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How to Get a Sales Job in a New Industry


It can be a sales professional’s worst nightmare. The company you've spent the last several years working for is closing up shop and it's time to move on to the next adventure. The problem is that jobs in that particular industry are hard to come by and none of the major players are hiring.

What kind of options do you have when you are facing the possibility of having to dig into your savings account just to survive? It may be time to move into a different industry and add a whole new chapter to your sales career.

Throughout my successful sales career, I have worked in industries such as:

  • health and life insurance sales
  • securities sales
  • demolition and environmental remediation sales
  • comprehensive computer technology sales
  • high-end computer storage sales
  • computer racks and data center organizational furniture sales

Some of those fields are related, some of them are not. As a sales professional, you learn quickly that you need to be versatile if you want to survive. You may get lucky and forge a successful career in a particular niche. But as for the rest of us, we need to learn how to sell products in a variety of industries.

The Realities of the Sales Profession

There are sales professionals who go to college for years to become experts in a particular field. Engineering sales professionals choose their particular discipline and spend years honing their craft. Sometimes a sales professional will develop his career path when he is very young and then spends years chasing that dream job.

The reality is that not every sales professional has the opportunity to carve out a career in a lucrative niche that they follow their entire careers. A real estate agent may be forced to abandon a successful history in commercial real estate sales because of a drop-off in business, and then find themselves selling pharmaceuticals just three months later.

How is that possible? How does a real estate agent become proficient enough at pharmaceuticals to make a living selling in that industry? If you accept the reality of the sales profession, which says that you will have to switch industries at least once in your career, then you can develop a sales career that is successful and portable.

What Makes a Great Sales Professional?

The most ambitious (a.k.a. greedy) sales professionals are the ones who want to be great at what they do. They wake up every morning wondering what they can do today to have their colleagues recognize them as the very best.  But that is not the motivation of great sales professionals.

Great sales professionals are not recognized with awards or praise from co-workers, they are recognized with large commission, bonus checks, and long careers. Do you intend to share your bonus check with your co-workers? No, you do not. That is why you need to learn that great sales professionals are not the best team players.

Great sales professionals are concerned with:

  • themselves
  • their customers
  • their company

Everything a great sales professional does is designed to either improve their sales method, or make customers happy. If the customers are happy, then the company the sales professional works for is also happy. 

As long as a you don't break company rules or try to undermine the company’s profitability, then the company is satisfied. Truly great sales professionals are able to balance the needs of the company with their own needs and produce results.

The Value of Your Sales Technique

In order to forge a successful sales career, you need to have a solid technique. The problem for many sales professionals is they get caught up in creating a technique that is based on the product they are selling. The reality is that your sales technique is more about your customer than the product. That is why you need to develop an approach that works on clients and allows your career to be portable.

Sales is an emotional process. Whenever you ask people to spend money, you are dealing in something with strong emotions. Your sales technique needs to center on being able to read the emotional response your clients give to your pitch and then learn to use that response to your advantage.

A valuable sales technique is one that has a clearly defined process and is always moving the customer towards closing the sale. Everything the sales professional does and says is an attempt to move the customer closer to signing a sales agreement. Look at it like you are making a clay vase on a spinning wheel. Everything that you do and say is another clump of clay you are adding to the vase. You use your technique to mold those lumps of clay into a vase and shape it. The finished vase is your closed sale.

If you want to see how valuable a sales approach can be, accompany a successful insurance salesman as he buys a new car. The insurance salesman knows nothing about selling cars, but he has an excellent sales technique that he uses to negotiate the deal he wants. A good sales technique is portable and allows you to be successful in any industry.

Creating a Versatile Knowledge Base

To be a great sales professional, you need to want to learn about anything that interests you. If you see a seminar on a topic that you find fascinating, then attend it and learn something new. Truly great sales professionals have broad knowledge bases that allow them to carry on conversations about many things.

This is not to say that you should only spend your time learning information about fields that you may wind up selling in, because that would be an inefficient way to spend your time. The point to a diverse knowledge base is that it allows you to carry on an intelligent conversation about many different topics. Since you have no idea where your sales career will take you, you should investigate the topics that truly interest you. Don’t limit your quest for knowledge. 

When you are interviewing for a job as a car sales professional after years of selling computers, the hiring manager knows that your car product knowledge may be limited. Your ability to talk about other topics with a level of authority shows that you can be trained to sell cars. In other words, if a former computer sales associate can spend time talking about home remodeling and have a command of the topic, then that sales associate can be trained to sell cars as well.

Customers Are Not Interested in Your Background

When you are standing in front of a customer trying to sell bathroom remodeling services, that customer does not care that you used to sell auto parts. The customer is only interested in getting the best possible deal on quality remodeling services. The narrow focus of customers is something that great sales professionals use to their advantage.

Whether you sell bricks or balloons, your customers are going to be human beings who all act on emotion. Throughout your sales career, you will have customers who are:

  • angry
  • frustrated
  • happy
  • sad
  • distracted
  • disinterested
  • enthusiastic

Each one of these customers needs to be treated differently. A great sales professional learns how to handle each customer and move those customers towards a sale. Your ability to handle these customers is a skill that can translate to any other industry you may choose to work in. Focus on your customer skills and you will be able to work for any company in the world.

Getting Into a New Industry

So why would a hiring manager hire a former car salesman to sell swimming pools? It all depends on how much attention you have paid to crafting an effective sales technique. The hiring manager has experience in talking to a variety of sales professionals and knows what to look for in a great sales associate.

When you have a solid sales technique, your confidence comes across in the interview. You are able to carry on conversations and answer the questions the hiring manager has with relevant and impressive answers.

As you move through the interview process, your product background becomes less and less important. Corporate executives can spot a successful sales professional from a mile away and those are the kinds of people that executives want generating revenue. It may help if you have a background in the product that the company sells, but it is definitely not a deal breaker.

When we started this discussion, we talked about sales professionals who spend years honing their craft and learning the products they will be selling. Even those kinds of sales professionals can move to different industries and find success. If the educational and professional backgrounds are there, then an aerospace sales professional can find success selling large power turbine equipment.

There are realistic boundaries that are almost impossible to cross. A sales professional who has sold call center software is probably not going to be able to sell big jets to airlines. But he absolutely can sell pharmaceuticals to doctors’ offices. As long as your expectations are realistic, then you can move from one industry to the other with relative ease.

It's All About Using Your Sales Skills to Sell Yourself

A great sales professional looks at every person in the interview process as a customer. If you can sell your services to a hiring manager, then you can sell just about anything. 

As you develop your career, always remember that you are the most important product you will ever sell. You should spend a lot of time boosting your brand name to improve your chances of getting a job outside of your current industry.

You should always take the time to network with a wide variety of professionals. If you can offer professional assistance to people in your network, then take that as an opportunity to showcase your skills. Work hard to have your name and positive reputation precede you into any interview situation. If the hiring manager or company executives have heard of you, then you improve your chances of getting a job in an industry that you have never been involved in.

Product Training

Throughout this discussion, we have talked about the importance of a versatile sales technique and broad knowledge base. The reason these are important is because any company will take the month or two necessary to teach you a new product, as long as you possess the skills to sell that product.

You can look at it like you are a car and the companies you are interviewing with are looking to customize you to make you fit their needs. Customizing a car that is falling apart and unable to run properly is a waste of time and money. But customizing a car that runs like a champ is worth the investment.

As long as you have that solid sales technique and show an ability to learn new products, you will always be able to move into a new industry. Confidence and experience not only impresses hiring managers, but also helps open new doors of opportunity throughout your career.

Remember That It's All About You and Not the Product

When the bottom falls out of the industry you are working in, then you can either panic or go get a job in a new industry. Sales professionals have the unique opportunity to move from one industry to the next based solely on the skills they possess. An auto mechanic will find it difficult to successfully move into the copier repair industry. But an auto parts sales professional should have no problem selling copiers for a living.

Work on your technique and improve yourself as a sales professional and you will have no problem sustaining your career in several different industries. A great sales professional loves a challenge, and moving from one industry to the next is just another challenge to conquer.


Graphic Credit: Factory icon designed by Paulo Volkova from the Noun Project.

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