17 Nov Interviewing for your first sales role
Great news! You have just been told that you have secured an interview for your first-ever sales role in the Life Science sector. But what now?
If you have never interviewed for a sales role before this article will help to point you in the right direction of how to prepare along with some hints and tips to give you an edge against the competition. But even if this interview is not your first, hopefully, this will help to make the difference this time around and refresh your knowledge.
Before your interview, you will need to start preparing! The more effort you put in now, the easier your interview will be and the greater your chance of success, even against experienced sales professionals. Hiring managers will be looking for that raw talent that they can mould. Given that trainee sales positions will involve comprehensive training, you will be taught how to sell. Better yet, you’ll receive training on how that specific company sells. What an employer cannot train as easily is the science behind their product, and no amount of training can mimic genuine enthusiasm and drive. Having just come out of academia is by no means a disadvantage… if you know how to present it as a strength.
A sales representatives’ greatest asset is their ability to build and maintain relationships with their clients – nurture relationships with a new client and you could see your companies turnover grow, along with your bonus! Maintaining a relationship with pre-existing clients and ensuring that you keep a steady stream of orders coming in will help make sure you hit the target at the end of each month, quarter and year. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a good salesperson, but you do have to know how to communicate effectively.
Sales, in general, can be a very lucrative career and doing so in a specialist market such as Life Science, is even more so. The Wall Street Journal reports that salespeople in speciality markets earn a median annual wage that is more than twice the median for all workers! But it is very much the more you put in the more you will get out.
Working in scientific sales is not what many think, it’s about technical problem-solving. Getting to know your clients, what they do and how you can make their life easier is the key to success. Don’t worry – the company you’ll be with will give you all the training you need. You only need to bring your science background and a real enthusiasm for the product, company and job. In the commercial science market, it’s all about scientists buying from other scientists. You’ll be assigned clear, achievable targets – so a job in sales involves a consistent emphasis on improving your craft. However how you meet your targets can vary from person to person; sales is a sector that truly relies on relationship building, and people are so different, you can really go forward and forge your own path. Additionally, sales cycles can vary from product to product: it takes a lot longer to sell more expensive or complex equipment or services, for instance, bench-top cell cytometers, than it would sell lab consumables, which also goes hand in hand with the approach you choose to take.
Sales is a target focused career, making it demanding, but with the potential of being very rewarding. Exceeding targets consistently doesn’t go unnoticed either, making career progression quite a straightforward process. Targets can, for the right people, really act as a motivating factor – it’s worth asking yourself before the interview if you’re that kind of person.
Standing out as a candidate
Since this is such a niche and technical sector, general reading around attending a sales interview will give you an idea of general sales, but there are a few bits of information about selling in science, which is a bit more difficult to find. In the science market, a lot of your customers will be people that work in a lab day-in, day-out – which makes the caricatured idea of a larger-than-life, pushy salesperson a rarer breed in this sector. You’ll become an expert in the products that make up your portfolio, and will soon be able to guide experienced researchers towards better, more reliable data – you really will have a vital place in the development and progression of the life sciences!
But you do have to keep in mind that an interview is your only real chance to make a case to your potential future employer that you’d do well in sales. This doesn’t mean to say that you need to go into the room and sell them the chair they’re sitting on, presentation in sales is important. You’ll be representing the company and so it is expected that you’ll be dressed formally and sensibly.
A firm (as opposed to crushing) handshake and a cheerful demeanour is hands down the best way to ensure the interviewer’s first impression of you isn’t a negative one. The old saying’s true – you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Don’t get stressed about this, however. Remember – they like you! They just want to make sure you come across as well as you do on paper, which you do! Go into your interview with curiosity and see it as less of an interrogation and more like a short conversation by two people assessing if they’d both like to go into business with each other. Being genuinely interested in the company’s culture, any potential changes to the sector and the growth projections of the company you’re considering working for gives you the chance to A) make sure you’d enjoy working with them and B) makes the interviewer see how seriously you’re considering the position and that you aren’t afraid to go the extra mile. A great thing to keep in your (figurative) back pocket is a list of questions to the interview yourself to ask your interviewer(s) – and make these questions ones that you genuinely want an answer to. A few business-minded questions would be especially impressive.
Sales roles in this sector often involve the payment of commission to reward each sale secured. Job descriptions often come with a basic salary and an additional figure: OTE, short for “on-target earnings”. This salary is what you can expect to take home if you were to perform as expected, although high-achievers often regularly exceed this estimate. Being interested in money, in the commercial scientific market at least, is not a bad thing! If asked in the interview whether money motivates you, be honest! If the answer is no, but you have other reasons to think you’d enjoy sales, that’s not a problem. But if the answer is yes, don’t be afraid to admit it! Assess why you’ve decided to apply for their job and make sure the interviewer knows the reason, whatever that reason may be.
Your conversation may well discuss your scientific background and your experience of their product. If you have an instance where you can remember using a product of theirs and you have something to say about it, say it! If you don’t have experience with their product yourself, why not contact people you know have used their products, and ask them for an appraisal – if fact, this is worth doing even if you have used the product yourself. Getting customer feedback and delivering it to your future employer will set you apart from other candidates. It’s also something that people already in sales do on a regular basis. It shows initiative and an interest in customer experience – vital qualities to demonstrate if you want a job in sales!
Finally, hands down the most important part of a sales interview is “closing” the interview. An interview is, inherently, a sales discussion. You’re selling the idea of you being their next new colleague. Any salesperson worth their salt will tell you that confirming, or “closing”, the sale is vital – it cuts out potential ambiguity in the situation and results in the discussion reaching a conclusion more quickly. In the case of sales, this results in a definitive commitment by the potential customer to purchase an item. In the case of an interview, asking questions like:
- “What are the next steps in the hiring process?”
- “Based on my research and what we’ve discussed today, I would be delighted to work for X. How soon do you envisage that you’ll be making an offer to the successful candidate?”
- “This discussion has made me even more excited about this job opportunity and I would love to be the person you hire. Is there anything else you need from me before you make a decision?”
These give the interviewer no choice but to commit to giving you an answer regarding your progression to the next stage of the interview and, hopefully, an offer. It might sound a little direct, but in sales, directness and a confident request for an open, honest discussion will be vital – and, statistically, it genuinely does increase the chance that you’ll be asked back significantly.
With preparation and genuine interest, a lack of experience in sales really doesn’t have to have a bearing on your success in an interview. Research your chosen sector and the company you’ll be interviewing with in-depth (including the science behind their technology and their main customer base) and have the confidence in yourself and your abilities to turn what could be a nerve-wracking prospect into a really pleasant one!
All that remains to be said is best of luck in your interview! You’ll be fantastic, I’m sure!