If you’re thinking about a career in sales, you may have found the job titles and descriptions in the industry somewhat inscrutable. What does an account manager or a business development representative do? Do all salespeople spend hours on the phone every day? How can you get a job in sales? Adding to the confusion of nebulous job titles and specs, sales jobs vary immensely between teams, companies, and industries. In sales teams large enough to allow for role specialization, the distinctions between different types of sales jobs are usually clear-cut and the career trajectory is well-defined. In other sales teams, especially in young tech companies, salespeople frequently juggle different tasks and may well take on a range of responsibility, even if they’re new to sales. Moreover, it’s not uncommon for some salespeople to get involved on the product side of things or pitch in with customer service. Graduates from our full-time sales course, for instance, secure a wide range of roles, many of which are not entry-level.
If you want to know what to expect from different sales jobs, this post will help you understand the industry jargon and prepare for the sales interview (Note: This is a general overview—titles and job functions will differ from company to company).
What are the different types of sales jobs?
Business Development Representative
Similar titles: Sales development representative
Business development representative (BDR) is a role you’re likely to find in companies which have a scalable product. The main responsibility of a BDR is to qualify leads—in other words, to determine if a prospect is likely to become a paying client. A BDR finds prospective customers, answers inbound customer inquiries, and qualifies leads via cold outreach (calls and emails to prospective clients). BDRs usually don’t close business; rather, they set up demos, meetings or sales calls for the inside or outside sales rep or their team leader.
Key skills: It’s not uncommon for business development reps to make 50+ phone calls a day, so being able to communicate clearly and confidently on the phone is a huge asset. BDRs often face rejection when they reach out to prospects with cold calls or emails, which is why resilience is a must.
How to prepare for the interview: Before the interview, read up on prospecting skills, familiarize yourself with CRM software and be prepared to make a mock cold call during the interview itself. Impress your interviewer by showing that you’re able to state the product’s value proposition briefly and clearly.
2. Inside Sales Rep
Similar titles: Sales executive
“Inside sales rep” is a descriptive term: this type of salesperson works “inside” the company office. On sales teams with both BDRs and inside sales reps, inside sales reps attend the meetings, organize the demos, and attempt to close the qualified leads that BDRs pass to them. On some sales teams, a sales executive is the typical jack-of-all-trades in charge of the full sales cycle—from lead generation and prospecting to closing deals and nurturing long relationships with clients. Learn more about working as a sales executive in this interview with Startup Institute alumnus Charles Chuman.
Key skills: Inside sales reps should approach prospecting with creativity, closing with focus, and building a pipeline with attention to detail. Inside sales reps who enjoy and excel at their work believe in the solution their product provides and are hungry to make an impact.
How to prepare for the interview: Do your homework. Make sure you’re able to describe the product succinctly, name a few competitors, understand the target market, and identify the decision-makers in the buying process. In case you need to make a mock cold call during the interview, prepare insightful questions you would ask prospects in order to pinpoint their pain points, compile a list of possible objections and make sure you have strategies in place for handling them. Have a few online resources in your back pocket that you consult to stay up-to-date with your target market.
3. Outside Sales Rep
Similar titles: Account executive, Field sales rep
In lots of companies, there isn’t a distinction between inside and outside sales. On sales teams in which “outside sales rep” is a separate role, this job title is similarly descriptive—outside sales reps rarely work from the company office. Instead, they travel to meet with potential clients, work with customers on-site, and spend time building relationships in social settings.
Outside sales reps can expect long sales cycles, multiple decision-makers in the buying process, and long-term relationships. In some companies, outside sales reps focus on enterprise or complex sales—i.e. large contracts. They can be among the highest earners in a company.
Key skills: These professionals have a similar skill set to that of inside sales reps. In order to thrive in this role, you should be energized rather than depleted by the in-person meetings, travel (which can often be less-than-glamorous), and sales cycles which often span several months.
How to prepare for the interview: Follow the interview prep tips for inside sales and make sure you can convince your interviewer that you’re comfortable with a lot of travel. If you’re being interviewed for a senior role, you’ll need to demonstrate your understanding of the industry and propose interesting strategies to find new accounts.
4. Account manager
Similar titles: Customer success manager, Account rep
The account manager on a sales team is focused on keeping existing customers happy. Once a client signs a contract with a sales rep, account managers become their main point-of-contact with the company. Their responsibilities include answering questions, finding solutions to problems, and addressing existing customers’ concerns. This may not sound a lot like a sales job, but account reps are salespeople—they're expected to seize new opportunities to offer customers additional products and services, as well as help meet the revenue targets of the sales team.
Key skills: Hiring managers look for account reps who can display a commitment to client service, the ability to nurture deep relationships, resourcefulness, and fantastic problem-solving skills.
How to prepare for the interview: Do the same research as in the recommended interview prep for inside sales. Next, familiarize yourself with the company’s products. Your interviewer is likely to ask you to say how you would go about up-selling or cross-selling additional products to existing clients, so make sure you have some smart suggestions up your sleeve, as well as robust strategies to handle objection. Check that you can give examples of instances when you were able to navigate a high-pressure situation with a customer, hit a sales target and suggest new strategies for revenue generation. Finally, prepare to walk your interviewer through some of your best tactics for avoiding misunderstandings.
5. Business Development Director*
Similar titles: Business development manager
*Despite the similarity in names, this role is not to be confused with the BDR described above.
Over the past few years, some companies have stopped referring to salespeople as “sales reps” and have replaced the term with “business development," believing that it’s a less “salesy” word. Unfortunately, this has only made an already vague term even more confusing.
Director of business development (when used correctly) is not, strictly speaking, a sales position—at least not in the transactional sense. In companies where business development manager is a separate role, the BDM doesn’t sell the company products or services to other businesses or end customers. Rather, he or she creates win-win partnerships with other organizations. It’s a strategic role in which the business development manager seeks out companies that might be a good fit for a long-term partnership. On a day-to-day basis, this involves in-person meetings, long sales cycles, and working in different industries. This role is tied to numbers and revenue and needs to be aligned with the overarching strategy of the marketing and sales teams. Find out more about working as a director of business development in this interview with Startup Institute alumnus and instructor Jeffrey Spetter.
Key skills: Biz dev requires a similar skill set to that of account executives, but this role is more strategic and connected to long-term vision and new verticals than the typical sales position. Here, the focus is on nurturing deep relationships with partnering companies, understanding the company strategy, and planning ahead.
How to prepare for the interview: Demonstrate your knowledge of the industry, persuasion skills, and confidence. Prepare some ideas for new partnerships and strategies to approach them. Make sure that you're able to discuss instances in the past when you were able to build a partnership or maintain a client relationship over long periods of time. Highlight your abilities to network, build connections, design plans and meet revenue targets; reference case studies from your experience to showcase your expertise.
Remember: there is frequently a lot of overlap between sales positions, so the job titles above should give a general overview of different types of job functions rather than clear-cut definitions. Also, this list is far from exhaustive. If you have other definitions for these roles or are curious about a role we didn't mention, let us know in the comments below!