If you’re looking for a career that offers abundant opportunities for professional growth, high salaries, higher demand, and job security, look no further than software sales. As the tech industry continues to grow at a rapid clip and software plays an increasingly vital role in all sectors, the tech sales career path is a robust and lucrative way of being on the frontline of helping organizations use software to solve problems—in addition to a 13% projected job growth in the tech sector over the next ten years, sales reps at top-tier enterprise companies can reach $250,000 a year, according to Business Insider. Read on to learn more about the roles and responsibilities of a software sales representative and how to get your start in the profession.
What Is Software Sales?
Software sales, as the name suggests, refers to the selling of software to organizations of all sizes, from mom and pop businesses to multinational corporations, government agencies, NGOs, academic institutions, and healthcare providers. Almost every company that builds software—whether it’s Microsoft, IBM, Slack, or Salesforce—has a sales team that gets their product into the hands of prospective customers and convinces them to adapt their tools and services. If you’ve ever had to use specific technologies for your job such as Asana, Slack, SAP Concur, or Dropbox, sales professionals for those companies likely sold that software to your organization.
But there’s more to software sales than showing off a company’s products and meeting sales quotas. Software sales involve a multi-step sales cycle that includes lead generation, analyzing and understanding the needs of prospects, identifying an organization’s internal structure, knowing how to present a piece of software as a solution to an organization’s existing problems, and continuing to support an organization once they become a client. In other words, the best salespeople are advocates for both their company’s software and the clients who use those products and services.
About the Software Sales Job
When people think of careers in sales, they might picture door-to-door salespersons convincing strangers to buy their goods. This is far from the reality of software sales, where leads are well researched and precisely targeted, and a significant amount of time is invested in building the vendor-client relationship. Software sales representatives are strong communicators who can provide prospective clients with technology that can solve a problem. To do this, they need to be knowledgeable about their own product, be familiar with the competition, understand the prospective client’s problems, and show how their software can best meet the client’s needs.
What Are the Requirements To Get Into Software Sales?
A college degree usually isn’t necessary to get into software sales. Instead, hiring managers typically look for candidates with strong people skills, a history of collaboration, and the ability to adapt an organization’s sales processes and pick up sales tools such as customer relationship management platforms (CRMs), forecasting technologies, databases, and business intelligence software.
In short, you need to be able to use the tools and technologies to help you generate and manage leads; you need to have the curiosity and drive to understand the needs of prospective clients, and you need to have the communication and relationship-building skills that will bring a client onboard.
How Much Can You Earn as a Software Sales Rep?
The earnings of a sales representative vary depending on the specific role, years of experience, industry, location, and organization. Many sales reps also earn commissions on top of their base pay, which can substantially boost average salaries.
Entry-level software sales representatives can make around $48,000 a year in base salary, with commissions bringing their total average compensation to around $75,000, according to LucidChart.
Mid-level account executives can make around $62,000 a year in base salary, with commissions bringing their total average compensation to around $126,000.
Senior-level software sales managers can make around $95,000 in base salary, with commissions and bonuses bumping their total average compensation above $150,000.
What Kinds of Software Sales Jobs Are Available?
Within software sales, different roles are responsible for each part of the sales cycle. This is why collaboration is such an important part of tech sales—no one sales rep can do everything, and strong teamwork is needed to ensure a seamless handoff between the reps who identify new leads to those who close deals. Below are some of the common types of jobs in software sales.
Also referred to as sales development reps, inside sales representatives are usually responsible for the first portion of the sales cycle. They identify new and qualified leads, cold call to schedule appointments, assess customer needs, and sometimes even pitch clients. Inside sales jobs are usually entry-level roles that offer enormous potential for growth.
The average inside sales representative makes around $48,000 a year in base salary, with commissions and bonuses often bringing total compensation to around $75,000.
Outside sales reps are usually based in markets outside of the company’s headquarters (for example, a San Francisco-based company might have an outside sales rep in London to serve the U.K. and European markets). Outside sales reps are expected to offer insights into their target market and are capable of identifying leads, closing deals, and managing client relationships.
The average outside sales representative makes around $53,577 a year in base salary, according to Zip Recruiter, with commissions and bonuses bringing the total compensation closer to six figures.
Account executives are at the heart of the software sales engine—they liaise with potential clients, close deals, and continue managing client relations to ensure that the organization’s products are meeting the client’s needs. An AE is also referred to as an account manager or sales manager—this role offers plenty of room for career advancement and highly lucrative commission earning potential.
The average account executive makes around $62,000 in base salary, with commissions and bonuses bringing the total compensation in excess of around $126,000.
Sales operations managers help reduce the friction of the sales process. They take care of everything that allows sales representatives to do their jobs, from sales pipeline management to platform and analytics support, tracking business and sales metrics, managing CRM data, and performing sales forecasting.
The average sales operations manager makes around $112,000 in base salary. They do not usually earn commissions because, unlike sales representatives who get a cut of the revenue they bring in, sales operations teams play a less direct role in revenue generation. That said, some organizations will offer bonuses to sales ops teams based on projects completed or revenue generated.
Sales engineers are usually qualified engineers who know the ins and outs of a piece of software and can demonstrate to prospective clients both how the technology works and how it can solve a client’s problems.
Sales engineers have comparable salaries to account executives, making around $62,000 in base salary, with commissions and bonuses bringing the total compensation in excess of around $126,000.
VP of Sales
Also known as the head of sales, this executive role is responsible for an organization’s sales strategy. At smaller companies, a VP of sales might directly manage sales teams. At larger companies, the VP of sales will oversee managers.
A VP of sales can make around $190,000 in base salary, with bonuses based on their sales teams’ performance bringing their total compensation to $300,000.
Tips for Getting Into (and Succeeding in) Software Sales
There is no one set path for getting into software sales, but below are some tried and true tips that can help you get started.
Find a Related Role and Then Transfer
Consider starting in an entry-level role or working in customer support or marketing—these roles offer exposure to industry trends, customer needs, and offer the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of an organization’s products and services, all of which are valuable to sales teams and conducive to a lateral move.
Get Sales Experience
Sales experience is by and large transferable. If you hone your sales skills at a different company or industry, learn how to court clients, gain experience with researching and understanding client problems and needs, and develop a track record of advocating for both clients and an organization’s products and services, you’ll be in a good position to land the software sales job you want.
Find a Mentor
Mentors can offer career guidance and support, help with networking and identifying job opportunities, and can leverage their contacts and experience to help a mentee advance faster. Given the highly interpersonal nature of software sales, having a mentor who can give advice based on their own experience can help you navigate landing a job as a sales rep and succeeding in your role.
Take a Class or Get Certified
New sales tools and best practices are constantly being developed. To give yourself a competitive edge, consider taking a course taught by industry experts to help you stay on top of the latest trends and to ensure your skills in research, prospecting, and discovery are up-to-date and relevant.
Specialize in an Industry or Type of Product
Developing specialized knowledge of an industry or type of product can give you an advantage because you will already have a lay of the land, be familiar with the types of problems potential clients might have, know what the competition offers, and be able to provide context for how your organization’s software is different.
Get Endorsements on LinkedIn or Social Media
Many sales representatives are headhunted by recruiters based on their LinkedIn profiles or social media presence. By maintaining connections with other sales professionals and getting public-facing endorsements, you can increase your chances of getting noticed and scoring an interview.
Build a Book of Business
Software engineers and designers have portfolios to prove that they can do what their CV claims. Sales representatives have a book of business. This is where sales reps keep track of their clients and sales, demographic information, referrals, and a client’s potential for future needs. The book of business is valuable both as proof of a salesperson’s work and as a list of leads that can be used for future sales opportunities.
Software sales FAQs
Still have questions about a career in software sales? Check out the answers to some frequently asked questions below.
Is Software Sales a Good Career?
Software sales offer enormous opportunities for career growth. As software companies continue to rapidly expand and new tools and services are constantly springing up, so too are opportunities for sales reps.
What Will I Sell in Software Sales?
The types of software sold can vary from enterprise tech to platforms and services used by retailers, schools, hospitals, government agencies, and entertainment conglomerates. A sales representative working for Microsoft might sell its Office tools to universities, while a rep working for Slack might sell corporate subscriptions. The type of software you sell will be determined by the type of organization you join.
Is There Good Money in Software Sales?
Software sales representatives have high earning potential. Although many entry-level positions have lower base salaries, bonuses and commissions based on sales performance can easily double a salesperson’s total compensation. Workforce accelerator PreHired described software sales as the fastest path to a six-figure career.
Springboard’s upcoming Tech Sales Career Track aims to equip sales representatives with the necessary skills needed to successfully sell technical products—with or without a science-related background.