledge, your network, and your skill set. This woman already had industry knowledge and a network. I helped coach her to use her skills in a way that made sense for selling for a startup, and she found success.

(Back to top)

Your life experience can make the best sales experience

Remember, sales is not just about selling a product or service. It’s also about solving problems, building relationships, and making connections. Some of the best salespeople I’ve ever worked with have come from other backgrounds. Regardless of your training or past work experience, if you can learn to build trust with your customers and provide the solutions they need, you can build a career in sales.

8 sales productivity pitfalls (and how to avoid them)

Get the Sales Productivity Workbook and avoid pitfalls like bloated tech stacks and approval bottlenecks.

Cherilynn Castleman, Managing Partner/Executive Coach, CGI Sales Coaching & Training, LLC
Cherilynn Castleman Managing Partner/Executive Coach, CGI Sales Coaching & Training, LLC

Cherilynn Castleman has helped Fortune 500 clients as a global sales executive for more than 20 years. Currently, she serves as managing partner/executive coach for CGI, a sales training and coaching firm; and chief learning officer of the National Association of Women Sales Professionals. She empowers women across the sales sector and prides herself on changing mindsets as well as instructing and inspiring others to action.

More by Cherilynn

Get the latest articles in your inbox.