How Big is the Gap Between Sales and Business Analysis?

How big is the gulf between sales and business analysisReader question:

I have been in sales now for about 15 years, mostly in the financial industry. I am thinking of changing careers and the business analyst route seems interesting to me. From what I hear there is the interaction part with people along with communication skills and the liaison aspect between departments.

My question is, is there a way to be a BA without having to be real technical in terms of learning programs, etc. but focus on the liaison part. I’m tired of sales and the commission aspect, not knowing if there will be another paycheck etc.

Can a sales person who is used to be out and about all day become a BA or is this too extreme?

Laura’s answer:

Business analysis is a much different role than sales, but there are also transferable skills from one role to the other.

You will find you have some very relevant transferable skills.

  • Interviewing clients pre-sales can be an awful lot like asking stakeholders questions about their requirements.
  • Creating proposals for clients which have many parallels to scope statements and business cases.
  • Negotiation, influence, and the ability to align others around a common goal are all necessary to being a great business analyst. This relates to what you mention in terms of being a strong liaison with good communication skills.

In your particular case, your financial industry experience could provide a launch point for a BA career, as BA roles in the financial industry tend to value industry experience. As a sales person, I imagine you have a lot of knowledge about different organizations and needs throughout the industry, which could make your experience very compelling to the right hiring manager.

You do not have to have hard technical skills (as in knowing how to write programs) to be a business analyst. However, you do need to dig in and obtain a working functional knowledge of how certain business applications work. You’ll also need to explore new business domains with curiosity and fit all the pieces together.

One thing I write about in How to Start a Business Analyst Career that applies in your situation is to be very aware of the time you like to spend with people vs. the time you like to spend doing independent work. Across all my various BA roles, I’ve found that I spend about 1/3 of my time with people (mostly in meetings) and 2/3 independently (working up specifications, analyzing problems, etc). I find it hard to imagine a BA role that would allow you to spend more than 50% of your time with people.

Ask yourself if you can imagine sitting at your desk, working independently on a model or requirements document for at least 4 hours out of a typical work day.

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Comments

  1. Nayan Agarwal says:

    For a BA its must to

    1) understand the current process—which a sales guy can do far better than anyone in. He can identify issues, bottlenecks in that process

    2) Must be a visionary person—understand client’s future vision—transfer the same future vision to other stakeholders thru documents (specs), discussions, meetings—-A sales person can understand the vision & also create a vision for the business

    3) Can learn basic techi stuff over the period of time…no one has to understand technology from day one in business analysis

  2. Being a business analyst doesn’t necessarily have to mean technology, but you will most likely find that the majority of BA roles do interact with technology/technologists these days. If you can find a pure analysis role that maybe defines just business processes or the like, it would be a rarity.

    I’m not so sure I agree with Nayan that a sales person is inherently good (or bad) at recognizing processes and states of a vision, but you might find that you are one of these people. Assuming that is the case, the next step might be to determine would you might be able to accomplish with that information. For instance, could you “translate” it from a business user who states, “I need a box” into general specifications for a developer to build that box, widget, process, application? My guess is that you’ve not don’t it before, so there are some starting points for discovering how you might learn to do that.

    Your people skills will be incredibly valuable in a jump to being a BA, and you will probably find that you excel at interviewing stakeholders, deeper discussions to elicit requirements, relationship building. You’ll probably also find that those relationships are stronger on the business side than the technology side, due to your lack of familiarity with it…but that should diminish over time.

    One thing that you might look into as well could be technical writing. If you have a decent command of sentence structure and grammar and can write relatively well, technical writing is a great profession that often lends itself to aspiring business analysts. This is because TWs use many of the same skills, though at a different degree, when investigating their topic in order to write about it. Functioning as a TW for a while might afford you a lengthier learning curve to get used to technology.

    Good Luck with whatever decision you make!

  3. As I read through the advice you received from Nayan and Doug (thanks to you both!) it reminded me of someone here in Denver who was making the transition from the sales side of technical recruiter into business analysis. This person had found herself getting more and more involved in defining processes. She did a lot of interviewing to get a deep understanding of the hiring managers needs with a candidate. As Doug suggests, ask yourself if you have these similar tendencies within your current role. I think a process-orientation would be key. If the answer is yes, then it might be worth reading an introductory book on BA or taking a course. Many people transitioning to BA use the courses to find transferable skills.

    Best,
    Laura

  4. BA is a generic term. I have seen organzations where the smart techno-managers doing BA work as well as SMEs of typical functional expertise doing BA work. For the sales guy it is obvious coming as a ‘technical BA’ will be a sharp change while he can use his sales analytic experiences combined product knowledge and can definitely be a solid ‘functional BA’. However being in business analysis in both technical and functional I strongly believe successful BA is all about following certain aspects- 1) listening 2) asking right questions at right time 3) documenting the outcomes 4) identifying the challenges 5) reporting them to the proper channel at proper time 6) identifying opportunities and resources to make them successful and recommending them to management. Anybody having these qualities can shine in this area.
    Hope that answers the doubts 🙂 Good Luck!

    Thanks,
    Anand

  5. Bernadette says:

    I have been a BA (Role title) for about 5 years. My background was marketing and sales for about 20 years prior. I fell into BA work as an account manager, because I was passionate about providing my customers with good quality sales data which was lacking where I worked. I investigated what data was available and then what I could do with it and developed my own reports. It grew from there. Every sales role, I was keen to have good data and my skills grew and I became more and more curious (which I think is one of the key skills for a BA). I ended up in a role where I could develop a plan to do data analysis almost full-time. I went back to an Account Manager role whilst continuing with the data analyst duries (because they couldn’t find a replacement). I ended up in a Project role in a new company and then three months later, they advertised for a permanent BA. With the help of another BA, I rewrote my resume and application with a BA slant on it (I had been doing BA type work anyway), business proposals were similar to business cases; Working out how to better sales reporting tools used was like writing requirements. I was successful and still in that same role now looking how to broaden my BA experience. I have spent the last 4 years becoming a ‘proper’ BA and really enjoying the work – I have always been a detective like person, now I am paid to do it!

    Back in my sales days, I did an MBA and it added to my transition. I am not technical, and I feel it is a slight disadvantage, but my communication and negotiation skills (from sales) have definitely been key to being a good business analyst and partially make up for the lack of technical skills. If the kind of things a BA does appeals to you, then it doesn’t matter what your background is, like Laura says ‘it all depends on your career goals’ Laura’s suggestion to look at BA roles to see what the various activities are is a good one. I did that when I was out of work (following a retrenchment) and I was attracted to the role – it just took another 10 years to get there, could have been quicker if I realised then what I know now.