How To Get Sales and Marketing Experience Prior to a Startup



Q: It is quite apparent to me from reading through your site and listening to your presentations, that sales and marketing skills are essential for an entrepreneur. I am a young man without any experience in sales and marketing and I am curious what you might suggest for someone in my position.

A: You are correct in that I strongly believe that sales and marketing is the most important skill in an entrepreneur. Of course there are other important factors such as the opportunity you are pursuing, your character, God’s providence, etc., but the most important skill for an entrepreneur is the ability to acquire, grow and keep customers.

There are several ways for you to acquire sales and marketing skills including self-study and college classes, but there is no substitute for the actual act of selling. Since you are young and just get started on your entrepreneurial training road map, I would offer a couple of other suggestions:

  • Join Company with a Good Training Program – One is that you consider taking a job in a sales and marketing role in a company that has an excellent training/mentoring program. Be sure that your attitude is that you are working to learn and not for the paycheck, otherwise you can fall into the trap of thinking and acting like an employee rather than an entrepreneur that is building his skills portfolio. Also be sure to clearly communicate your full intentions to your boss in terms of what you would like to learn and how long you plan on staying. Typically this type or arrangement will work best when you accept a lower than market compensation plan in exchange for additional coaching and training with the full understanding that it is for a specified period of time.
  • Create an Independent Sales Role – Another is that you consider simply taking on an independent sales-related role where you are working for yourself on a commission-only basis and learning by being in the trenches. The upside here is that you are working independently, but the downside is that you do not have any built-in training, mentoring or supervision. Starting when I was around nine years old and continuing all the way through high school, I sold door-to-door almost anything I could get my hands on. I sold greeting cards, Christmas wreaths, light bulbs, you name it. We lived on a ranch 20 miles from town, but when my family went to town, they would drop me off at one end of town with my sample case and pick me up hours later at the other end of town. I would trudge up and down each street knocking on doors in hopes of making a sale.  I had no one to train me, but between being buoyed by the periodic successful sale and my mother’s encouragement, I learned a mental toughness and perseverance that is needed in sales. I know looking back, there were plenty of charitable hearts where the only reason the kind lady on the other side of the door placed an order was out of pity for the poor farm boy in worn out clothes. However, there are few better training grounds for sales. Of course much has changed since I was a boy, but there remain many independent “rep” jobs you can take to stretch yourself and build your skills. And if you like it enough, guess what? You just started your own business!

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About Wade Myers

Wade has founded or co-founded, invested in, and been a director of over 25 companies and has completed 55 financing and M&A transactions. His previous work experience includes the Boston Consulting Group and Mobil Corporation. Wade also served as an Airborne Ranger in the US Army where he was a decorated veteran of the Gulf War. He is a Baker Scholar graduate of Harvard’s MBA program and is married with five children.

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