What Does Progression Look Like in a Sales Career Path?

15 mins

A sales career path is a rewarding way into the professional environment, particularly for d...

By Pareto Team


A sales career path is a rewarding way into the professional environment, particularly for dedicated and ambitious graduates. But what will the average career in sales look like for a candidate who’s seeking progression—and the associated challenges and higher salaries that come with that upward mobility? 

This guide explores the sales career path, looking closely at the first five years and beyond for candidates who are committed to progression. We’ll also discuss how you can set yourself up for success in graduate sales jobs, highlighting the importance of developing your skills and setting goals to help you realise your potential as a trainee sales executive. 

From Entry-Level to Executive: The Sales Career Path

Achieving success in the sales career path requires understanding where you can go once you’ve begun a sales graduate scheme or apprenticeship. By knowing the areas you can specialise in—and the skills and knowledge you’ll require for them—you can get yourself into a great position to enhance your potential for internal mobility and prospects. 

The First Year in The Sales Career Path

Your first year in a career in sales allows you to ensure that you’re setting yourself up for long-term success. It’s important that you recognise that you’re still a trainee sales executive at this stage, and it’s unlikely that you’ll know everything necessary to solve every problem you encounter immediately. 

This is the beauty of graduate sales jobs, however. You’re expected to ask questions—of your colleagues, supervisors, and senior staff—and learn from your mistakes. Whilst you’ll receive detailed sales training when starting your role, and you’ll be encouraged to engage with ongoing professional development opportunities, it’s likely that you’ll encounter situations that you simply don’t have the answer to, whether that’s negotiating around complex objections, failing to keep on top of a prospect and trying to reignite the interest of a stale lead, or simply not offering a solution to a potential customer’s problems. 

The comprehensive training you receive equips you with the skills and knowledge to effectively navigate and overcome these challenges, ensuring you can confidently handle any situation that may arise in your sales journey. 

In your first year, you should focus closely on the opportunity to research and receive coaching and mentorship in cutting-edge techniques that will set you in good stead as you proceed through the sales career path. Soaking up knowledge from seasoned mentors not only enhances your skill set but also provides valuable insights into navigating the nuances of the industry. Seeking feedback from your managers and understanding the best way to approach the leads that will fill your sales funnel is a crucial step on the road to mid-career and executive-level roles within the industry. 

Two to Five Years: What a Mid-Level Career In Sales Looks Like

Following the success of your first year in a career in sales, the following two to five could be considered the beginning and continuation of your mid-level experience. Once you get closer to the five-year mark, you can begin to explore more specialised roles, such as business development, account management, or inside sales.

During this stage of your personal and professional development, you’ll be building on the solid foundation of coaching and mentorship you encountered in your first year, honing your expertise, product knowledge, and toolkit of sales skills to become a trusted, consultative advisor to your customers. 

At this phase in your career, you’ll be able to realise the productivity improvements you sought in your first year. A deeper understanding of the role and reality of a sales career path means that you’ll be able to investigate and implement sales analytics and automation tools, helping with the process of organisation and time management, which will enable you to work much more efficiently and ensure leads move through the sales funnel quickly. 

When it comes to meeting targets and exceeding your sales quota, at the two to five-year mark, you’ll be able to begin really demonstrating your value to your employer, enabling you to negotiate and secure lucrative raises. 

As a result, it’s important to not become complacent at this stage in your progression, staying up-to-date on the latest methods and strategies that will help you to stay ahead of the opposition and build a personal brand—which will explore in more detail in the next section—as a thought leader within your sector.

Five Years and Beyond: From Trainee Sales Executive to Expert

After seeing success in the first five years of their sales career path, a trainee sales executive could begin to consider themselves an expert—but true expertise is not just about a number of years of experience. Rather, it’s a blend of that experience with the right knowledge and skills needed to engage with and regularly close deals with key accounts and high-value prospects. 

At the five-year stage of their career, a professional salesperson is likely to be considering advanced roles, where they’ll act as trusted advisors to their customers, consulting on matters related to their product or service offering and how they can leverage the solutions being sold to enhance their productivity and profitability. They’ll similarly use this knowledge to mentor others, supporting junior reps in the same graduate sales jobs that they were to develop their skills and avoid the same roadblocks they encountered at the early stage of their career in sales. 

Alongside this, with five years of experience, you’ll have spent time working with other sales managers, directors of sales, or vice presidents of sales, understanding the work involved in developing a long-term vision and data-driven strategy which can inform and enhance your organisation’s competitiveness, and built a diverse skillset that can help you to expand a business into new regions and markets.

Developing Skills and Setting Goals for a Career in Sales

Enhancing your skills and setting goals is essential if you’re looking to advance in the sales career path. Even if you’re looking at it from the perspective of a return on your investment—whether that’s the investment of your time or money—it’s been shown that a focus on continuous training and professional development helps to drive 50% higher sales per representative, meaning that you’re more likely to be able to smash your targets and receive lucrative bonuses and raises.

So, what skills and goals should you be looking to develop in early-career graduate sales jobs

Essential Sales Skills

The skills you need to succeed in the sales career path are varied, but with self-guided work, as well as the mentorship of your peers and supervisors, you can begin to develop the essential sales skills you need for long-term productivity and performance. These include: 

  1. Active listening. Fully concentrating on what your prospect or customer is saying is vital to the sales process, enabling you to understand their perspective and pain points and respond with targeted information on why your product or service solves their problems. This skill has been shown to increase sales by 20% or more, meaning it’s vital to grasp when you’re in the early days of your sales graduate scheme.

  1. Empathy. Possessing emotional intelligence and empathy can help you to build strong relationships with your customers and leads, and assist in solving conflict, helping to close deals and increase sales performance.

  1. Resilience. Bouncing back from setbacks is a crucial skill for trainee sales executives to develop. It empowers them to effectively handle rejection, stay motivated, and ultimately surpass their targets. This resilience not only leads to increased overall sales but also contributes to improving their overall wellbeing, helping them avoid burnout and ensuring a fulfilling and successful career in sales.

  1. Time management. Organisational and scheduling skills are vital in the fast-paced world of sales, where you’ll be expected to juggle multiple responsibilities and client accounts. Learning time management skills will help you to prioritise important tasks and increase your productivity, too.

  1. Building rapport. Knowing how to build a solid, mutually-beneficial relationship with key accounts is vital when you’re looking to progress in the sales career path, helping you to forge long-lasting bonds with customers that can stand the test of time and empower future sales performance.

  1. Communication. Being able to convince prospects about the value of your product or service through effective storytelling is vital to success in a career in sales. The other side of the coin to active listening skills, being able to communicate like an expert can help to engage potential customers and assist you in achieving high-value sales.

  1. Problem-solving. Being able to think through a situation critically and solve your customers’ problems will help you to overcome many of the common objections you’ll encounter in graduate sales jobs. By understanding how to analyse data, identify issues, and develop solutions to complex problems, you’ll be able to enhance your sales productivity by around 30%

  1. Team work. One of the keys to success in the competitive world of sales is the knowledge of how to effectively collaborate with your colleagues in all departments, not just sales, to achieve your organisation’s vision. Having the skill to collaborate is also crucial if you’re aiming to progress into management in your sales career path, since it will help you to champion your colleagues’ performance—and celebrate their wins, too.

  1. Reporting on ROI. Being able to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) that your product or service provides might not sound like a skill, but presenting this effectively and concisely to your customers and supervisors will help you to gain effective feedback and understand the impact you’re having, reducing the risk of burning out or losing motivation.

  1. Product knowledge. Understanding the benefits and values of your product or service is crucial to your ability to report on its ROI and effectively handle objections. Working closely with your product or service development team can inspire and empower your sales pitches, rapidly improving sales performance. 

While mastering these skills will take some time, anyone passionate about pursuing a sales career path to senior or executive-level positions will be well-served by developing an appreciation for their role in long-term success. 

If you’re interested in learning more about essential sales skills, see our guide to Handling Objections in Sales with Confidence for a deeper look at the ways in which you can overcome these roadblocks in the sales pipeline and enhance your profitability.

Setting Goals 

The correct goals and ambitions for a trainee sales executive can make all the difference when it comes to career progression. Goals provide direction and a reason to prioritize tasks, helping to improve motivation and enabling supervisors to measure progress. By staying accountable for your goals, including KPIs like close rates, new pipeline leads, and average sale value, you can understand what you need to do to improve your performance and make certain that you hit your targets. 

Don't hesitate to engage with your managers to discuss these KPIs and identify areas where additional training may be beneficial, ensuring that you not only meet but exceed your targets and contribute to your ongoing professional development.

There are a number of effective strategies to set goals in graduate sales jobs, including: 

  • Understanding the market and the future of sales. Before you set your goals, make sure to research how your industry or sector is evolving, which can help you anticipate market demand or technological innovation that will enhance the sales process. 

  • Make sure your goals are SMART. Whilst we all have many ambitions, when it comes to our professional aspirations, we should make sure that they’re Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. This will help your supervisors or mentors understand whether you’ve achieved what you set out to do, or if you need extra assistance in meeting your goals.

  • Break your goals down. Whilst the step up to a senior position for a trainee sales executive can seem insurmountable, approaching your ambitions by setting waterfall goals can help you to understand how you’ll achieve them, helping to motivate you to cross that next step off the list and climb a little bit closer to your aspirations. 

Your goals in a sales graduate scheme, apprenticeship, or early-career role should be about increasing your sales and productivity, but basing them only on the numbers might make it difficult to motivate yourself. Instead, you should be incorporating additional goals which help to improve your other professional skills such as communication and networking, setting you up for long-term success. 

At the same time, if you align your ambitions with the long-term vision of your employer, you can avoid chasing unprofitable or irrelevant goals, assisting you when negotiating that raise or promotion.

Building a Personal Brand for a Career in Sales

We hear a lot about building a personal brand for the sales career path these days, whether it’s from our peers and mentors, or on a social media post on a site such as LinkedIn. But what is a personal brand, and why is it so crucial for long-term success in a career in sales? 

In short, your personal brand helps to begin establishing you as a thought leader within the sales industry. It allows people to get to know you as a professional, identifying your key values and strengths, and the unique selling proposition (USP) that helps to differentiate you from other graduate salespeople.

Determining what precisely sets you apart from others as a salesperson will typically begin with the goal-setting exercise we outlined above. You need to define your objectives for building your brand, whether increasing your visibility to expand your professional network, or establishing credibility with your customers. By determining what sets you apart, you can use this as the foundation for your personal brand and the narrative that highlights your unique skills and achievements.

At the same time, it’s crucial to remain authentic to yourself and your principles when aiming to hone your brand and build trust. By sharing your knowledge and skills with others—whether through blog posts, sales conferences, or any of the other channels we now have at our disposal—you can establish yourself as a force within your industry and simultaneously begin building relationships with potential customers, who will see your services as a value-add. 

Building this brand will take time and effort, but it will pay off in the long run, particularly if you carry out personal branding alongside setting goals for yourself and developing the essential sales skills for success. 

Balancing Work and Life in Graduate Sales Jobs

Almost a third of salespeople say they have no work-life balance, so putting in positive processes in place early is important to ensure your success. 

It all begins with setting realistic goals. As we outlined in the previous section, your ambitions should be SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely—since when you set yourself goals that are too hard to achieve, you’ll likely find yourself unmotivated or potentially burn yourself out in trying to attain them. Seeking support from your mentors, colleagues, or other senior staff can help you to develop a handful of waterfall objectives, breaking down a seemingly difficult goal into smaller, more readily achievable steps. 

At the same time, it’s important to regularly take breaks, whether that’s splitting up your work day and making sure to take lunch or taking your accrued annual leave. Salespeople who take breaks are shown to perform at a 20% higher level than their colleagues who don’t, so contrary to the surface-level view, taking time away from the computer or phone can, in fact, earn you more money in the long term. 

You can also take advantage of advances in technology, such as data analytics, CRM software, and sales enablement tools, to work more efficiently and effectively. Consider exploring tools that can automate your sales cadence, allowing you to streamline your processes and enhance overall efficiency for even greater success. Whilst it can take time to understand the intricacies of technology for automating aspects of your workflow or account management duties, they can help you to effectively free up your time to spend on activities that generate revenue. 

Closing Remarks

The sales career path offers a promising journey for dedicated and ambitious candidates, especially recent graduates. In this guide, we’ve delved into the trajectory that a career in sales can take you on, from the first year of a sales graduate scheme or apprenticeship to becoming a seasoned expert. 

It’s important that we reiterate the significance of developing the essential sales skills outlined in our second section, as well as the value of setting SMART goals and building a personal brand, all of which will help you thrive in this competitive field. 

Additionally, we’ve seen how maintaining a healthy work-life balance is crucial to long-term success in graduate sales jobs. Strategies like goal-setting, taking regular breaks, and leveraging technology can not only help a trainee sales executive to avoid burnout but can also enhance profitability. 

As you embark on your sales career path, remember that continuous learning and professional and personal growth are the keys to realising your full potential and achieving success in the dynamic sales roles available across many industries.

Empower Your Career in Sales with Pareto

Whether you’re looking to learn more about negotiation and closing, or you’re searching for the latest graduate sales jobs after completing your studies, Pareto is here to support you every step of the way. 

We’ve been driving graduates towards success in the sales sector for over 25 years. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you today. 

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