Chances are you’ve heard this expression. I’m sure you agree it puts a bit of a negative spin on a profession that quite honestly makes the business world go around. Without sales ya got nothing. Period. End of story.
I went to college thinking I’d get a business degree. When I found out I couldn’t keep debits and credits straight in an accounting class I decided to switch my major to education. Physical education and health to be exact. What can I say? I found dissecting a cat more interesting than dissecting a balance sheet.
During my senior year, like all other education majors, I did a student teaching gig. I taught at a high school in rural Ohio under a phys ed teacher who’d been at it for a while. I’m not sure about the vetting process but somehow this dude got through. He was a nice guy who was obviously going through the motions. His passion for teaching had come and gone. Just the type of guy you want as a mentor.
Needless to say I was disenchanted. After a week he sat me down, looked me in the eye and said, “You don’t want to do this for a living!” My jaw dropped to the floor. He went on to explain that he made more money during the summer months painting houses than he did as a teacher the other 9 months of the year. It became crystal clear his glass was half empty. Bottom line my student teaching experience was somewhat tainted.
Meanwhile, when I’d go to a counselor or meet with someone I trusted to discuss my future there was a recurring theme. “You’d be great in sales” they’d say, explaining I had the personality for it. They’d share stories about their friends who had done very well in the field and loved it. The more I listened the more I began to believe that sales was right for me.
Fast forward to today. I’ve been in marketing and sales throughout my entire career. It’s been a rather long and winding road. Queue the Beatles! I’ll save the details for my autobiography. Even as a marketer I had to sell internally to executive teams and company owners. Today I’m focused on direct selling and I have been for the last 7 years
I moved to Texas in 2011 to take an Account Executive position which is just a fancy name for a salesperson. Think Fuller Brush account executive! I’ve essentially been “smilin and dialin” for 7 years now and here’s a snapshot of what I’ve learned…
- Selling isn’t about personality – it’s about drive and determination.
- You have to be in love with the product you are selling. Just liking it is not enough!
- People don’t care to hear about what you are selling until you uncover a need specific to their situation. The pros call it finding their pain.
- Selling is not about telling; it’s about asking and listening.
- In selling there’s no such thing as rejection. Each NO is just one step closer to a sale.
- In sales, nobody cares how hard you work. All that matters is the results.
Over the last 7 years I’ve managed to be successful in the direct selling world. Essentially I’ve worked for 4 different companies* over that time span. The constant change has been a distraction but somehow I’ve been able to keep bread on the table.
My advice to young people who want to pursue a career in sales: Review the bullet points above. Don’t go to work in sales for just any company. Do your research. Find one where you can be 100% passionate about the products you are selling. Make sure the company has an extensive, on-going sales training program.
Oh, and before you accept an offer, ask about the culture. There is a boiler room aspect to every sales job (i.e. smilin and dialin). However, make sure the environment is one of support and positive reinforcement. In essence you’ll want to interview your sales manager and gain an understanding of how she operates. Learn about that person’s values and make sure they align with yours. Speak to as many employees as possible. Get their candid opinion on what it’s like to work there.
Once you decide to take the job, go at it full throttle, for one year. Then reevaluate. Don’t ever allow your self esteem to be based on your last sale. You are incredible regardless!
*I worked for Batrus Hollweg International for 3 months. Then we were acquired by Kenexa (a leading provider of HR solutions) Then, a year later, Kenexa was acquired by IBM. I left IBM at the end of June 2017 and now I work for Innovative Hospitality Group.