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Want to be CEO? How to Help Your Journey on the Sales Executive Career Path


Not everyone who goes into sales has their eyes set high up the ladder.

In fact, because of the commission-based nature of sales positions, climbing up through an organization is not required to earn a high salary or to feel fulfilled in your job. 

However, there are those of us that do have eyes on positions higher up; and it is always a good idea to keep an eye out, even as a passive candidate. Thirty years ago it would be more difficult to pinpoint the skills necessary to become an incredible sales leader.

However, these days, we have more data than ever to help reverse-engineer what it takes to become great. So how do you do it? This is a typical sales executive career path.

Look into higher education

Bear in mind, there are outliers to every piece of data out there. There will always be that one guy or girl who didn’t finish highschool and hustled their way to the top of amillion billion dollar business (*cough cough* Richard Branson). However, statistically, Sales Executives more often than not have at least a Bachelors Degree. Today, even entry level sales jobs often require a Bachelor’s Degree or some sort of post-secondary education.

Knowing that sales is something you want to go into can help you narrow down a major.

Traditionally, Business or Marketing degrees are targeted by employers in general sales positions. However, more and more we are starting to see specialized degrees such as Engineering, Chemistry, or Biology sought after in technology-heavy sales industries. In any case, a Bachelor’s Degree is a necessary step in the path to becoming Sales Executive (and it wouldn’t hurt to obtain a Master’s Degree, too!).

Gain experience

Again, this seems like an obvious step. When you’re just starting out you might be tempted to go after any sales position you can get your hands on, simply for the experience factor. However, when you think about the type of industry you want to be in as Sales Executive you should also consider where you need to start.

When you narrow down your industries of interest, you are giving yourself the opportunity to become very accomplished in an area you are in genuinely excited about.

It is a well-known fact that salespeople hit their quotas faster and report higher workplace satisfaction when they are working in an industry they love, selling a product the believe in.

Keep watch for a Sales Executive position

As with any other job, you need to be persistent with your job searching. Once you’ve put in the time and energy to gain the experience you need to become a Sales Executive, begin applying for positions. These positions may be internally, externally, abroad, remote, with startups or established enterprise companies… a lot of opportunity here.

Whatever the position you are going for, be thoughtful and intentional in your search.

Don’t do the classic “spray and pray,” pitching your resume to any job board you can find. Instead of completing 20 mediocre applications, spend your time on 3 companies you can actually see yourself working at. Your hard work will stand out. Even better, consider using a talent matching service like Ideal Candidate (for salespeople only). With Ideal Candidate you are only required to create one profile, one time. From there, all open roles are matched against your selling style, desired salary and culture fit.

Continue learning, and continue studying

Make sure you become familiar with what a Sales Executive actually does.

A large part of a sales executive’s role is to develop new sales strategies and to anticipate what is going to happen within the market. 

This requires an attention to the market as a whole, so make sure you keep an eye on the industry’s news and developments. For example, if you see there has been a major acquisition in your industry, you may want to consider that company as a hot target while they are rebuilding their team.

InsightSquared has put together a great graphic that summarizes the typical sales career progression. It may be helpful to identify where you fall on the chart below and start thinking of the experience you need to climb the ladder.


Now, this doesn’t mean that this is the only way to get there; but understanding what it takes (education, work experience, etc.) can be extremely helpful as your plan out your short and long term goals.

Be honest with yourself, keep your eyes on the prize and you will make the right decisions. Good luck out there! 

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