Sales titles: understanding the sales career path

Posted March 8, 2022

By Serena Miller

Editor, Sales Best Practices at Outreach

For burgeoning reps and veteran salespeople alike, understanding the various types of sales roles, which personality types thrive in each, and whether or not they might be the perfect fit for a particular job can be tricky. There are many factors at play including experience, skill sets, potential growth opportunities, and more that reps must consider as they look to begin or advance their careers.

Sales leaders and managers, too, should have a full grasp on the most essential qualities and responsibilities of each sales role. Using this knowledge, managers can properly identify the right rep for the right job, develop a strong team, and encourage and support each team members professional growth.

Whether youre trying to build out a sales team or looking to break into (or advance your career in) the sales industry, understanding some common roles and the sales career path can help you succeed. Here, well take a deep dive into the most essential qualities of an effective salesperson, how to identify a good sales job, and different sales roles and responsibilities.

Qualities of Successful Salespeople

While each salesperson brings a unique perspective and set of experiences to the table, there are some common underlying qualities found in the most successful reps, including:

  • Curiosity - The sales industry is not static. While nearly any person can learn the ins and outs of a sales job and acquire the necessary skills to perform at a mediocre level, it’s a person’s curiosity that truly sets them apart as an excellent salesperson. Processes, technologies, competitors, customers, and goals constantly change; and mastering the skills to keep up with that change requires a thirst for new knowledge and a joy for learning new techniques. Remember: acquisition is different from learning. Those that simply accept new information aren’t as successful in sales as those who curiously pursue knowledge.
  • Drive - Motivating a sales team can be a challenging feat. Reps commonly face objections, struggle to close a particularly complex deal, or fail to reach their quotas due to external circumstances out of their control. A good salesperson, though, finds inspiration in their own enthusiasm and competitive nature. Even during the tough times, they can maintain their drive to succeed — without needing a manager’s constant encouragement. This is an especially vital quality for reps who work in a remote environment, as remaining upbeat with less day-to-day management requires self-motivation and drive.
  • Empathy - Effectively selling in today’s socio-political environment requires a customer-centric mindset; one that takes into account different perspectives, pain points, and experiences. Successful reps rely on much more than an outgoing personality or sociability. They focus on each individual buyer and listen, negotiate, and discuss with high levels of empathy.
  • Accountability - No one is perfect, and sales reps are no exception. Those best suited for a sales role can always take full accountability, whether things go right or wrong. They learn from their successes and failures and can own up to their actions rather than skirting the responsibility to their colleagues, managers, or customers. They know that every deal is part of the larger learning process and can transform their mistakes into future wins.
  • Optimism - Sales is not a job for the faint of heart. Effective sellers take a glass-half-full approach and understand that their positive energy is crucial for building strong customer relationships and closing more deals. They focus on what’s working, strive for progress instead of perfection, and pass their positivity on to peers and prospects. When reps have an optimistic outlook on the product they’re selling and the customer journey as a whole, buyers pick up on that attitude and feel good about engaging with that rep.
  • Passion - Salespeople should have a passion for the product they’re selling, or — at the very least — a passion for the art of making a sale. To attain success in the sales industry, a rep needs to enjoy what they do, even during the trying times. Lack of passion leads to higher rates of employee turnover, as those who don’t have an affinity for the craft struggle to maintain their ambition.

Individuals looking to break into the sales world should first evaluate their personalities and preferences against the qualities listed above. Its important to be honest with yourself and understand that a sales role isn't the right fit for everyone. Sure, you might be able to land a job as a sales rep even if you lack those essential traits, but in order to achieve professional success (and remain truly satisfied and engaged), you should naturally embody those key characteristics. If not, you risk wasting your time and energy in a role for which you're not properly suited.

Sales leaders and managers should also take a close look at these crucial qualities as they consider potential candidates for their team. They'll help managers identify people who are more likely to consistently perform at a high level, own their own career development, and represent company values without excessive management.

And while personality is certainly important, the actual job conditions are truly essential for rep retention and growth. Proper support, continuous coaching and training, and valuable feedback are all necessary for sales professionals to succeed and have a long, fulfilling career.

Qualities of a Good Sales Job

So you've decided you have what it takes to pursue a sales career: Now what? As you look for a sales role in which you can thrive, make sure you assess the opportunity against the key qualities of a good job and organization, such as:

  • Room for growth - If you’re a true salesperson at heart, you likely won’t be satisfied in the long-term in a stagnant position that doesn’t offer opportunities for further growth. Look for a sales job that enables you to become an expert in the field and hone your skills for future advancement. It can also be helpful to research and consider different types of sales roles (business development rep vs. outside sales rep) as they relate to the current and ever-changing landscape. Remember: As the sales industry changes (based on a growing global marketplace, technology innovations, increasing customer expectations, etc.), so does the need for each type of role. Look for a job that likely won’t become obsolete as these factors continue to change.
  • Resources for development - Most of us have experienced working for a company that doesn’t support our professional development. It’s a frustrating, discouraging situation, especially for greener reps who need resources to fine-tune their craft and work their way up the career ladder. A good sales job is one that’s part of a supportive organization — in which leaders and managers have a vested interest in their reps’ development. Make sure the company you choose provides you with resources and experiences that help you grow. This might include new-hire education, mentor programs, enablement around products, and valuable, up-to-date content.
  • Industry - B2B sales is an entirely different ball game than B2C sales. Even within the B2B sales model umbrella, there are several different types of sales organizations. Some provide professional services, others provide digital/software services, and others, still, produce and distribute raw materials to manufacturing companies. Before you apply for or accept a sales role, take the time to research how the role fits into that particular organization and its sales process. Review the typical career path, responsibilities, and expectations of someone in that role and make sure they align with your own preferences and goals before you commit.
  • Compensation and benefits - Another huge consideration as you evaluate sales jobs is how and when you’ll get paid. Does the company operate on a commission-only basis (i.e. your salary is completely dependent on your performance) or offer zero-commission salaries (i.e. your performance has no impact on your compensation). Does it provide a base-pay salary with a certain commission percentage structure? There is a wide range of compensation models within the sales industry, so make sure the job you’re after offers one that aligns with your needs. Some sales organizations also incentivize sales reps with bonuses, which might be tied to accomplishments other than revenue. Don’t forget to look into the business’s employee benefits, too, including life insurance, medical insurance, retirement plans, and disability insurance.
  • Company values - As a salesperson, you work for a company that engages with customers throughout their lifecycle. It’s important that the ways in which your organization interacts with its customers reflect your own core values. A business’s values are the foundation for its culture and what sets it apart from other companies. Look for a sales job within a company that values transparency, invests in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and demonstrates its dedication to understanding and resolving social issues.
  • Tools - There are myriad sales tools out there that companies leverage to make their reps’ jobs easier. But just because the company you’re interviewing at has invested in every shiny new piece of sales tech it’s come across doesn’t mean they’ve properly set their reps up for success. Look for a company that strategically implements sales tools that are built with salespeople in mind. Are the tools they provide their teams with user-friendly, centralized, and intelligent enough to automate productivity-hindering tasks? The tools you’ll use on the job shouldn’t be an afterthought, but instead a crucial element that helps you evaluate your potential employers.

The qualities of a good sales job aren't only vital for candidates to understand, but also for managers to measure their own practices and capabilities against. Leaders and managers should take a competitive approach to building their teams, as failure to do so will send highly-skilled, promising individuals into the arms of better-prepared competitors.

Managers should implement key strategies to empower their workers and attract new talent to their organization. Since nearly 80% of workers want to work for a company that values DEI, sales managers should prioritize these high-value initiatives or risk losing top talent and, ultimately, bigger deals. They should work to understand the pain points of their team members and build the business case for investing in technologies that solve them. Since 70% of employees say that being empowered to succeed is a critical part of their engagement, setting them up with the right tools is absolutely essential.

Its important to develop and foster an environment where people want to work and succeed, so managers should take stock of their current sales team management strategy and make adjustments, where needed. By tweaking their strategy to better incentivize reps, increase transparency, offer ongoing coaching and development, and empower reps with powerful tools, managers can ensure the sales jobs on their team are worth committing to.

Different Sales Titles

There are many different types of roles and career pathways within the sales industry. Each comes with different responsibilities, requirements, and growth opportunities. Some common sales jobs at each level include:

Entry-level sales positions

Individuals just breaking into the sales world will likely need to start in an entry-level position. These are important roles that support the sales operation as a whole.

Outside sales rep

Outside sales reps usually work outside of the traditional office setting, as they frequently meet with prospects or clients and present at events. They most commonly make sales during or shortly after personal meetings with clients, so they must be highly adept at building strong customer relationships. Because they generally interact in-person with clients, outside sales professionals need in-depth product knowledge (which can be leveraged in real time) and advanced communication skills.

To confidently interact with their customers - who are often top-level executives - outside sales reps need high levels of emotional intelligence, empathy, and business insight. Because they typically meet at the whim of clients, they should be flexible and open to sudden schedule changes and be prepared to travel, deliver speeches, or make convincing presentations on-the-fly. A successful outside sales rep is self-motivated and can easily manage their own time while remaining productive and efficient.

Its important to note that outside sales roles are becoming less prevalent in the sales world, as operations shift to remote environments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While there isn't a hard-and-fast number for years of required experience to become an outside salesperson, organizations generally hire candidates who do have some knowledge of selling fundamentals. Outside sales reps can usually move up the professional totem pole relatively quickly, as they spend their time establishing customer relationships and building rapport; which are both vital for advancing any sales career.

Inside sales rep

Inside sales reps interact with clients remotely, via cold calling, emailing, and video conferencing. They often close deals without ever having met a client in person, and thus must be skilled in using their CRM system, following the sales process, and leveraging social media. They spend a majority of their day researching, making phone calls, sending emails, and completing administrative tasks (e.g. managing the pipeline or updating account information in their CRM system). Inside sales professionals must efficiently and effectively prospect, build client trust, get customers to commit to demos, and close deals.

Because inside salespeople use well-established playbooks and sequences, they typically have stable, predictable schedules. They use various tools to inform their conversations with customers, streamline their workflows, and boost their performance, so they must be adept at using technology. Since they're usually more focused on reaching a large quantity of prospects, inside sales reps should feel comfortable in a fast-paced selling environment.

Taking into account the long history of sales as a practice, the inside sales rep role is relatively new. It emerged thanks to the introduction of remote selling by way of the internet and phones and more recently sales technologies, like CRM systems, marketing automation tools, and sales engagement platforms. As more and more companies shift to a remote selling approach, well likely see more opportunities for inside sales reps. People in this role will have a leg up on their outside sales counterparts; as they'll already be accustomed to building customer relationships and closing deals without relying on face-to-face interactions.

Mid-level sales positions

Sales professionals who have some level of experience and expertise in the field dont typically spend their entire careers in entry-level rep positions, of course. Instead, they use their knowledge to advance to mid-level sales positions.

Account manager

Once a sales rep closes an initial deal, an account manager takes the lead. They focus on building deeper relationships with each customer theyre assigned to better understand the clients pain points, needs, and objectives. They work alongside the customer to create a strategy and determine how best to use their product within their specific use case. The account manager acts as the point-of-contact for each of their customers to answer questions and address concerns along the way.

Account managers primarily focus on retaining, engaging, and satisfying their clients. They also seek to identify additional revenue streams, like cross- and up-sell opportunities. Thus, its a great role for sales reps to work towards, since it requires an in-depth knowledge of the product and a deep relationship with customers.

Regional sales manager

Regional sales managers are responsible for managing sales development reps, inside and/or outside sales reps, and, in some cases, account managers. They work with each of these team members to develop goals, sales quotas, organize sales training, and provide feedback. Regional sales managers also frequently handle hiring, firing, and recruiting employees.

Because this role is so focused on managing other team members and coordinating a fair amount of sales operations, it requires some experience. Regional sales managers generally have three-to-five years of sales experience under their belts, and often have prior leadership or management expertise, as well. They need an eye for hiring the right people, a deep understanding of analyzing team performance, and the skills for motivating their teams to operate efficiently.

Sales Operations Manager

Sales operations teams are an essential part of an organizations success and the sales operations manager is the crux of this team. They have a direct hand in every part of the sales process, as their overall goal is to increase the sales teams effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.

The role can vary from one company to the next, but sales operations managers oversee:

  • Process development and reinforcement
  • Strategic planning
  • Setting up and managing the CRM system
  • Sales training

A sales operation managers primary focus is to align the sales teams efforts and objectives to ensure a unified, consistent customer experience. This individual must be highly communicative to align team members with their overall strategy and should be data- and metrics-driven to make meaningful use of insights. They should always stay ahead of rapidly changing business and technology environments to ensure their processes and tools are as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

Because the success of someone in this role is so dependent on their ability to think strategically and analyze key metrics, a strong sales operations management candidate should be technology and data literate and have experience transforming data into decisions. They need a deep understanding of the sales process, significant experience with sales enablement and engagement, and a thirst for continuous improvement.

Sales Development rep (SDR)

SDRs play a critical role on any sales team. Sometimes referred to as business development reps (BDRs), these team members are highly focused on the initial stages of the sales process. They research, prospect, and qualify leads and, in some cases, initiate contact with prospective buyers.

While SDRs don't traditionally carry out and close the deal, they are responsible for finding the best possible leads via cold calls and emails. They pass these qualified leads to sales reps for demos and sales meetings and use their excellent communication skills to weed out prospects who might otherwise waste reps time.

Successful SDRs are comfortable reaching out to prospects and have a thorough understanding of what qualifies them as strong potential buyers. Many individuals looking to break into the sales world start out as SDRs, since the role provides first-hand experience speaking with customers and developing product and company knowledge.

Account Executive (AE)

Many sales development representatives shift into an account executive role within the first one or two years on the job. Account executives are responsible for running demos, conducting compelling presentations, identifying and resolving purchasing challenges, developing value propositions, and negotiating buying terms.

This role is a clear next-step for SDRs who demonstrate strong relationship-building skills. Effective AEs spend the majority of the day speaking with customers, fostering trust, and instilling confidence in potential buyers. It's a stressful job if the individual doesnt have an optimistic attitude or a penchant for overcoming obstacles; but its often a high-stakes, high-reward job that suits resilient salespeople like a glove.

Sales Engineer

Sales engineers are like the technical wizards of a sales team. They combine their business expertise with their tech skills to address in-depth product questions, identify customers technical needs, accurately communicate those needs with engineering or product teams, and develop demos.

The need for individuals in this role is on the rise, as the required skills and expertise are somewhat rare to find in a candidate. Strong technical knowledge alone isnt enough for a sales engineer to succeed: They must also be effective communicators and possess interpersonal savvy. They spend a lot of their time in front of customers and should have a great deal of experience in traveling to client sites, presenting technical information in an easy-to-digest manner, and answering complex product questions in real time.

Most organizations require their sales engineers to have at least five years of experience in a related field, as well as a B.S. in computer science or a B.A. in engineering.

Exec-level sales positions

While still highly involved in the overall sales process, sales executives are frequently more focused on higher-level objectives and initiatives. They're extremely experienced sales professionals who have built up their knowledge and expertise over time.

Director of Sales

The director of sales works closely with sales managers to develop objectives, craft a sales strategy, forecast and create quotas, maintain sales volume, and hire top-notch team members. This role generally falls directly under the VP of sales and is responsible for presenting sales strategies and performance to the rest of the sales organization.

In addition to being held accountable for overall sales performance, the director of sales manages budget, people, recruitment, and business development efforts. Its a great deal of responsibility and requires a whole lot of leadership experience. Individuals in this role should demonstrate previous growth and performance in a prior sales manager role all while expressing the desire to take on more work. They should be solutions-oriented and be able to accurately identify and resolve issues in the sales process, inefficiencies in workflows, and opportunities for improvement.

VP of Sales

The vice president of sales is an organizations go-to person for identifying and achieving areas for strategic growth. They know how to quickly determine hiring needs that will boost overall team performance, recruit and attract top talent, and find new markets for expansion.

Scalable growth is the primary focus for the VP of sales, and developing the skills required for success generally takes at least ten years of experience. Individuals in this role are usually previous directors or managers who demonstrate high levels of growth and success. They need exceptional communication skills, a deep understanding of how performance data translates to strategy, and an appetite for scaling the business.

Chief Sales Officer

Chief sales officers are most frequently found in enterprise-level organizations. They supervise sales strategies, ensure those strategies are effectively carried out, and drive revenue for the company as a whole.

Because they report directly to the CEO and act as the expert in all things sales-related, the chief sales officer typically has decades of sales experience in their pocket. They've generally advanced from manager, to director, to VP and are ready for a new challenge.

Sales-adjacent roles

In addition to the more common roles along a sales career path, there are also a few additional jobs that sales reps and managers might pivot into throughout their professional journey, including: 

  • Customer success/support - The customer success or support team generally consists of technical experts that help address customers’ post-sale technical needs. These individuals are able to recognize patterns, elevate product needs, identify process improvements, and work directly with customers to help them resolve issues.
  • Solutions/value consulting - The professional services and education team works with clients at every step of their journey to transform processes, innovate sales, drive change, and understand and adopt the product. They provide a simple, standardized, and predictable approach to implementation that includes best practices for optimal success.
  • Marketing - Marketing teams focus on bringing in new prospects, developing valuable sales collateral, and supporting the sales engine to close more deals. They craft target messages to better reach customers and identify which actions lead to the best results.
  • Revenue Operations - A revenue operations (RevOps) team maximizes revenue by ensuring all information, insights, and trends are aligned with their organization’s goals and strategies. They drive efficiency in all departments (not just sales) to boost revenue growth.
  • Sales Enablement - Individuals on the sales enablement team are responsible for designing, implementing, and evaluating a world-class, role-specific onboarding program to attract top talent and decrease ramp time.

Sales Career Resources

If youre looking to start your career in the sales industry, build upon your current skills for a more advanced role, or develop a best-in-class sales team thats empowered to succeed, we have the resources to help. Heres a list of tools that can guide you in your efforts to:

Build a strong sales team
Ace an interview
Plan your personal sales career goals

Successful Sales Starts with Outreach

Its absolutely vital for sales managers, leaders, and individuals considering a career in sales to understand the roles and responsibilities that make a sales team thrive. With a clear picture of how each individual on a sales team contributes to its overall success, managers can build a more effective team and reps can plan their professional path.

Regardless of your role or function within the sales team, you need powerful tools for support. Outreachs Sales Execution Platform helps sales teams execute at their full potential, so they can win more deals with less effort and deliver a better customer experience.

Want to learn more? Check out our series on what sales managers need to succeed in 2022, or request a demo to discover out how Outreach can improve your team's sales execution. 


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