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Graduating with a business and economics degree or an MBA opens many doors, yet entering the real world can be a daunting task when there are so many options available. Sales is on the minds of many business grads, but there are other positions in consulting to aid salespeople that are being created all over the map. The fast-paced, ever-changing, competitive industry of consulting sales is something they may not have considered.

Long gone is the image of the sales guy being the smug guy, says Robert Lanoue, partner within Deloitte's corporate strategy practice. Salespeople are now very analytical, strategic; they understand their customer base, and the product and services. With the increase in innovation and technology, companies are becoming more focused on the customer and profit, which is where consultants come in.

According to Glenn Yonemitsu, CEO at the Canadian Association of Management Consultants, when entering the consulting field it's important to remember you're not providing clients with a tangible service but rather an intangible promise to provide your knowledge.

A consultant is always brought in because the client doesn't need the expertise on a full-time basis, he says. They need some specific expertise to help them effect change or help set something up or improve the process.

Consultants are hired by a company for any amount of time to help develop their sales force. That said, the needs by each company differ greatly, so consultants have to be versatile.

Every organization has a different need, he says. One of the really important things you do at the start of an engagement is spend a lot of time in the whole area coming to an agreement in terms of what you're trying to accomplish.

This field isn't for someone who needs a routine. As a consultant there are constantly new projects, some of which last a few months longer than others. You have to be able to learn on your feet, be open to working at client sites, and like to travel.

Almost every company in the world that's for-profit, and even a lot of not-for-profits, all have to generate revenues, says Yonemitsu, meaning the majority of companies could benefit from hiring a sales consultant. This means no shortage of work and lots of opportunities.

You come in quickly as an expert, says Alyson Gampel, associate director, graduate employment at the Schulich School of Business in Toronto, Ontario. But that function and industry may be fairly new to you. As a consultant you have to learn about the industry and the tools needed to help each client. It comes down to putting what you've learned academically to practice. A successful candidate must be intellectually curious, good at problem solving and teamwork, adaptable, humble, and an agile learner. 

Gampel states the trajectory of an individual in consulting sales is as follows: start as an analyst at the junior level, move to a consultant position where you manage analysts, evolve into a management role and become the key contact on projects. After that, a manager can finally be promoted to partner, when individuals are responsible for sales. They take the lead on projects and coordinate a team of managers, consultants, and analysts.

Each firm looks for something different: individuals that have specific skill sets, specialties, and personalities that will mesh well within the firm. Consultants primarily have degrees in business, engineering, and mathematics. Gampel adds she has also seen individuals with non-traditional backgrounds, such as those with a degree in the medical field or a PhD in music.

For example, Deloitte's Corporate Strategy Practice recruits graduates with a business degree from schools like Western University, University of Toronto, and Queen's University. Individuals enter the field as business analysts for three to four years and then become consultants. To move further, consultants can either get a graduate degree and become senior consultants or continue to move up the ladder.

In consulting you're always learning and building your skill sets, so you'll never get bored. When you see the client or company improve because some of the ideas you had in your head, says Yonemitsu, it's an extremely rewarding and satisfying job.


Would you consider a job in sales?

For further information on the sales industry, read about its misconceptions, its benefits, and where it could lead as a career.

Photo: Ivan Bliznetsov/iStock