In 2015, recruiting firm Finlay James surveyed over 100 sales professionals with one simple question: Do you need a college degree in order to sell? A whopping 81 percent of them said no.

According to a 2017 report by credit agency Experian, the average student loan debt was more than $34,000 per borrower, so it's no wonder many are looking for alternative ways to earn a decent living.

Whether you plan on joining the workforce or forging your own path as an entrepreneur, sales will most likely be an integral part of your journey. From providing customer service at a small business to running a Fortune 500 company, ability to sell matters. Sales drive our economy, increasing profits, employment, earnings and more. But when it comes to sales, education doesn't matter all that much.

Here's why.

Education doesn't equal sales.

If you've ever job-hunted, you've most likely come across ads requiring a "four-year degree plus at least x years of experience." The fact that experience is required in addition to an undergraduate degree, proves that higher education isn't necessarily even the most important thing about you as a candidate. Experience yields numerous benefits that college doesn't. That may include practical knowledge, skills confidence, networking capabilities and more.

While a degree is obviously not useless, it also isn't a guarantee that you know what you're doing. A degree, especially one with little to no outside experience, is simply a stepping stone into your chosen field. Educational programs typically provide students the necessary background and basic vocabulary needed for a specific field but come up short on practical experience. This is often true when it comes to sales.

If you choose not to go to college, and would rather dive right into the workforce, it's not the end of the world. Don't be discouraged by job postings that require a degree. Focus instead on sharing your skills, enthusiasm and applicable experience with potential employers through your applications. I know more than one founder who's hired someone in sales who didn't finish college.

You'll still need to hone your craft.

In today's society, things change fast. Social media is constantly evolving. Employers are expecting more out of their candidates and workers. New content gets published every second of every day. So, even if you graduated college in the last twelve months, you're probably already behind the times in some ways.

It's important to hone your skills continually, whether you have a degree or not. Reading the latest books on selling and topics related to it, as well as taking courses can keep you current, or maybe even put you ahead of the game.

Networking is king.

Networking is another way to hone your craft. Knowing what you're selling, understanding your audience, and mastering your skill set are key. Having the right connections and learning from colleagues can put you over the finish line.

Of course, it's important to network strategically. Aim to surround yourself with people who have more experience and knowledge than you. That way, you'll keep improving your own performance. Find mentors or coaches who can not only teach you but also refer you for work or other opportunities. Cultivate connections who are willing to vouch for you and support you in front of potential customers.

Finally, when networking, don't be afraid to perfect your sales pitch. Those in your industry can provide feedback on what you need to fix and can help you strengthen your pitch. This feedback is invaluable, especially if you have no formal or higher education in your field.

Your field is important.

A huge reason why your education isn't all that important when it comes to sales is that selling is different depending on the industry. Selling medical equipment is not the same as selling software products. Selling door-to-door is not the same as building a platform that becomes a billion-dollar industry.

Currently, both the financial and technology fields are booming. So, if you're looking to sell in a high-profit environment, these fields might be good options. Entrepreneurs find success every day creating high-end products or services in various fields, because they package it correctly. A thorough familiarity with your field and with your customer's pain points is what truly lets you show the value of the product. And, this doesn't depend on which field you're in.

While education can and should be used as a way to learn, build a solid business foundation, or cultivate an expanded worldview, it usually won't be the deciding factor when it comes to how well you sell. Real-life experience and knowledge of the industry are the main things that will propel you towards success in your field.

Published on: Feb 13, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.