Not many people — especially those with freshly minted MBAs on their résumé — decide to choose sales management as a career path, much less to enter the field at the bottom of the pack.
There are many reasons MBA-holders shun a career in sales management, but a few stand out. Next Frontier Capital’s Will Price, for example, has asked why more MBAs don’t go into sales, arguing that suggesting that MBAs view sales disparagingly and as something that is not ‘strategic’, when arguing that MBA programs ought to offer more course options in this area.
If you belong to the rare breed of job applicants who eagerly aim for sales management roles while carrying their MBAs, don’t just feel vindicated. Celebrate. After all, the point where MBAs and sales meet is also the same sweet spot where business and success go partying together.
Sales management is not easy by any stretch — even for those who do have a medley of acronyms after their names. Selling success actually requires strategic thinking behind every point of the sales process. Sales is a mixture of art and science. Selling demands keen intuition, empathy, technical skills, creativity and a lot of critical thinking, often at the lightning speed MBAs thrive on. Sales management needs strategic fundamentals, such as planning ahead and sticking to the game plan as much as possible.
Companies peg their success on their financial statements, which in turn, depend largely on their sales teams’ performance. This is why sales departments have been called ‘the lifeblood of business’ and why many CEOs are being drawn from its ranks. If you want to lead a company to success, a good roadmap to follow is to learn the skills of an MBA and gain the real-world experience of a sales rep.
Selling your MBA for bigger returns in sales roles
So how exactly do you leverage your MBA for a successful sales career and nab a worthy sales manager job?
1. Learn the ropes before taking the helm.
Sure, an MBA is meant to equip professionals with the skills required to run a business or one of its units. But it doesn’t automatically serve as a license to dislodge the current sales manager, nor to oblige the company to create a new lead position just because you think you’re entitled to one.
Unless you have the sales management experience or credentials to demand these sorts of conditions, it is much better to negotiate from a position of level-headedness and even humility.
While drive and ambition are great traits for any professional to have, it doesn’t mean you should browbeat a recruiter into hiring you just because you have an MBA – you’re not the only one.
Nor should you dismiss entry-level positions in sales without due consideration. According to Learn.org, your MBA can help you advance from a sales floor role to a sales manager position quickly, and Fortune 100 companies like IBM prefer to hire entry-level sales rep applicants with an MBA.
2. Clarify the connection between your strengths and the employer’s business needs and success.
An MBA already equips you with many relevant skills for success in a sales career. Management consultant Andrew Rudin outlines these skills in an article on Customer Think. MBA-driven skills such as accounting, business ethics, operations, marketing, strategic thinking, and leadership communication should bolster your chances of achieving success in the world of sales.
To get there, however, you need to first create a compelling narrative that clearly matches each specific skill you learned in your MBA program with the role requirements being posted by your prospective employer.
3. Align your MBA salary expectations with the job market.
So, you got an offer for a preferred sales position. Getting your preferred MBA salary is another matter entirely.
Understandably, MBA holders aim a bit higher than everyone else when it comes to compensation. After all, the considerable amount of time, effort and money required to complete an MBA program should translate to higher positions and fatter paychecks.
However, it is important to gather more information about the job, the industry, your geographical location and the employer before drawing up an acceptable MBA salary negotiation strategy. Otherwise, you run the risk of conveying a bloated sense of entitlement each time you invoke your MBA card.
4. Do a thorough background check on your prospective employer.
If you are eyeing an entry-level position, assess whether your employer has a track record of being open to negotiations. This is because entry-level salaries are often set in stone (read: non-negotiable, fixed-salary grade) for a given operational period, as Peter Vogt discusses on the Monster recruitment hub. Some companies place an automatic premium on MBAs as a salary increment, while others don’t. Leverage your MBA only if the employer is known for accommodating negotiations at this level.
5. View the bigger picture.
Your basic MBA salary only forms a part of your total compensation package, with bonuses and commissions pretty much standard in the field of sales. Also consider benefits such as stock options, free professional training, free food, tuition reimbursement, health insurance, retirement funds, and paid leave. Some companies might scrimp on basic pay but give generously when it comes to benefits.
6. Improvise your gameplay based on the cards you are holding.
There are many job hunting variables you can tap to tilt the odds in your favor in a sales career. For example, you can use a competing (and higher) MBA salary offer to request a compensation upgrade from the employer you prefer more. Be sure, though, that the offer from a competing recruiter is really higher and you’re not just making it up. You might also want to check the employer’s career advancement program to see whether your MBA skills can really get you up the ladder faster.
7. Approach your career in sales as a sales person
You can start by approaching the negotiation process as a sales pitch to a group of investors where the business idea is your value as a sales professional. Communicate that value to your prospective employer by discussing how each of your relevant MBA skills benefits sales targets and other organizational goals.
Steer the conversation in a way that conveys professionalism, a positive attitude, willingness to do your homework, and a strong commitment to helping your employer’s business succeed. Do this and most sales managers will be quick to welcome you on board.
The proof is in the pudding, so people say. If you’ve really earned your MBA, then demonstrating its value and your understanding of its core precepts shouldn’t take much effort.