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Rising Stars: Finding a Place in Software Sales

By Kristin Eisenzopf

Kelly never thought she would land in sales. In fact, she hated most sales jobs until she found software sales, a specific role involving strong product knowledge and deep client relationships. Along the way, Kelly has worked with people who believed she had the potential to succeed, and they were right.

Name: Kelly Champagne
School: Bentley
Major: Marketing
Years Out of College: 5-10
Title: Account Manager
Company: The MathWorks
First Steps

Kelly launched her career as an Outside Sales Representative who traveled to different client sites trying to sell Office Depot's products. While she was successful, it didn't take her long to figure out it wasn't for her. "I did not like selling a commodity product in a competitive market place. I really couldn't stand that a 2-cents price difference off a box of pens was a factor in winning or losing a customer or a deal." This kind of environment made it hard for Kelly to stay motivated and positive. "I realized that I wanted the structure and professionalism of an office environment and that I wanted to sell a higher-end product that offered a solid competitive advantage so that price wasn't such a driving factor in the sale."

From Then to Now

Kelly's career path started while she was in college, with a sales internship she had at a software company for a summer. Driven partly by money, Kelly chose the internship because it was paid and, of course, because she wanted to build her resume. "The VP of Sales saw the potential for me to be very successful and made sure to tell me so often." In addition to her internship, Kelly also feels the customer-centric skills learned in her various classes as a marketing major were a good foundation for sales.

Kelly's big break was getting a job at The MathWorks, a developer and supplier of engineering software. "At the time I didn't have any solid sales training or the experience to be a rep so I had to take an entry-level position in order to get the knowledge/background to move into sales." The position not only taught her a lot but offered a great opportunity to work for a leading software company.

There is no doubt that the defining moment in Kelly's career--and her life for that matter--was her move from Boston to Chicago. She spent nine months searching for a job she wanted. "At the time I thought I was experienced enough to go anywhere, but I quickly learned that I was not." After a few sales jobs which she hated--one inside for a market research company and one outside for a building-management firm--she was feeling lost in her career. Finally, she found an excellent position with an engineering software company and was there for two and a half years. "I learned an entirely new set of skills there that have made me a much stronger sales person."

Challenges Faced

"For me personally, the biggest challenge to overcome was learning to accept and understand rejection. Developing 'thick-skin' is the most fundamental part of the process of becoming a successful sales person."

My Experience

Kelly's day is all about selling which means talking with potential and existing customer about anything from managing software applications to setting up meetings. "I love that I sell such a world-class product and that I represent not only the #1 software company in the research and development industry but also one of the top software company's in Eastern Massachusetts. I love that both the product I sell and the company I represent are so well respected."

Next Steps

Kelly just recently returned to The MathWorks after a few years in Chicago, so for now she's settling back in and happy to be back. But someone as driven as Kelly always has aspirations for her future. "I'd like to move into a sales-management role in the future so that I can help new sales people become successful. But not for a while..." She never can be certain that grad school isn't in the picture, but for now she doesn't see it: "I have always loved that sales people don't need an MBA to move up the ladder when it seems so necessary for many other professions."

Did I Ever Think I'd End Up Here?

While Kelly's path might seem pretty straightforward--from a marketing major to a sales career--she didn't necessarily see herself here. "I never really thought about sales when I was in school. It wasn't really discussed in terms of a viable profession in college. I always sort of pictured sales in the retail/car dealership sense." Though Kelly had not known what sales could be when she was still in college, she's pleasantly surprised where she's ended up. "I would have never imagined being successful in such a technical field or working day in and day out with engineers!"

Advice for Others

The best advice that Kelly has heard: You just need to keep moving forward to be successful, which is especially hard for new sales people who often just think they aren't very good. This advice came from a fellow sales rep when Kelly was first promoted to sales at The MathWorks. It was very helpful at a time when she was having trouble adjusting, and she has remembered it ever since.

Kelly is very happy with her choices and she doesn't look back. Her advice to others starting on a similar path: "Match the values of the company you decide to work for to your own. This makes it much easier to sell their product and to enjoy your job. Also, know that sales is hard and it's not for everybody but the great thing about it is at the end of the day you can honestly say that because you made your number, everyone else at the company also gets paid."

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