The Complete Guide to the Software Sales Career Path

Written by
Josh Jordan
March 4, 2021

It’s always a good idea to look for a career with opportunities for advancement, whether you’re a college grad, career-changer, or just using your neighbor’s WiFi to look for jobs.

Software sales definitely qualifies as a career with opportunity for growth, but even if you’re familiar with software sales or working in the field already, you might not know what’s available.

In this guide, we’ll give you some insight into the software sales career path:

  • What positions are available at different stages of your career,
  • The basic responsibilities and experience needed to be qualified for each role, and
  • How much you can expect to earn in each position

By the time we’re finished, you should have a feel for whether software sales is a career path that might be right for you, or not.

What exactly is SaaS?

You might also be asking the same thing yourself, and that’s why we’re here. 

SaaS stands for “Software as a Service”. Basically, it means that rather than purchasing software once, the customer pays for it monthly or annually (like a Netflix or Spotify subscription), and receives ongoing updates and support.

For our purposes, we’ll focus on software that is targeted towards businesses.

Most of the software that businesses purchase (especially larger businesses) has to be customized to work with the other parts of their business. There can also be a lot of price variation depending on what features the company needs access to, and how many of their employees need to use the software.

Because of the complexity of these agreements, the high costs of implementing a new solution across an entire company, and the need for any new solution to integrate with other tools the business relies on - this is a complicated decision. 

This is where the sales team comes in.

These tech sales professionals don’t need to know how the code inside their company’s software works. They just need to know how companies can use it to solve their problems.

In other words, they help clarify what’s causing the most painful issues, or pain points, and show how their software fixes them. Let’s take a look at how these crucial teams are structured:

What is the SaaS Sales Team Like?

Selling software to business customers requires product knowledge, good interpersonal skills, and a solid strategy to convey the value your product can bring to their business.

Each person on the software sales team plays an important role in getting customers to buy the product. Often, the skills you pick up in your current role will earn you the opportunity to try out the next rung on the career ladder.

From entry-level to top jobs, the most common positions you might hold in your SaaS sales career are:

While these titles may sound similar, each has distinct responsibilities and perks. But before you become the big boss and start making the interns get you coffee five times a day, you’ll probably start your software sales career as an SDR who has to get their own coffee from the break room.

Starting as an SDR

Almost everyone begins their sales career as a Sales Development Representative (SDR), sometimes called a Business Development Representative (BDR). This position typically doesn’t require any previous sales experience, though it’s a good idea to have some training or prior knowledge of SaaS.

In software sales, even these entry-level positions can be quite lucrative. It’s not uncommon for a high-performing rep to make more than $100k with commissions. With these wages, you can at least afford to pay for your own internet and stop mooching off your neighbor. 

Basically, the primary responsibilities of an SDR are:

  • Generating New Leads
  • Qualifying Deals (ensuring the prospective customer has a real need for your product, and can afford it)
  • Building Relationships with potential clients, and send those clients off to an AE (Account Executive) who closes the deal.

Much of the job involves researching a list of prospects, qualifying leads, emailing, and making calls (both inbound and outbound). 

Due to the high volume of calls and emails with potential customers, many people consider the role of an SDR to be a high-stress. Because of this, many people move up the ladder to become an Account Executive or Sales Manager.

Still, SDRs play an important role as the first point of contact for software companies. They work to build quality relationships and find potential customers who are a good fit for the product.

Account Executive

Account Executives (AEs) close the deals that SDRs hand off.

This is often your first significant advancement in a software sales career. You did it, champ! As an AE, you’ll likely make anywhere between $47k to $125k per year (with commissions). 

While some of your duties may seem to overlap with an SDR’s (like making phone calls and sending emails), your days of cold calling people who may think you’re the IRS are probably over. The leads you’re working with now are usually pretty warm and ready to do business. 

Typically, an AE will have two or more SDRs working for them at one time to bring in leads. Your job is to take over the deals they send your way, nurture the relationship, and try to close the deal. 

This involves nailing down necessary features for the software and walking the customer through the user interface (this is called a demo in industry speak). You’ll likely also be meeting to discuss any obstacles for closing and laying out the cost and terms of the contract.

Like an SDR, you still have quotas to meet for each month and/or quarter that will determine your success and commission. 

Typically, you’ll want 1-2 years of experience as an SDR before becoming an AE. Otherwise, you’ll need anywhere from 2-5 years of experience working in software sales or in a sales position that requires you to meet quotas. 

Outside Sales Representative

While this is more of a lateral move, becoming an outside sales rep can give you some great experience in other aspects of client relationships. While SDRs and AEs often work as a team with a set schedule, the role of outside sales is highly individual. 

In this role, you’ll be building relationships in other markets and even other countries outside your company’s established reach. A common perk to outside sales is the ability to make your own schedule. While you still have quotas to meet, it is often up to you to determine how and when you do the work. Your duties and pay are also similar to an AE with commission available. Salaries for outside sales reps range from $47k - $97k per year. 

Account Manager

In software sales, the game does not end once someone signs a contract. You want customers to keep using your product (and paying your salary) for years to come. Account managers are the ones who make this happen.

If you’re an account manager, you’ll spend most of your time as a point of contact for clients after a deal is closed. Your duties include continuous product support, trying to facilitate existing customers using your product in more areas of their business, and convincing them to renew their contracts.

Because of this, you’ll likely form a stronger long-term relationship with your clients than many other sales positions. If you have good SDRs and AEs qualifying leads at the base of your operation, that makes the job of an Account Manager far easier.

You may also be in charge of upselling the client with new features. Because you will likely have quotas for both upselling and renewal, there are also commissions involved in an account manager’s salary. That said, many account managers make anywhere from $47k - $96k per year.

Sales Manager

If you make the jump to Sales Manager, that will be another major step in your software sales career. In previous positions, you may have been more directly involved with clients, closing deals, and talking on phones. Sales managers are on a whole new level of leadership.  

That said, this level of leadership also comes with an increase in pay. Typical earnings for SaaS sales managers can range from $60k - $210k per year.

Sales managers will take plans given to them from the VP of Sales or Chief Revenue Officer and execute this through their team. This role is highly strategic and requires a good ability to motivate others toward success. 

You’ll also be directly responsible for your sales team’s performance. In this role, you’ll want to be well acquainted with the sales goals and metrics for your team as well as their overall needs and challenges.

Because of this, SDRs and AEs with years of experience are often the ones given the chance to try their hand at these management roles. Otherwise, sales manager positions often require experience with team and account management, proven skill for meeting quotas, and a track record or closing significant deals.

Sales Operations Manager

At some point in your journey, you may become a sales operations manager. While salaries are somewhat lower on average ($50k - $100k per year) sales operations managers also have a more focused type of management role for the sales team. 

Sales operations is about making sure the sales team succeeds with as little friction as possible. In a way, they are the oil that keeps a sales machine running smooth. 

In this role, you will work to overcome any unnecessary obstacles in the sales funnel and streamline day-to-day tasks for the sales team.  You will also be continuously improving and automating sales processes and creating marketing materials to help support the team’s efforts.  

To achieve this, sales operations managers will often have teams of their own. Additionally, you’ll be managing pipeline data to help upper management understand how the team is performing and make strategy adjustments. 

Because of the wide range of responsibilities, sales operations managers need plenty of management experience and technical knowledge of the sales process. SDRs, AEs, Sales Managers, and even software engineers often have skills required for this role.

Sales Engineer

As a sales engineer, you will play a very solid and important role to the entire sales strategy and to the overall retention of customers. 

Because SaaS companies aren’t selling designer clothes or mouth-watering food, there is a different challenge when it comes to selling the product. The basic duties of a sales engineer are to translate the capabilities of your software into a sales strategy that directly speaks to the needs of your customers. In other words, sales engineers help to market software as a practical solution to a problem (as opposed to a stylish or tasty one). 

To succeed in this, you will need both technical and sales skills under your belt. Knowledge of code is also a must. As a sales engineer, you’ll need to be intimately familiar with the software and the technical needs of your target market. You will also want to be pretty good at explaining things and solving problems.

Sales Engineers are sometimes responsible for training sales teams in the use of the product and all of its possible features. At times, you will also design custom demos for clients based on individual needs and work to find technical solutions in the process of closing a deal. For existing clients, you will be the point of contact for technical questions about the product and work to keep things running smoothly.

Because they are involved in the sales process, there are quotas and commissions involved in a sales engineer’s pay. In this role, you can expect to make anywhere from $60k to $150k per year for your efforts. 

VP of Sales

It’s been a long journey, but this is the moment you have been waiting for since you were just a little SDR. Go ahead and buy that golden plaque that says “VP” and fix it on your office door. You are now making anywhere from $100k - $300k per year, and you are officially a big shot. 

All the prestige aside, it’s worth noting that the title “VP of Sales” can exist in virtually any size company, from small startups to major corporations. While the words may not always be indicative of the same size team, the responsibility for this role is certainly heavy across the board. 

As a VP of Sales, you’re responsible for the sales growth of the entire company. This means that you have your own sales quota to meet on a very large scale. If operations are not working on the lower ends, this can affect how you meet your own goals. 

You will likely be hiring (and firing) members of your sales team in order to have the best talent on staff possible for your organization. You will also be working with other stakeholders to create and approve the entire sales strategy for the company. 

The VP of sales is also responsible for how the company decides to expand into other markets. Because of the incredibly wide range of duties, a VP of sales often holds multiple roles in this list on the way up to this promotion. While some companies do not have any sales roles higher than this, the VP of sales may report to a CRO or CSO. 

CRO

It really doesn’t get better than this. For a career in software sales, a CRO (Chief Revenue Officer) is almost always the very top position available. Usually only present in large corporations, a Chief Revenue Officer makes anywhere from $131k - $310k per year. Depending on the size of the company, it only goes up from there.

To get here, you will need to have proof of your ability to drive revenue at a large company into the millions and hundreds of millions. Marketing and technical knowledge are a must, and many candidates often hold other chief roles before moving into this one. 

As a CRO, you will be 100% responsible for the revenue of your entire organization and all that entails. For one, this means setting goals, KPIs, incentives, and consequences for your sales teams. It also means training account managers and sales managers, as well as keeping track of the entire sales pipeline. 

You will work closely with other board members and chief officers (both in your own company and abroad) to build relationships and make decisions that affect the entire organization. They will rely on you to facilitate growth and refine the entire sales process. 

While this role can be incredibly rewarding, and the perks and reputation certainly speak for themselves, there can be great consequences. If the company does not meet revenue targets with you as a VP of Sales or CRO, you may be fired more quickly than if you held a different role. Listen to Uncle Ben on this one, Peter - with great power comes great responsibility.

Final Thoughts

The world of SaaS sales can be an amazing career path that provides all sorts of opportunities to advance. Even if you don’t want to stay in sales for your entire career, software sales is a fantastic way to break into the tech industry.

If you’re ready to break into a new role but feel a bit overwhelmed, or are worried you don’t have the skills needed, have no fear! Prehired offers members a great way to begin their new software sales career with continued support from mentors for every stage of the journey.


Best of all, we only get paid when you get paid. Start training with us today, and pay us back once you land a position. Apply today!

Josh Jordan

As Prehired's Founder & CEO, Josh Jordan is leading the mission to help 10,000 people launch 6-figure software sales careers by the end of 2024.

How? With Prehired's Science-Based Sales® process -- born from helping dozens of software companies build their sales teams...

...and then consulting with hundreds of Software Sales Managers on exactly what they wanted new hires to know...

...and then helping hundreds of regular folks break into software sales in 12 weeks, on average.

Josh created Science-Based Sales® to help nearly anyone succeed in software sales, because it creates clarity for prospects. No killer closer instincts, charisma or kissing up to decision makers needed.

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