I am in sales. How can I become a business analyst?
Filed Under: Career Advice
Making a career change can be tricky at any point in time. But as they say: it’s never too late. So if you are thinking about transitioning from a professional sales role to a business analysis role, this guide is for you.
“Sales” and “Business Analysis” may appear quite different on the surface. But, luckily, business analysis is a profession where a broad range or depth of business experience and people skills matter more than any niche business knowledge or education credentials. And if you look at the underlying motivation and mindset that a Business Analyst (BA) and a Sales Professional (Rep) must have or the tools and techniques they use for success in their respective areas of expertise; you’ll find many similarities.
In fact, you likely already have the background to be a solid BA. You just have to package your skills and experiences and present them as such.
Broadly speaking, three career paths can help someone transition into a BA role:
Someone with extensive industry knowledge. For example, someone who has worked for different companies in different capacities within the same industry like finance.
Someone with deep business expertise. For example, someone who has worked for the same company for years and can be considered a subject matter expert.
Someone with a technology background. For example, a developer, a quality analyst, or a technology manager who has always had a keen interest in the business side of things.
I think sales professionals can tailor their experiences to fit profile #1 easily.
In fact, today, as a practicing Business Analyst, if someone were to ask me to recommend a set of skills for a new or seasoned BA to learn, I would say sales, without a doubt.
But why sales, you ask?
My first job in high school was a sales job—a job I hated and wanted to quit almost immediately. All summer long, I wondered why I couldn’t have landed a “safe” job, like a store clerk or admin assistant. Any job would do as long as I didn’t have to sell anything to anyone. I promised myself: no more sales jobs. I lied. Obviously. Because as I eventually realized, every job is a sales job, regardless of the job description.
BAs don’t sell a product or a service to the company’s customers. That’s true. But they sell ideas and expectations with a healthy dose of reality to internal stakeholders or business customers. The best salespeople are consultants or advisors to their customers: the company’s end customers. Similarly, the best BAs are consultants or advisors to their customers: internal business units or stakeholders like sales, marketing, product operations, etc.
Now, let’s map the skills required of a good Rep against the skills required to be a BA role to see how each skill can be re-purposed for a career transition into business analysis:
Product & Industry Knowledge = Business Domain Knowledge
Just as a good Rep needs to know the product or service they are selling inside and out, a good BA needs to know the product or service they are helping build or enhance.
A Rep who doesn’t have the required business domain knowledge to vet his or her customer needs cannot sell effectively. Similarly, a BA who doesn’t understand the business and its policies, systems, processes, acronyms, and trends cannot be an effective BA.
BAs are agents of change in an organization. Their primary role is to enable change initiatives related to people, process, or technology. But how can they manage such a project without understanding the context in which the change must occur?
Strategic Prospecting = Stakeholder Analysis
Good Reps understand the importance of selling via word of mouth. They seek referrals from their existing customers and connections to find new prospects that fit the ideal customer profile. Similarly, good BAs understand the importance of identifying the right stakeholders and engaging them from the beginning of a project.
The first step in any business analysis initiative should be to identify the stakeholders: the people who will be directly or indirectly involved or affected by the change envisioned by the project. This list of stakeholders usually includes the project sponsors, executives, management, subject matter experts, business managers, support staff, end-users, etc. This list can be quite extensive. The goal here is to identify the right stakeholders and build as comprehensive a list as a BA can.
Like Reps, BAs use “strategic prospecting” or what we call “stakeholder analysis” to figure out who fits where in the project puzzle. They assess and analyze the power, role, knowledge, and expertise of these stakeholders to determine how they can best contribute to a project’s outcome.
Rapport Building = Relationship Building
The best Reps can build rapport with their customers by empathizing with their needs and wants. Similarly, the best BAs use their rapport building skills to empathize with their internal stakeholders or business customers.
BAs are change agents. And change is hard. Thus, BAs as “agents of change” often find themselves in disengaged (at best) or hostile (at worst) work environments. In such conditions, they must leverage their “rapport” aka “relationship” building skills to engage their stakeholders to build trust and confidence.
Buyer-Seller Agreement = Change Management
Good change management allows the prospect to feel comfortable during the sales process and understand what is coming next, so no one feels ambushed down the road. It also enables the Rep to open up a two-way street in the selling process so that both parties get to a win-win conclusion.
Similarly, the most crucial task in any business analysis initiative is to ensure that the right stakeholders stay engaged in the project. It’s especially true for stakeholders who either most resist the change or are most affected by it but have the least amount of power or say in the matter. This is just one aspect of change management, a task that a BA must continually engage in until the end of the project. Stakeholder interviews, workshops, and other one-on-one and group interactions are a crucial opportunity for the BA to gather project requirements, raise awareness about the business needs and goals, set expectations, promote engagement, and generally help everyone go through the process of transition (aka change).
Active Listening = Interpersonal Savvy
Paying attention, withholding judgment, reflecting, clarifying, summarizing, and sharing are key active listening skills.
Developing these skills help Reps empathize with prospects to learn more about their business needs and pain points. With that knowledge, they can then offer better solutions and sell more effectively. Similarly, active listening skills are what make good BAs great. One of the biggest reasons for project (software or otherwise) failures is bad business requirements, which is a direct result of poor communication, both incoming and outgoing.
Active listening skills help a BA understand and internalize the business need to develop clear, prioritized, consumable, and complete requirements that deliver value to the stakeholders. Imparting the right amount of information at the right time to the right people helps keep everyone on the same page while they work towards a common goal and allows the BA to manage the change process effectively.
The best BAs I have known in my career strategically used these soft “sales” skills to elevate themselves into a trusted advisor role for their internal stakeholders or business customers. Great BAs lead stakeholder discussions just like Reps lead meaningful sales conversations. Skilled BAs, much like skilled sales professionals, look for opportunities to innovate. They stop and ask “why,” again and again, until they’ve dug deep enough to uncover the underlying pain that’s driving the need for change.
Because to be an effective BA:
You need to tap into people’s non-conscious to define their real requirements. People are conscious of the immediate problems and issues with their processes and so will seek to have these resolved. However, few are conscious of the strategic intent and rationale of their processes — what they are really trying to achieve and the reason (or lack of reason) for each step in the process. This knowledge is held in their non-conscious and has to be tapped into to identify what they really want the process to do, and why.
So, if you’re looking to kickstart your career in business analysis, your best bet would be to:
Take inventory of your current skill set.
See if you have any transferable knowledge and skills that you can bring to the business analysis field.
Package and present it as such.
As a sales professional, you likely have “people” and “soft” skills in spades. That should be your calling card to make this transition to a business analysis role possible.