It can be easy to forget about the big picture when you’re caught up in the day-to-day whirlwind of qualifying prospects, closing deals, or managing a team, but it’s important to think about where you want to end up and what you need to do in order to get there.
There are countless roles in sales and many different ways you can climb the ladder to make your way to the top. However, there are four primary sales career paths:
- Inside Sales
- Sales Operations
- Business Development
Yes, sales and marketing are separate departments, but many people switch between the two during their careers, given their similar nature. And sales operations and business development both relate more closely to marketing than you might think.
Now let’s walk through each of these four sales career paths from beginning to end.
(Check out our Sales Career Paths Chart to find out where your sales career may be headed.)
Inside Sales Career Path
This is the typical path for sales reps at B2B SaaS companies that spend their days on the phones, rarely out in the field. It’s the modern path for the classic salesperson who longs for the feeling of closing big deals and cashing commission checks.
The entry-level role for this trajectory is the Sales Development Rep. This position involves prospecting leads, creating opportunities, and setting up meetings for closers. The best reps move on to become Account Executives who spend their days in meetings with prospects and closing deals. After learning the ins and outs of how sales teams operate, top-performing AEs can move into leadership roles, like Sales Manager and Sales Director.
The most successful of sales leaders go on to become Sales VPs, especially if they get their MBA. Top-notch VPs then get promoted to Chief Revenue Officers (CRO) who are responsible for driving sustainable revenue growth.
Sales Operations Career Path
Sales operations is another new type of career path that has emerged with the advent of CRMs like Salesforce. This field is perfect for analytical people who prefer to dig into the nitty gritty of CRMs to reveal opportunities for optimization.
While most people move into sales operations roles after spending some time in inside sales, the most entry-level role for this path is CRM Specialist. From there, the next position in line is CRM Admin, also known as “the Salesforce guy (or girl).” People in these roles spend their days getting the most from Salesforce and pick away at the 5,000 page Salesforce User Guide in their free time. Once they really know their stuff, they go on to become Sales Ops Managers and Sales Enablement Directors further down the line.
The best of the best sales operations people eventually move into executive roles as VPs of Strategy. From there, they can be promoted to Chief Strategy Officers (CSO) who develop and execute strategic initiatives to drive growth in innovative ways.
Business Development Career Path
Business development is best described as the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships. People cut out for business development roles are very different from people in sales operations — rather than spend their days digging around in Salesforce, they prefer to build real relationships with potential partners, customers, and influencers.
The most entry-level position in this path is Business Development Rep (BDR). BDRs are often tasked with the same objectives as SDRs – qualifying leads and setting up meetings for closers. The BDRs who are make real connections with people and easily establish rapport can become effective Account Managers who work with customers to ensure they’re ensure they’re happy. The most personable of account managers do well moving into channel sales leadership roles, Channel Manager or Channel Director. People in these positions spend their time building co-branding relationships and developing partnerships with like-minded, non-competitive companies.
People in channel sales interested in an executive role should have their sights set on becoming VP of Business Development. And the C-suite position next in line is Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO), which involves facilitating business growth by strengthening relationships with customers and partners while constantly seeking new opportunities.
Marketing Career Path
Even though marketing is an entirely separate department from sales, there’s more overlap than meets the eye. By now, you’ve probably heard about smarketing, a term made popular by HubSpot. Sales and marketing go hand in hand, and people often move from roles in one to another. Many executives at SMBs and startups serve as the VP of Sales and Marketing. Navigating between these departments is more common than you might think.
The marketing roles most closely related to sales is Marketing Operations. This involves handing off leads to the sales team and ensuring that workflows and communications with prospects are optimized. People in these operations roles can move into Sales Operations roles, given how closely related they are. Or they can move up into leadership roles as Marketing Managers and Marketing Directors, if they really master their trade.
It should marketers managing relationships with partners work closely with Channel Managers, and are prime candidates for such roles – lots of overlap here.
The executive role in marketing is VP of Marketing, which entails scaling the company’s reach by driving more website traffic and generating more leads. The next step up to the C-suite is Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).
For entry-level sales reps (SDRs and BDRs), the world is your oyster – there are countless career paths to choose from in sales. It’s just a matter of discovering what you enjoy doing most and where you want to end up.
To learn more about where your career is headed, check out our Sales Career Path Chart.