About eight years ago, I was minding my own business, working at a job I loved and expected to stay in for a long time. I was a reference librarian at a community college helping our students find the resources they needed to succeed in college was interesting and rewarding.
One day I got a message from a recruiter asking if I’d be “interested in learning more” about a position with a major library vendor. Reasoning that there’s no harm in “learning more,” I agreed to take a call, and about two weeks and several interviews later, I had a job offer to join the PreSales team working on an exciting new cloud offering for libraries.
That’s when I freaked out. What was I doing? I’d had a series of false starts in my career, and it was a relief to be in a job I enjoyed and that matched my skills. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to walk away from my librarian role for an unknown job that I didn’t fully understand.
After discussions with friends and family and a serious weighing of the pros and cons, I decided to take the leap—the worst that could happen was I didn’t like it, and I knew how to start over.
Why does industry experience matter?
Companies with a product to sell and customer relationships to build cannot build and sell quality products without teams that know their industries and are willing to dig deep. Subject matter experts are particularly important in sales. Especially in niche fields like healthcare, education, legal, and financial services where credibility counts, and a deal that is struck now can be the foundation of a long partnership or open the door to a larger customer base.
In your professional life up until now, you’ve likely built skills and cultivated knowledge of specific fields and specialties, whether you’ve been around the block or you’re only a few years out of school. What if you could put those skills to work helping colleagues in your professional field address their pain points and daily challenges? PreSales can do that, and in fact, we can’t do it without you.
What’s in it for you?
Maybe you’ve heard the advice to “find your hard” in the world of work and adult life. For me, that happened as I began to establish myself as a strong individual contributor on a team that was bringing a rapidly developing product to a market eager for something new. My team and I were responsible for figuring out how to present our products in a compelling way that inspired adoption. It was a big responsibility and I wanted to be in the center of it.
In a traditional 9-to-5 job (or 12-to-8, in the library!), even when I found my work challenging, I felt hemmed in by the constraints of needing to be in the same place at the same time every day. Routine was a comfort but also a cage.
In PreSales, no two days are the same, and I found autonomy to set my own schedule and tackle the work in the way that made the most sense to me. I knew that the bar for success was high and that my boss and my team expected a lot, but it was also clear that the potential rewards were significant.
How do I leverage my Industry experience?
You already have the connections you need to move into a PreSales role in your field. If you work with vendors or suppliers, your contacts there are a network you can tap, as are your colleagues in other departments and even at other companies. Talk to your network, research the major players in your industry, read job descriptions—make a plan for learning and growth and recognize that a change may not happen overnight, but can happen quickly when the right role presents itself.
The most relevant thing you can share with me in my role as a hiring manager is what you specifically will bring to my team if I hire you. Don’t tell me what the job will do for you; tell me what you will do for me and my team. As a candidate coming from a different industry, lean into your experience and have stories ready about transferable skills and the value of bringing the voice of the practitioner into the sales process and customer relationships.
If your background isn’t in sales, demonstrate to a hiring manager that your curiosity, growth mindset, and passion for learning will help you to fill in the gap. Any candidate with real and varied experience in our field who can demonstrate a thoughtful path to a PreSales role will get a second look from me in the hiring process and may very well get a job offer.
You got the job, so now what?
As a new PreSales professional, you’ll have a learning curve. If you’re new to sales, it will be a different and sometimes steeper curve. On my team, the onboarding period for a new team member to be truly independent is close to a year, so remember to view your accomplishments in context. After more than eight years of working in PreSales, I learn something new every day and I am constantly adjusting my approach—a job is only interesting if you’re always learning.
The good news is that when you join a vendor from the industry you serve, you already know the industry itself. Be patient with yourself and work with your manager to set up an onboarding plan with realistic milestones for growth in a variety of areas. Trust your knowledge and experience and keep an open mind about learning the parts of the job that are new to you. Soon you too will be presenting killer demos and recruiting new PreSales professionals into the fold!
Katy Aronoff is Senior Director of PreSales for Academic & Government for the Americas at Clarivate. She is responsible for the teams of product experts who showcase the value of Ex Libris next-gen library solutions through engaging demonstrations and written bid responses.
Katy joined Ex Libris in 2014 as a solutions architect and moved into a management role in 2017. She specializes in working with complex research libraries and library consortia and has presented at major conferences in librarianship including the American Library Association, the Charleston Conference, Electronic Resources and Libraries, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and regional and international Ex Libris user group meetings.
Prior to joining Ex Libris, Katy worked as a librarian at Bentley University and Northern Essex Community College and in administrative roles at Harvard and Tufts. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Barnard College (Columbia University) and a master’s degree in library and information science from Simmons University.