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Odysseys into sales: Navigating your path

November 16, 2021 - 14 min read


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What type of sales job is right for you?

Typical types of sales jobs

Choosing a career in sales

When you think about future-proof careers, you might not think about sales. The sales profession has changed — a lot — over the years. Yet, sales is a most fundamental transaction: connecting with another human, recognizing a need, and providing the solution.

When we make career decisions early on, we're usually dealing with imperfect information.

If you’re like me you may have never imagined a sales career as an option. Indeed, you may have even avoided sales roles that presented themselves to you — I know I did.

But, why? In my own experience the problem was twofold:

  1. Image: Overexposure to used-car salesmen, pesky telemarketers, and dogged door-to-door salespeople. In my mind, sales reps were cemented as high on brawn, but low on brains. I sold door-to-door as a kid so I respected the hustle, but this was the type of work I wanted to evolve from — not toward. 
  2. Ignorance: The image problem, admittedly, blinded me to the vast array of career paths and opportunities in sales. I didn't know the difference between inside sales and outside sales or stop to think about the difference between an account executive, a sales manager, and someone cold calling all day.

    I didn't consider sales as an option so I had no understanding of the variety of sales roles or the enriching experiences (both to the wallet and soul) they could impart. 

Had it not been for the nudging of a trusted friend I may have never overcome my prejudices and embarked upon my own sales odyssey. Several years, now, into my voyage, and I continue to be surprised by the array of intelligences (e.g. IQ, EQ, SQ, AQ) modern sales demands. And I am still delighted by the outsized impact I can make in my clients' and teammates' lives.

Making the switch to Sales was the best decision of my career.

If you are considering a career change, or just setting sail in your career for the first time, I’d encourage you to take a second look — at Sales.


What type of sales job is right for you?

To assist your navigation as a budding sales professional I’ve mapped out common roles within Sales including: 

  • a description of the role,
  • the critical mindsets and behaviors for success

Several useful axioms

As you review these roles, keep in mind these key assumptions:

  1. Ignore (or accept) the semantics. Sales role titles and sales-org structures tend to vary by company and industry. What I call it here might not be exactly what they call it at your current organization. Or, what your buddy calls it. Fortunately, a tremendous amount of overlap makes it possible to apply your understanding to new industries. Your job is to first look for the decoder ring.
  2. Every company is a tech company. The terminology and structure I use most directly relates to the SaaS technology space. Given the disproportionate amount of growth in the SaaS tech space, it also has a disproportionate amount of opportunity.  A growing industry is a great place to begin your exploration. 
  3. Alignment makes the journey better. Before you start down the path on a sales role, ask yourself this important question: “Do I personally connect to the product or service?” Anything short of a resounding yes is a sign you should reconsider the role. Ambivalence or inauthenticity will be obvious to today’s buyers. It will limit your ability to make a lasting impact. Retention issues often spring from skipping past this question.

When considering this path, look for the types of roles that best fit your strengths and aspirations. But, also realize that the sales profession can offer a full, robust career path. You may not be doing everything you want to at the beginning, and you can grow into the expertise and skills you'll need later.

Ok, with that said let's move on to the roles.

Typical types of sales jobs

Business Development Representative (BDR)

(Also known as Sales Development Representatives or SDRs)

The Role:

BDRs are the foundation of a strong sales organization. These roles are generally entry-level. However, they provide an amazing starting point for anyone looking to enter Sales with little direct experience.

It's worth noting that BDR roles provide an attractive average salary relative to other entry-level posts of similar years of experience.

BDRs are tasked with making contact between the sales organization and the potential customers. They may spend a large part of the day cold-calling. That can be tough if they are drawn to sales for the face-to-face interaction.  

Success for the BDR is ultimately measured in the quantity and quality of first meetings set for the sales organization. How the BDR sets these meetings depends on whether they are designated as “inbound” or “outbound.” It also depends on whether they are supporting the pursuit of new clients or the expansion of existing client relationships.

The chart below illustrates how BDRs may focus their efforts based upon these designations.


Often BDRs will begin in Quadrant I or II. Over time, they migrate to outbound activities as represented in Quadrant III or IV.

Throughout that journey, BDRs are building and mastering their tools and skill sets. They become proficient, and then expert, with tools like Salesforce, Outreach, and LinkedIn to make prospecting more efficient and effective. They hone their communication skills.

Every day, BDRs are deepening their understanding of buyer personas. They are becoming more skilled at articulating their company’s value propositions. And they are growing in the mindsets and behaviors needed to sustain a career as a sales professional.

Critical mindsets and behaviors for BDRs:

  • Self-compassion. You will mess up. Some days you will be on top of the world. Some days you disappoint yourself. You're playing a long game so be kind.
  • Emotional regulation. The sales process can be frustrating. People can be rude or unpleasant. Managers can be demanding. Victory can evaporate in the 11th hour. You have to keep an even keel and a firm sense of direction.
  • Cognitive agility. The prospect, and your information, change constantly. You have to think on your feet and adapt your sales strategy. Most days you are doing improv -- if you do it well, you keep the conversation going.
  • Resilience. In the end, all salespeople must be productive. They have to attain their goal (aka quota). The dilemma is that learning to be productive as a seller and honing the skills that drive attainment take time. To survive the inherent ebb and flow of sales and avoid washing out, sellers need a strong foundation. There are many moments of setback when you have to tap into your well of resilience. 

The laying of this foundation begins at the BDR level.

What are the ingredients for becoming more resilient? Here, BetterUp’s data can help. A study of 13,500 BetterUp members performed during the summer of 2021 demonstrates that Self-Compassion, Emotional Regulation, and Cognitive Agility are the most influential factors in driving resilience.

These empirical findings align with my own anecdotal experience. In partnering closely with numerous BDRs, the most successful dampened their emotional reactions. Instead, they looked to learn as their environment continually changed.


Account Executive (AE) / Account Manager (AM)

The Role:

Perhaps the most defining element of this role lies in the deal made between the representative and their employer.

The deal: the representative generates a set amount of annual revenue (sales quota) for the employer. In exchange, the AE receives handsome compensation plus a high degree of autonomy in their work. Compensation is usually split between a base salary and commissions. Commissions are paid if, and when, sales are completed. How much of total compensation derives from salary versus commission often depends on how a sales representative is categorized.

Generally, individual sales representatives fall into two categories. Those who: 

  • Drive sales from new clients (Account Executives or AEs)
  • Renew and grow sales from existing clients (Account Managers or AMs) 

AEs and AMs are further categorized based upon the size and complexity of their clients. Titles vary across organizations. In general, however, as a representative increases in experience and skill, they are paired with increasingly large and complex clients.


Ultimately, AEs and AMs are responsible for their sales quota. Hence, they engage in any number of activities necessary to satisfy prospects or clients and close sales.

In most organizations these activities include:

  • Outreach to potential buyers 
  • Facilitating discovery conversations
  • Qualifying potential opportunities
  • Delivering demos and presentations 
  • Crafting financial and value proposals 
  • Negotiating and driving contracts to execution 

Nearly all sellers will spend a significant amount of time on the activities listed above. It's not uncommon, however, for representatives to “moonlight” as BDRs or as customer support. Since AEs and AMs are on the hook for their sales quota, at the end of the day they must fill whatever gaps necessary to close the deal.  

Critical mindsets and behaviors:

  • Strategic planning 
  • Focus 

As described in the BDR profile, all sellers require a deep reservoir of behaviors that underpin resilience. They have to develop and practice Self Compassion, Emotional Regulation, and Cognitive Agility. On top of this foundation, AEs and AMs must develop deep knowledge of their offering, and hone the ability to share that knowledge with clients. These critical skills are table stakes.

Great AEs and AMs take their craft to the next level through careful strategic planning and focus. Excellent sellers begin with their end objective in mind (usually the close of a sale). Then they strategize. They reverse engineer the series of events necessary to achieve their end.

Once identified the seller begins taking actions to make these events reality. They also start identifying and mitigating any risks. Throughout this process, sellers face distractions. They are bombarded with invitations to invest their time in low-value activities. Hence, equally important to the ability to craft a strategy and plan a course to goal, sellers must also exercise a high degree of focus. They have to be ruthless in prioritizing and staying on plan.    


Regional Vice Presidents (RVP) / Area Vice President (AVP)

We are now entering the impingement zone.

RVPs and AVPs are charged with the overall sales performance of a component of a company’s business (often split by region).  The structure of teams varies from company to company. Some RVPs may lead individual contributor (IC) sellers and leaders of small teams of sellers. Ultimately, though, they act as frontline management for the salesforce. In this capacity, RVPs and AVPs sit at the crux of the organization. Nearly every company effort, policy, or initiative goes to sellers through these managers. Whether these managers are good or bad, effective or not at their job, their performance will have a ripple effect throughout the organization.

In terms of duties, RVPs and AVPs own their regions. They are charged with a broad range of duties that commonly include:

  • Recruiting, hiring, and firing of sales representatives 
  • Ongoing coaching and development of their sales teams 
  • Building and disseminating regional sales forecasts
  • Administering deal reviews 
  • Assisting sellers with high-value presentations and proposals 
  • Collaborating with the business on any initiatives or efforts impacting sellers 

The summation of these leaders' efforts creates alignment between the direction of the overall business and their sellers in the field.

Critical Mindsets and Behaviors: 

  • Alignment 
  • Relationship Building 

These sales managers have a big job. It requires a diverse set of mindsets and behaviors to support not only their individual performance but also that of their teams. They start with the same foundation of mindsets and behaviors that support the resilience (Self Compassion, Emotional Regulation, Cognitive Agility)and effectiveness of individual sellers (Focus, Strategic Planning). But sales managers must also hone Alignment and Relationship-Building to support the success of their teams.

Relationship-building enables leaders to cultivate a space of trust where their teams can communicate openly and honestly with one another. This clear communication enables clarity of goals and objectives and gives the team space for feedback, practice, and growth.

Choosing a career in sales

The three sales job categories presented above are just a sampling of the ample opportunities offered by the sales world. Most sales organizations are supported by a small army of different types of sales jobs: sales engineers, sales enablement, revenue managers, not to mention marketing. Even without venturing into sales-adjacent roles such as Customer Success Management, Solution Consulting, and more, you hopefully have a greater appreciation for sales roles and opportunities. 

The great thing about choosing a career in sales is a promised progression and a versatile job. You have many options to choose a sales position that best matches your skills. Sales offers rewarding roles that draw upon an array of intelligences and stimulate growth and development. You can have a uniquely outsized impact in these rewarding roles.

At BetterUp we believe that while tools, training, and incentives are important elements for the field, companies must also prioritize investment in the mindsets and behaviors that impact sales performance for individual contributors and sales team leaders. Learn how BetterUp’s Sale Performance Coaching can empower your sales leaders and teams.

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Published November 16, 2021

Jeremy Landrum

Senior Enterprise Account Executive

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