A beginners guide to a software sales career path
Few careers have as much potential for advancement as that of a software sales professional. Several billionaires and tech investors, including Donald T. Valentine, Larry Ellison, and Mark Cuban, all began their careers in technology sales. With the explosive growth of emerging tech in health, energy, and media, a role in sales is not only a chance to become immersed in a high-value field but also a chance to dramatically elevate your earning potential.
But first, let’s get at how to get into software sales.
What is software sales
The most elite sales professionals are best thought of as advocates: Their role is to advocate on behalf of the company whose product or service they are offering—but also on behalf of their potential client or customer in order to find the best solution. The same applies to the SaaS sales process.
In software sales, your primary responsibility is to provide your prospective client with technology that will help them to solve a problem.
While the goal of having your product or service in the hands of as many satisfied clients as possible remains, the way to achieve that goal relies on a variety of positions within the larger sales framework.
Types of sales positions
Is software sales a good career? Here’s a list of the different types of sales positions, including what to expect, how the SaaS sales salary for some prominent roles compares (based on data from The Bridge Group), and how you can advance to other sales roles.
Sales development rep
Description: All sales strategies require a way of building new potential client relationships. A sales development rep (SDR) is responsible for cold-calling new potential clients and creating an opportunity for said clients to meet with company sales people or AEs.
Average base salary: $48,000
Average total compensation: $75,000
Pros: The SDR role is the best path to an actual sales role, where there’s more upside potential for commission-based earnings.
Cons: Lower starting pay than account exec; lower potential for higher earnings and commission
Opportunities for advancement: SDR to AE or sales manager
Outside sales rep
Description: Outside sales reps can be thought of as AEs who build relationships in outside markets, often never reporting to the main office of their company. For example, a New York-based firm may choose to hire a Hong Kong-based outside sales rep to build client relationships in the Asian market. Outside sales reps report to sales managers or the VP of sales, depending on the size of the company.
Pros: Because the work is done off-site and sometimes remotely, there is no office to report to or coworkers to compete with. Distance from the main office also allows lots of independence, giving you schedule freedom as long as you’re hitting your quota.
Cons: Slightly lower average starting salary than an account executive
Opportunities for advancement: Outside sales reps can transition quite well to AEs or sales management.
Description: Account executives (AEs) exist in companies in virtually all industries, and the role of a SaaS AE is to liaise with potential clients and close deals. AEs are central to the success of any growing organization: The client relationship growth is dependent on the account executive’s ability to successfully advocate for the needs of the client while representing their company’s ability to provide those needs.
Average base salary: $62,000
Average on-target earnings: $126,000
Pros: Good starting salary; lots of opportunity for upward advancement with commission earnings and sales bonuses; skills development in client-facing sales interactions
Cons: Success rate depends heavily on the quality of the product/service; commission-based salaries could be undependable
Opportunities for advancement: A successful AE can go on to sales management, or even to VP of sales, depending on the size of the company and breadth of competition.
Post-sales account manager
Description: After a deal has been closed, a post-sales account manager steps in to maintain the client relationship, work to renew contracts, and upsell on existing contracts. This role will even be responsible for reporting bugs to engineers to make sure their clients are able to use a product effectively.
Pros: Post-sales account managers have a wide range of responsibilities, from maintaining relationships to engaging in sales to working with developers to fix any bugs related to software. They also earn a higher average starting salary than AEs, outside sales reps, or SDRs.
Cons: While there is still opportunity for commission-based earnings increases, there is generally a lower cap on earnings because post-sales account managers aren’t in a direct sales role.
Opportunities for advancement: Post-sales account managers can advance to excellent sales managers or VPs.