Sales is a notoriously difficult profession and there’s a common sentiment of “either you have what it takes or you don’t”. When it comes to career advancement, experience and prior results are often the best “proof of success” factors (sometimes heralded as more important than acquiring a sales certification).
This makes sense. Having success in the real world proves that you can do something well. Certifications prepare you, but do they hold weight against on-the-job accomplishments?
There is a range of training organizations and sales certifications that claim they will take your sales proficiency to the next level. While the best of these can improve your skills as a salesperson, increase your qualifications and make your resume stand out to employers, others may not be worth your time and money.
In this article, we’ll explain what a sales certification is and how it can bolster your resume and advance your sales career. Then we’ll take a look at seven of the best sales certifications you can earn (for salespeople and sales leaders alike), finishing with some high-level tips on how to choose the best certification for you.
What are sales certifications and how can they impact your career?
Sales certifications are awarded after the completion of sales courses, training programs or assessments and show that you have a specific skillset or have reached a standard of professional knowledge in an area of sales.
This may include specific skills like customer service or negotiation, knowledge of the sales pipeline or a deep understanding of a particular sales strategy.
Sales certifications range from entry-level to advanced or “mastery” courses and can have varying curriculums. Salespeople can obtain some certifications via a brief online course, whereas more advanced courses may take place over a weekend or even over a series of weeks.
Will a sales certification advance your career?
Earning a sales certification can help push your career along, whether you’re just starting out or you’re looking to upskill. For instance, a sales certification can:
Demonstrate that you have a certain skill or particular training that shows you know how to be a good salesperson
Attract attention from potential employers
Drive growth and professional development
However, unlike other industries where a single recognized authority generally administers certifications, there is no such thing in sales. While the organizations that offer them have set standards for the awarding certifications, there is no standard or agreed-upon certification in the industry.
Take a look at real estate certifications as an example. Once you’ve received your real estate agent license, it’s possible to be certified as a Realtor through the National Association of Realtors (NAR). This boosts your credibility as a real estate agent and increases the number of tools at your disposal – as long as you subscribe to the NAR’s code of ethics.
In contrast, the sales industry has no single organization that is universally recognized as the industry authority. This means that any accreditation you receive from a sales organization won’t carry the same weight as it would in other industries like real estate.
Instead, merit is often given to candidates who have real-world experience, show a proven track record in the art of sales and have received training from well-regarded organizations.
Is it worth getting a sales certification?
In sales, the mantra is often that results matter more than anything else. In this context, the most important thing for entry-level salespeople is to dive right in and get real-world experience, advancing your career by developing an impressive portfolio.
However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to get key certifications in conjunction with direct experience.
Along with great training, certifications can prove to employers (especially as an entry-level salesperson) that you’ve been exposed to an array of methodologies and have a level of knowledge beyond the results you’ve generated.
It can also be beneficial to gain technical certifications in the sales field you work in instead of broad sales certifications. For example, if you work in cybersecurity SaaS sales, you may want to receive certifications in I.T. or cybersecurity.
Technical certifications act as proof of your expertise in what you sell and can have two great benefits:
Clients will see that you know what you’re talking about, generating greater trust and leading to more sales.
You will be able to turn the certification into a story about how it will help your role and improve your sales, increasing your employability.
Keep this information in mind as we take a look at seven of the best sales certifications as it will help narrow down which certification will be useful to you.
7 best sales certifications to bolster your resume
We’ve focused primarily on sales certifications that will assist entry-level salespeople. Each of these certificates is offered by an industry-leading organization and provides different benefits, from teaching a particular sales methodology to learning key sales skills.
1. Best for learning the NASP sales strategy: Certified Professional Sales Person (CPSP)
The CPSP certification is a program offered by the National Association of Sales Professionals (NASP) and promises to transform you into a top performer in sales.
The CPSP program is designed for sales professionals of all career levels, from entry-level salespeople to executives, CEOs and business owners. The certification course teaches the NASP strategy and offers sales tactics for daily conditioning and behavioral training to build sales habits that will increase your effectiveness as a salesperson.
The sales certificate also dives into how to navigate clients through the buyer journey and teaches you unique strategies used by Fortune 500 sales teams.
The aim of this course is to replace outdated habits and methodologies with a modern, effective approach based on buyer psychology. Specifically, it promises to teach you:
Different styles of communication so you can speak to a client’s personalized needs and build trust
Learn to negotiate a sale and push prospects through the sales funnel effectively
How to be confident in sales and stop unconsciously sabotaging your success
Structure: Comprehensive six-week online course
2. Best for intermediate-level salespeople: Certified Inside Sales Professional (CISP)
Provided by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP), the CISP accreditation is an online program that covers a broad range of sales skills. It’s designed primarily for sales reps in the early to mid-stages of their career who want to improve their knowledge of the sales process.
The certification is broken up into ten separate courses. Each course ends with a mock live sales call role play exam in which you are tested on the competencies learned in that course.
The coursework ranges from Business 101 and the Sales Process to closing techniques and how to manage accounts and channel sales effectively.
After you complete the course, you can take the final exam. This is a series of pretend, interactive sales calls built around specific scenarios.
Once completed, you are awarded the CISP certificate and can refer to yourself as a CISP-certified sales professional for three years. During these three years, you must continue to stay up-to-date and active with the AA-ISP community to remain certified.
Structure: An eight to twelve-week online course with ten modules and a final exam
Cost: $875 for members and $1,020 for non-members
3. Best for sales leadership: Certified Professional Sales Leader (CPSL)
Similar to the CPSP certification, CPSL is an online course offered by NASP that is focused on sales leadership. Designed for Presidents, VPs and directors of sales, account managers and salespeople looking to move into leadership sales roles, the course covers strategies and behavioral techniques to help you manage sales teams.
This professional sales certification covers:
How to implement the leadership habits of Fortune 500 sales leaders
How to train and lead an effective sales team
Behaviors and strategies to equip your team and level up their performance
How to develop an understanding of the emotional needs of your sales team and adapt your leadership and communication to have the highest impact
To complete this course, you must commit to around 30 minutes per day for the daily online modules and achieve a minimum 80% correct score on the final exam.
If you’re a sales leader or are looking to become one, this sales professional certification will help you become a great sales manager. It provides you with the skills and techniques needed to build rapport with your team, challenge them to grow as salespeople and align their emotional needs with the business needs of your organization.
Structure: Comprehensive six-week online course
4. Best for international team training: SPIN Selling
SPIN Selling is an online training certification provided by Huthwaite International. The SPIN Selling strategy (Situation, Problem, Implication and Need) was developed over forty years ago and is one of the most well-known and highly regarded modern sales methodologies.
The international training program is designed for salespeople who want to improve their performance, experienced professionals looking to learn a world-class methodology and sales leaders who want to apply the SPIN Selling techniques to their sales teams.
SPIN Selling is based on an in-depth analysis of real-world behavior (accounting for your global location) during sales conversations and is designed to leverage key behavioral and psychological techniques to enhance your performance as a salesperson and lead to more successful sales.
What makes SPIN stand out is that it is highly data-driven and evidence-based. With many sales methodologies, you can’t be sure of their effectiveness until you’ve tried them. With SPIN Selling, you know that the method is tried and tested.
The SPIN Selling sales book written by Neil Rackham complements the SPIN training course nicely, providing a detailed overview and backdrop for the program.
Structure: Two or three-day intensive program plus seven online training modules
Cost: Available on request
Watch our video about this sales methodology below.
5. Best for executives and company owners: Certified Sales Executive (CSE)
The Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI) offers the Certified Sales Executive accreditation. This is a sales management certification that is targeted toward managers and sales leaders.
The CSE training program promises an extensive list of outcomes, including:
Defining the sales management process, roles and responsibilities of managers and how the sales and marketing strategies fit into an overall business strategy
Learning some of the successful contemporary sales leadership approaches
Identifying common ethical and practical issues faced by sales managers and how to effectively mitigate them
Learning how to leverage training and team building for salespeople to develop an effective salesforce
To earn the certificate, you have to complete a series of modules and quizzes. Once you’re ready, you can take the final exam. You must complete the exam with at least 75% to receive your CSE certification.
To maintain your certification, you must pay an annual renewal fee and maintain continued education via SMEI webinars, conferences or other educational events.
Structure: A fifteen-chapter online sales certification course and final certification exam
Cost: $989 for the course, $150 for the final examination and $95 for the annual renewal fee ($55 for members)
6. Best for retail sales: RISE Up
RISE Up is the National Retail Federation (NRF) Foundation’s sales certification program and provides fundamental retail skills to help entry-level salespeople strengthen their resumes and improve their chances of getting hired.
NRF offers four separate entry-level accreditations as part of RISE Up. These are targeted toward distinct aspects of retail from the fundamentals to logistics. For salespeople, NRF provides the Customer Service and Sales Certified Specialist certification.
The Certified Specialist accreditation promises to teach service and sales skills beginning with the sales cycle and leading into how to understand customers and close more sales. This program has five modules covering the following topics:
Welcome to retail. This module covers retail basics and how to understand customer mindsets and behavior.
Know before you sell. How to develop a thorough understanding of the product or service you’re selling and how to connect with a customer’s needs and interests to sell effectively.
Selling and service. In-depth strategies to meet customer needs and close sales, including technical information regarding transactions.
Performing your best. Ongoing training in communication skills and how to maintain a brand-focused professional outlook in sales.
Workplace readiness. Key skills for employability, from how to network and find jobs to how to plan your professional career.
Structure: A five-module online course beginning with sales theory and leading into resume and employability skills
7. Best for learning to train in-house: Challenger Trainer and Consultant Programs
Challenger Inc. offers several training programs, accreditations and resources for organizations to level up the skills of their salespeople. Among these are two certifications, the Challenger Certified Trainer and Challenger Insight Consultant programs.
The Challenger Certified Trainer program grants the trainee the skills and license to deliver Challenger’s foundational selling workshop within the organization. Essentially, it’s an accreditation that enables organizations to have their own in-house Challenger trainers.
On the other hand, the Challenger Insight Consultant program empowers in-house experts to derive commercial insights and Challenger Messages.
These certifications are targeted toward organizations and agencies who want to train in-house experts to facilitate the Challenger methodology within their sales teams. This is beneficial (especially for large organizations) because it means that sales leaders don’t need to outsource to train new employees or upskill their sales teams.
Structure: The Challenger Certified Trainer certification is a seven-module online course followed by a final one-hour assessment and Challenge Yourself Workshop that takes eight hours to complete. The Challenger Insight Consultant certification is an eight-module e-learning course with two hour-long assessments and a final eight hour Challenger Insight Workshop.
Cost: Available on request
Watch our video about this sales methodology below.
8. Best for honing negotiation skills: LSE’s Negotiating Programme
The London School of Economics (LSE) is a world-leading institution in the social sciences, now offering online certification courses to the wider public. One of these programs focuses on developing negotiation skills: the negotiation programme.
Negotiation is a skill in high demand for many occupations, sales included. With masterful negotiation skills, salespeople can leverage psychological biases and nonverbal communication to maximize opportunities, settle better terms and seal deals.
Course attendees work on their personal growth plan with access to small group discussions, course instructors and a dedicated success team. Over the course of six weeks, learners will explore the following modules:
Structure: This six-week course is fully online with a time commitment of 7 to 10 hours per week. The course also includes an orientation and CPD points for those working in the U.K.
Cost: £2,200 (around $2,720 USD)
How to choose the best sales certification for you
Like most sales training, certification programs can be a significant investment of money and time. The right certification could drastically improve your chances of getting hired, boost your confidence as a salesperson and produce career advancement opportunities. However, the wrong certification could waste your time and even reduce your employability.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing the best sales certification for you:
Do you need a sales certification? Depending on where you are in your sales career, a certification may be unnecessary. If you have a proven track record and are confident in your skills, that piece of paper or digital badge may not mean as much as real numbers you can demonstrate. However, if you’re looking to change your specialism or broaden your scope, consider sales training in a technical certification or new methodology that fills gaps in your existing knowledge.
Is the organization reputable? Many different organizations offer sales certifications and as there is no industry standard the quality can differ drastically. Take your time to research each company individually. Stick with industry leaders and avoid unheard of organizations, as their certifications will carry far less weight on your resume.
What do people say about the certification? It can be useful to ask your colleagues, mentors or peers online (e.g. on Quora) whether a particular certification is useful. If other sales representatives have experience with the certification, they’ll be able to inform you whether it’s worth taking or if there are better alternatives for your field.
What is your budget? Consider your overall budget before you enroll as most programs won’t offer a free sales certification. Some have additional or ongoing costs to factor into the overall budget. For example, you may need to maintain a yearly membership or pay an additional price to take an examination.
What are the requirements and how accessible is the content? Depending on the certification, you may have to travel to take an assessment on-site or access material every day for a particular period. Many organizations now offer sales certifications online, but it’s worth checking out the entire scope to be sure all aspects are accessible for you.
Sales certifications, while not always necessary, can be a great way to take your employability to the next level, advance your career or increase your organization’s effectiveness in sales.
Make sure that whatever certification you choose matches your needs, budget and goals and is delivered by a company with a proven track record. If the certification helps you land your first job, it will have been well worth the investment.