Tech Needs More Than Coders. This Bootcamp Will Train Sales Chops (and Even Pay For It)

This post was originally posted on EdSurge on April 12, 2017

Many bootcamps that aim to place workers into technology jobs promise to turn novices into software engineers and designers. Yet just as vital to a tech company’s growth is the ability to sell. “It doesn’t matter how good of a product you build,” reminds James Nielsen, “if no one buys it.”

Nielsen, 37, has built his career assembling sales teams at technology stalwarts including Qualcomm, Ooyala and uStream. Junior sales roles, he found, were “surprisingly hard to hire for.” Contrary to public perception, not everyone who works in technology is a software engineer. Building out a high-performing sales team—from the top executive to the sales reps at the frontlines—is a priority for any early-stage company looking to grow.

“Since there are no sales majors or internships,” Nielson asks, “how do you go about finding people who want to fill these roles?”

Two years ago, he raised a $600,000 seed round and launched Sales Bootcamp, a three-month program that aims to prepare people with little or no sales experience for entry-level jobs at tech companies. The San Francisco-based startup has since helped 100 students learn the know-hows behind entry-level sales.

The program starts off with a one-week online program that online videos, assignments and assessments introducing concepts such as lead generation, outbound prospecting, and the various customer relationship management (CRM) tools used to manage the process. There are also online “office hours” with coaches from the Sales Bootcamp team.

After finishing the program, students can apply to join a three-month, on-site fellowship at one of Sales Bootcamp’s 60 partnering companies. It’s a highly competitive process that involve screening by the Nielsen’s team as well as the company where candidates might be placed; only 10 percent of applicants make it through. Once in, students get product training, run outbound marketing campaigns and build sales pipelines for the closing reps they support.

Today, the company is publicly launching this free online offering, available to anyone curious or serious about what it takes to land a sales role. “We’re helping to train people who are higher up the funnel, before the conversations and meetings make the way to account executives,” Nielson tells EdSurge.

For purely financially-motivated learners, sales may not immediately appear to be the most lucrative option. Starting salaries for entry-level jobs are lower than their coding counterparts. Base annual compensation for sales development representatives (the industry’s standard name for these roles) range from $45,000 to $55,000. Add up bonuses for hitting benchmark and goals—a typical incentive for salespeople—and the total can reach upwards of $75,000. (That’s still a little less than what the average coding bootcamp graduates start with.)

Yet while tuition for coding bootcamps can creep towards $20,000, Sales Bootcamp is available for free. Even better: students who do the fellowship are paid $2,500 per month, covered by the companies where they are interning. Companies that want to convert these fellows into full-time employees then pay Sales Bootcamp a fee.

This revenue model is keeping Sales Bootcamp afloat so far; Nielsen says the business is already cashflow-positive for his team of eight full-time employees. Yet like any growing startup, Sales Bootcamp looks to grow,  quadrupling its number of students to 400 by the end of 2017. To reach that goal, the company acquired a competitor with a similar name—Inside Sales Bootcamp—in March to boost its marketing and instructional program.

The company is also embarking on a college tour to get the word out. Nielsen’s message for soon-to-be graduates: “For anyone who wants to go into tech, you don’t need to be a STEM major or know how to code.” Technical sales roles are among the potentially most financially rewarding “middle-skill” careers that often goes unnoticed and underfilled, noted a 2014 Harvard Business School report (PDF).

“It takes a lot of individuals to run a business,” says Nielsen. “Everyone thinks you have to be a software developer to work in tech.” But so long as there are gadgets and services to be built, there will be a need for salespeople to pitch and find buyers.

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