In the business world, there are two basic types of sales and marketing platform: business-to-consumer, in which the company sells directly to an individual, and business-to-business, in which the company sells to other companies. In general, if you are applying for a business-to-business role, particularly one in sales or marketing, the potential employer will want you to have business-to-business experience. There are a number of ways to gain this experience. Internships, volunteer work and cross-divisional promotions are some of the most common. You also might join an organization that allows you to work with the local small business community or even start your own small business on the side.
The reason most companies are so insistent that sales and marketing staff have business-to-business experience is that the platform is very different from the business-to-consumer platform. It requires different tactics in sales and marketing as well as different strategies for development, manufacturing and fulfillment. The rules regulating the two platforms also can be vastly different in some geographies and industries.
In some cases, particularly in entry-level positions, the employer will not expect you to have much experience or will be less concerned with the type of experience you have. If you are able to land such a position, you will be able to gain business-to-business experience that will help you find the job you want later in life. If you can't find one of these jobs, there are a number of other ways to gain the experience you need.
One such opportunity is the work you choose in high school and college and any college internships you perform. If possible, look for jobs that offer business-to-business experience instead of retail or food service positions. Options can include reception, mail room or file clerk positions in a business-to-business firm or entry-level positions in business-to-business sales.
You also may have an opportunity to gain experience in any current role. If you already work for a business-to-business company, look for opportunities in the sales and marketing departments, even if the available roles are assistant or clerical positions. If your company is a dual-platform business, look for open roles on the business-to-business side. For example, if you work in an insurance agency, ask your supervisor if you can begin handling claims or sales for small business customers in addition to or instead of consumer claims and sales.
A key thing to remember is that the primary reason employers look for business-to-business experience is that a corporation has different motivations and buying habits than an individual. What the employer really wants to know is that you understand how businesses make decisions and that you can affect those decisions favorably. Joining a volunteer organization in which you are responsible for raising funds from corporate donors or starting your own small business in which you provide services to companies also can demonstrate this understanding and help you get a foot in the door.