Considering a job in sales? Sales will teach you universally applicable skills that help advance in any career. After leaving my engineering job and moving to San Francisco, I unexpectedly found myself considering a job offer in technology sales. My father’s advice was, “everyone who wants to work in business should at some time in their career work a year in sales”. I took the job, and in hindsight completely agree with my Old Man.
Here are 7 lessons learned through B2B sales that in hindsight I feel I would not have learned (or would have learned much slower) had I not worked in sales.
You sell every day of your life, whether you are actively or passively doing so is up to you. The clothes you put on and the way you present yourself send messages to those around you. The interactions, negotiations and trade-offs that naturally happen between colleagues, family and friends are all in themselves micro-sales. You sell your ideas to management and negotiate for budget approval. You sell yourself for promotions and making new connections. The more aware you are of this, the more you can take an active role in ensuring your happiness, achieving your goals and improving communication with those around you.
2. Managing Highs and Lows
Somewhere in the world there is a retired, life-long salesperson that never missed quota in his or her life — and I expect that person is now operating a unicorn ranch with leprechauns as farmhands. For the rest of us, the inevitable lows of sales are, well, just that… lowly. Sales quotas are intentionally difficult to obtain, and overachieving is often rewarded with higher quotas or tougher territories. Whether you attribute it to unrealistic quotas, buying cycles, or bad luck, it is likely you will miss quota sometime in your career. Learning to be modest through the good times and to persevere through the lows are important characteristics of leaders and successful people in any role.
3. Output vs Input Based Work Culture
As opposed to salaried and hourly employees, the majority of sales professionals are partially or fully compensated based on their performance. The commission amount typically has no relation to the amount of time spent at work, but correlates to the ability to deliver revenue for the company. If you are not producing, it doesn’t matter how much you work. Working extra hours and being more efficient should lead to more revenue being generated (and from my experience it generally does), but there are no guarantees. There is no room for excuses in sales, results are all that matter.
4. Handling Rejection and Objections
Nobody likes being told no, and fear of rejection may be the single biggest deterrent to more people working in sales. Being told “no” over and over again can weigh heavy on a new salesperson, but in time “no” mentally registers as “not now” or “not from what I’ve seen so far”. The greatest sales people are told “no” all the time. Everyone loses deals. Not everyone you talk to will become a customer. You can’t always get what you want. But you will close more deals and get what you want more often in life if you are willing to push past initial an initial “no” and not let rejection keep you from pursuing future opportunities.
Objections are opportunities. Objections present a perceived (or actual) shortcoming in the solution you provide. The fact that the objection occurred in the first place means the prospect or customer has at least considered the possibility of using your solution. Many people will be offended or get defensive when objections are posed, but being comfortable listening, empathizing, and responding with valuable solutions are key communication skills with global application.
Working in sales you exercise your negotiation skills daily, although not always in the formal sense. Objection handling, pricing discussions, product positioning and virtually all aspects of managing the sales cycle require a salesperson to exercise tact, and constantly position the value of their services appropriately to the requirements and demands of the customer. I recently read a quote relating to this from Stanford Professor Maggie Neale, “Negotiation is a problem solving process that you should do all the time.” Sales gives you a platform to exercise negotiation at every level, every day. When it comes time to negotiate your salary, purchase a new car or home, or debate what movie to watch with the family, you understand the game you are playing and can position yourself to get what you want more often.
6. Close, Close, Close
The best closers I know effectively combine two skills. First, they understand how decisions are made by an organization, and how individuals factor into such decisions. Second, they are able to influence these decision makers. This includes emotional, political and social factors that contribute to the decisions that are, at the end of the day, made by humans. This is easier said than done, and while working in B2B sales does not guarantee you will become a good closer, it will likely demystify corporate decision making and provide the opportunity to work closely with decision makers. Do this enough, and you will draw your own conclusions on how decisions are made and how to best influence them.
7. Value of Competition
Sales is competitive. So is business. So is life. Unlike other many other departments, sales makes it is easy to single out poor performers. While overall team and company numbers are still the most valuable metrics to the business, individuals cannot hide behind team achievement if you are failing to pull their weight. This results in much higher turnover than most departments, but allows for faster correction of poor employee hires or job positions. Sales teaches you to take responsibility for your function at a company, and holds you accountable to consistently be a top performer.
Getting started in sales
Getting started in sales was one of the most challenging things I have done in my professional career. While I have always enjoyed working with people and pride myself in being a strong communicator, I was not your prototypical “natural salesperson”. The everyday ins and outs of the job were night-and-day to my engineering experience, but I found that once through an initially steep learning curve, sales became fun and allows you to naturally developed your own style and skills.
I encourage everyone to challenge themselves to learn the skills of selling. The best way to learn is on the job (and the pay usually isn’t bad), but if that doesn’t fit your career plans then I recommend joining sales related Meetups, improve public speaking through Toastmaster groups, and perhaps even attending a Sales Seminar or Continuing Ed course. These are skills that you are either using or neglecting to use every day, the sooner you can start using them to your advantage the better.