How to Transition from Retail to Sales

How to Transition from Retail to Sales

Written By:

Lynn Whitbeck

I’ve only worked in retail before, but I’m interested in pursuing sales as a career. Does my floor experience transfer well into sales? What more do I need to learn? – Courtney in Knoxville, TN

Answer:

Careers in sales open up a world of opportunities. From any starting point, such as customer facing retail, you have the ability to learn foundational leadership techniques. In any consumer-facing role, you make an immediate impression on the customer experience. You are the frontline for your organization to establish a connection and begin the customer journey. This experience becomes a tangible and transferrable skill set for a career in sales.

It’s a natural progression to leverage your learning from the retail arena to professional sales. In addition, working in sales will continue your professional development with highly desirable power skills. It’s not surprising that most CEOs have some form of sales background buried in their resume.

Transformation

Career progression is an ongoing transformation. This is the reason I’ve been sharing my experiences, insights, and methods for professional development on our podcast, Practical Wisdoms. Recently, Patrick Carter has joined me on a journey highlighting the connection and interdependencies between sales and leadership.

What really stands out is how our professional careers are matched and yet inverted. Currently, Patrick’s role is in retail sales management, but he started his sales career in B2B. Conversely, I began in retail and then transitioned to B2B. The commonalities in building relationships are abundant.

This is pertinent when looking at career evolution. Each step along the way creates opportunities to learn, adapt, and flex while we grow. Each experience adds to our repertoire and builds new skills. The lessons learned in retail can be applied to each new position.

Ask Lynn - Retail to Sales

Transition

My first job was in retail, working at Nordstrom in the alterations department. While I did not have a lot of direct customer contact, I absorbed the core philosophy of customer care. It was exciting to be a part of making the customer feel comfortable and provide them satisfaction. People would light up in their final fitting when the garment fit just right.

My first sales position was B2C, and I leveraged my retail experience to better understand what the customer wanted and needed. It helped me ask questions and actively listen – important transferrable skills on any career path, and especially crucial in sales.

Progression

My brief stint in B2C sales was an easy transition from my retail experience. It prepared me to begin my sales career. I had learned how to respond to irritable or impatient customers. Helping people shift from the negative to a balanced frame of mind felt good.

In direct consumer sales, you encounter people who are in a hurry or frustrated on a regular basis. Finding solutions for customers requires learning problem solving skills, practicing flexibility, and actively seeking win-wins. It is an ideal training moment. It positions you for your next career move.

Like me, when you’ve had the opportunity to work directly with customers, you can easily gauge if you are motivated by the desire to help others and be of service. At its core, the sales profession is rooted in a mission to provide customers with what they want, need, or lack. If this aligns with your values, then pursuing a career in sales is an excellent choice.

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