I have never met a sales person that didn’t believe they could sell anything. I am sure that this confidence is one component of what makes a person good at sales in the first place. And, maybe it is even true. The question is, is it relevant in the recruitment process?
I worked for a number of years in the hi-tech sector (marketing/technical, not sales roles), both in the US and Israel. There is a profound difference between how technology companies in the US and Israel view the ideal profile for a sales candidate. When I worked in the US, the sales people were excellent at sales, yet were not technical at all. Their job was to close sales, and this they did well or they disappeared. If they needed technical assistance, they would call me or a room full of other people to deal with these details. For them, it was a waste of time to get involved in the intricate technical aspects of the product/service, which took away from their valuable time available to complete deals and earn commissions. Here in Israel, the huge majority of sales people at hi-tech companies are engineers that (hopefully) have the aptitude to sell as well. They are expected to understand the technical aspects of the product relatively well, and generally use the technical staff of the company much less frequently in the sales process than someone from the US.
There are many levels of international sales jobs in Israel. One type is telephone sales. In these jobs, sales is done exclusively on the phone, or combined with email. Often these jobs do not require fluency in Hebrew – native English or some other language is enough. In many of these roles, the company will provide initial training, and does not expect expertise in their particular product/service as a pre-requisite for consideration. If the candidate has a sales background, or sometimes it is even enough that they can convey sales aptitude, then this type of job can be a good match. There are a large variety of online companies and call centers which operate in this way – sometimes during the day and other times in shift work in the evenings/nights. Most jobs are not work-at-home, and require the employee to work from the office. This can be the right target for someone that wants to break into sales. However, candidates should be aware that employers are selective in whom they hire – when I send people to interview for these jobs without telephone sales experience, the majority do not make it through the recruitment process. And on the other hand, very experienced sales people that apply for such roles are often labeled “over-qualified”; employers in many cases do not find this profile to be a good match because of concerns that the person will not stay long.
The other type of sales role is the more traditional full-service model, working from a sales plan with budget and quotas to sell the employer’s products/services. For employers that are targeting the international market, English and/or other languages at mother tongue level is a tremendous asset for their sales people, and international travel is oftentimes required, sometimes very frequently. The compensation and expectations are certainly much higher on average in these types of roles than in the telephone sales sector. Keep in mind that mother tongue level of English is important, but certainly it is not enough to ensure you are hired for this type of job, and everyone should be aware that there are plenty of native Israelis with a high enough level of English that are also competing for these roles.
Without doubt, this is a very quick and dirty description of the sales role within Israel, and there are many positions that fall between the two jobs that I have described above, or differ in other ways. Still, for someone seeking work in sales, it is important to understand the way the market works in Israel, so that you invest your time in the correct direction. For instance, someone that does not have a hi-tech/telecom background, and especially if in addition to this has no experience doing sales in this industry, will have an extremely difficult time attracting the attention of Israeli hi-tech/telecom companies, no matter how many languages they speak and how much professional success they have previously enjoyed. Highly experienced sales people outside the telephone sales sector will find it difficult to convince a telemarketing company that they will be a long-term solution.
What generally makes sense is to identify those sectors which you have special knowledge as well as those areas in which you have good connections in a particular market. Then work backwards to find companies that target as closely as possible the regions/industries which match your expertise. Networking, including using LinkedIn, is the best way to progress. Sometimes for those that are specialists in a particular country/region, contacting the relevant embassy and/or chamber of commerce for that area can also prove useful.
Sales is a “who you know” type of business, and identifying the correct target employers and then inserting yourself into the relevant networks will serve you well in learning about opportunities and creating a positive impression.
Ron Machol - December 2010