by Ali Hanif
I never planned on a career in sales, in fact over 10 years ago when I interviewed for my first job at bank’s call center I thought it was going to be a customer service role, when in fact it was an inside sales role in disguise. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me and yet if you ask any graduate these days, probably 99.9% will be aiming for a career in accounting, medicine, finance – anything but selling. In fact when I Googled “why isn’t sales a career?” pretty much all the results were negative – what’s worse the top results were from career websites and even a well-known CRM company!
This needs to change, we salesmen and saleswomen need to nurture current students and new graduates and help them see opportunities that sales careers provide. Our future talent depends on it.
Sales Is The Most Portable Skill You Can Have
A career in sales doesn’t just provide the possibility of financial success but it also opens the door to constant growth and learning opportunities – in fact, it’s probably one of the most portable career skills you can possess.
In a very basic way sales is about convincing a party you want to do engage in some of the exchange that will profit both parties. It’s not just about selling a product or solution for the money. You have to combine many different interpersonal skills to influence the opposing party. Often it also requires some deep technical or subject knowledge so you can establish trust as well. When you are interviewing for a job, you have to build trust and rapport with the employer to sell yourself and get hired. If you are buying a house or a new car, knowing how to negotiate and walk away from a deal could help you save thousands of dollars. These are same basic examples where knowing how to sell and deal with people can help you in other aspects of your life. As you grow in your career and get promoted you’ll need to have strong presentation skills, know how to work under pressure and know how to build strong relationships, these are all things you get exposed to quite frequently in a sales career.
Knowing How To Sell Is A Leadership Quality
Great CEOs may not be former salespeople, but they have a distinct understanding on how to champion the cause of the company and employees. As a CEO you are constantly under pressure and face a barrage of communication from internal and external stakeholders – often you have to address escalated client issues and deal with competitive forces. More and more CEOs are taking the lead to help clinch high profile sales deals with clients – they know how to sell.
Salespeople face very similar situations in their day to day role. You are on the front line dealing with customers – their problems are your problems. Internally you have to be able to navigate the political and bureaucratic landscape to ensure everyone on your team from technical support to finance ensure a seamless experience for the customer (no easy task mind you). The competition is always knocking at your door and you have to make sure you nurture and maintain strong client relationships. Having a background in sales also exposes you to working with the different parts of your business, as you take direct client feedback back to the appropriate resources internally to build a new product, handle a billing issue or address a customer service concern. In sales you have to take the lead to champion a cause on behalf of the client.
A Career In Sales Provide Lessons in Extreme Empathy & Performance
I would argue that no other career path exposes you to as much empathy and pressure of performance than sales. Empathy is about stepping into the other person’s shoes and understanding their direct perspective. When you are in sales, you constantly looking at the world from the client’s view – from understanding their problems, tailoring the solution, taking their side when lobbying for change and being their advocate. Why is this important? Because practicing empathy helps you understand and address people’s emotions as you learn how to see the signs of conflict before they happen, you become a better problem solver because you listen, observe and interpret people’s emotions more effectively.
Make no mistake, sales is a high-performance job – if you don’t deliver results when needed you won’t survive. The weatherman can be wrong once in a while, salespeople can’t. Working in a high-performance role forces you to act differently, you have to build and maintain good mental, physical and emotional habits. Sales is a learning profession, you are constantly learning new things, adapting to change and thinking about the future. You don’t sit at a desk in front of a computer all day, physically and emotionally it can be draining – you have to actively meet clients and engage with them directly. This requires training, practice, and grit – and if you do it right you can only become stronger as an individual but as a company, you can build a culture with great habits.
You Can Grow Your Career In Sales
Most people tend to think of sales as those of commission only jobs, real estate agents or car salesmen, but this doesn’t represent the depth and breadth of a career open to you in sales. Investment banker, hedge fund traders, advertising executive and pharmaceutical reps are also salespeople with specialized technical knowledge. They deal in high-volume, complex deals, often with C-level customers.
Every organization in some form needs employees who are dedicated to directly increase revenues. I started my career in sales on the phone and then as a sales associate and progressed into a sales management role, transitioning from the finance to tech industry. It wasn’t necessarily an orthodox path but the along the way I’ve had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people, be exposed to the latest advances in tech and built a great network of relationships. I would emphasize the importance of relationships, you can only go so far in life on your own. To truly advance and make the most of your career, you need to understand how to build strong relationships. When selling, you learn this very quickly as good relationships can lead to future business through referrals. When you solve a customer’s problem it helps you build trust that can save you losing business or help you get more business depending on the situation. I’ve seen a number of great salespeople change employers and take customers with them because they have such a deep level of trust with their clients.
Sales Jobs Are NOT Just for Alpha-Males and Extroverts
Most people regard salespeople as alpha-personalities, like to dominate the conversation, they are sharks who follow the mantra of “Always Be Closing.” Though like any profession there are people like this that exist, I wouldn’t consider them to be your ideal sales rep. In the world where customers have so many buying options, almost instantaneous access to information and high expectations when it comes to service – you need salespeople that deliver value, have analytical skills, a commitment to service and an understanding that it’s not about them, it’s about their customers.
I am an introvert and although I do get drained with the constant human interaction that is required, over the years I’ve been able to build relationship and communication skills to a level that has helped me excel in all aspects of my life. Communication is critical in life, we don’t just speak different languages, but customs, how we interpret words and body language are also quite important. Being in sales has forced me to reconsider and tailor my approach to the person I’m trying to reach – yes sometimes it’s about reaching the masses, but more often that not that biggest deals you’ll close come down to the one or two people you really need to convince, and knowing how to tailor and address their needs and objections is critical.
The Last Thing I’d Like to Say is That We NEED More Women in Sales
One of my best mentors in my a career was an account manager who almost on a weekly based dealt with discrimination in some form because she was a woman in a male-dominated financial industry. She was probably the most knowledgeable person on our sales team and without a doubt had the best client relationships – I learned more working under her in 2 years than I had with any other mentor. And now she runs the sales force for a major region in a Fortune 500 company. My point is this if your customers are promoting diversity within their own organizations and you are going to connect with their people, your own front-line sales and service team should mirror theirs. We need more women on our sales teams, it brings balance, perspective and frankly amazing talent that will help you close more deals.
I’ll close with this, if you are a student, new graduate or just starting your career and need help breaking into or exploring a sales role – feel free to connect with me and I’ll happily volunteer some of my time to advise you on how to take the next steps.
Ali is the founder of HANALI, a Toronto, Canadian based agency specializing in sales enablement and sales by design. If you’d like to learn more about how to improve your sales effectiveness and build a career in sales, read more on their blog.