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´╗┐Don't let the size of major players in the IT industry fool you. The software sales industry is actually pretty small relative to the States, and most of the jobs in Canada are in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. These jobs boast fat pay cheques, and a cool corporate culture. Being a small industry allows you to rake in the dough, but has its disadvantages for those who aren't careful. 

Your reputation follows you, whether you did something bad at the company Christmas party or if you don't make your sales, OJ Cherry, sales manager of Corporate Sales at Sophos, warns. It's an industry where everyone knows each other and as people talk, gossip spreads as easily as pushing the send button.

Despite often being described as cutthroat, software sales attracts candidates willing to challenge the stiff competition.

Show me the money

Every company is different, but you can count on a base salary plus a commission compensation structure. The commission portion is determined by forecasting your sales and establishing a quota, which is called your OTE ' On Target Earnings. The system is designed to encourage you to go over your quota, Cherry explains. Once you're over, the accelerator (industry lingo) kicks in. This means that once you exceed your quota, the formula adjusts and the percentage of the commission you earn increases. Most base salaries start at 50k and with commission factored in, the average rep makes 100k, Cherry adds.

Getting in

A degree gets you an interview, but the ability to close a sale gets you the job. Education is not the primary driver in software sales. It's looked at in the initial stages of the hiring process though, Cherry explains. But those with a proven track record for closing sales are desired, making this job popular with career changers. New grads with no sales experience have to prove themselves and start in entry level roles, like a sales developer, with typical duties such as cold calling and lead generation.

Sales rep vs. Pre-sales engineer

Depending on which niche you work in, some sales reps work on their own, while others work within a team. In a team environment, the sales rep does all the prospecting, qualifying of leads, and the negotiating of prices. Pre-sales engineers support the sales rep in closing the sale by providing product demonstrations, and going deeper into the logistics of the problem. They can't move the deal forward without the sales engineers. We are the technical component, Abdul-Rehman Khan, a solutions consultant at NetSuite, explains.  

Teamwork isn't always easy however. It can pose problems, especially when both the sales rep and pre-sales engineers depend on different pay structures. Pre-sales engineers have a higher base salary and capped commission, whereas sales reps have a smaller base and often uncapped commission, said Khan. 

Next steps

Being a sales rep can open doors too. You can move upstream to a larger company with bigger and more complicated products, become a director with a large company, move into sales management, or join a small upstart and share ownership, Cherry said. Rob Lunney, director of Western Canada from EMC2, believes sales careers offer transferable skills. Sales professionals must learn their products and customers inside and out. This gives them an advantage if they wish to pursue other IT related professions in the future.

Words from the wise

Choose a stable company to work for, with a product line you can sell in the good times and the bad. Don't ever get complacent. Squeeze every ounce of juice from the lemon, Cherry advises. The software sales industry reputation for being a dog-eat-dog world, where you must eat or be eaten, can be intimidating. But looking back, Khan would have chosen the sales route over the technical route. I would've focused on it back then if I knew how good they have it. 

Photo: Michael Blann/Thinkstock