Advice: "I want to start a career in sales. Should I take a commission-only job?"

Want to submit a question and be featured in our advice column? Click here. (Don't worry, you'll remain completely anonymous).

Dear Quota Team

I’ve been reading your newsletter for a while now as I've been trying to break into sales. I don't really have any experience aside from working in the food service industry. I've gotten a handful of interviews but I haven't been getting any offers. Until now. I interviewed for a sales job for a small company that sells marketing services. They told me that the job is essentially selling marketing retainers (that start at $5k) to net new customers that I'd have to source myself. The role is commission-only. I'd be getting 10% commission of the first year contract value for any deals I source and close. Theoretically this sounds good. If I sold $5k monthly retainers ($60K/year), I'd be getting $6k per deal. Just doing that math quickly, I'd only need to close 17 deals over the course of a year to make $100k, which seems doable.

But my biggest concern is that the deals are structured month-to-month, so the customer can cancel anytime. Basically once I close the deal, I'm completely out of the picture. I'm worried that my potential earnings will be based on whether or not the company can actually retain the clients. What if I close a deal and the client cancels the next month and I did all that work for 500 bucks? The company doesn't have any full-time salespeople. I interviewed directly with the owner of the company and he said that all their sales are either done by him or other commission-only reps they've had in the past.

I really want to break into sales as a career, and this seems like the best way to get in and prove myself, but I don't want to be taken advantage of. I'd be putting a lot of trust that this company can deliver. It feels like the situation is all upside for them, without putting any trust in me. Should I just take the job and give it a shot?

Concerned in Virginia


Dear Concerned

The job you described has a lot of red flags, not the least of which is the fact that none of the salespeople who have ever worked there have decided to stay. You can bet this is for good reason. Also, while there are some commission-only jobs that have an excellent upside, most reputable companies will offer some sort of ramp or draw to make sure you get paid while you’re building your pipeline. Otherwise, there’s literally zero investment on their end. Easy come, easy go.

All that being said, having any sort of sales job on your resume, even this one, might be a good way for you to break into the world of sales. You could try this for the next six months and if it’s not working out, start interviewing, now with some sales experience. 

Of course, this isn’t the only way to break in, and you might want to ask yourself (or maybe one of the companies that’s turned you down) why none of your interviews thus far have turned into job offers. What are you not doing? Sales takes tenacity, and it will take some tenacity for you to break in. Network like crazy, reach out to people you would want to work for on LinkedIn, ask for advice (and take it), and show any potential employer that you’ve got hustle, grit, and chutzpah. Keep trying and soon enough you’ll get what you want. Good luck!  

You might also like

Everything sales, straight to your inbox.

Sign up for The Quota, a fun, free weekly newsletter for salespeople and sales leaders -- from the people who brought you Sales Humor.

Thanks for subscribing! Just one more step!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.