More than 15 years of experience working in sales, and for a part of it, I felt embarrassed about it. That’s my reality and the reality of many people who one day, started to work in sales and kept going from one job to another, selling this or that, but not feeling well about it. Feeling that it wasn’t what they wanted to do, but it is difficult to switch when all your experience is in just that, selling stuff.
That feeling has changed for me. For years now, I don’t feel embarrassed to be working in sales anymore. On the contrary, I feel proud of it. If you ever feel like working in sales isn’t good enough, I would like to explain you why you shouldn’t. I would like to tell you how being able to sell, could be the biggest skill-set you can have as a professional. I would like to let you know, why you should try to get the most of it, and what the possibilities for you in the future might be if you do it and you do it well.
How I started in sales
I grew up in Spain, studied there, graduated from university, completed a master degree and after all that; I was very keen on finding a job and start working.
It is not easy when you are young and you have no experience. Companies don’t usually consider you as a good candidate for a “normal” job. This happens especially in some countries, where youth unemployment rates are extremely high.
There was no LinkedIn, Indeed or Monsterboard at that time. Job posts were published on the Sunday newspaper. No categories, no advance search, nothing. Just two, sometimes three pages if you were lucky, of job posts for every kind of job you can imagine. Oh boy, I really feel old right now…
One of those Sundays, I found a job post that said the following:
“Multinational company is looking for two young people to join their team. Please call 985-xxx-xxx to set up an interview.” Nothing less, nothing more.
I was young, impatient, and had a strong desire to work. So, I called. They asked me to be the day after, Monday, at a hotel in the city centre for an interview. Wow! I’ve got an interview!
Interview day, the sentence I will always remember
Monday 10:55 am. I am at the reception of the hotel. They ask me to go to one room for my interview. I go upstairs and knock on the door. A man in his 50’s opens the door and welcomes me in the room. He probably asked me a couple of questions about my studies or so, but the following is the only thing I do remember about our conversation:
Interviewer: You saw the job post. And you noticed that we didn’t include the name of the company this recruitment process if for.
Me: Yes, I did notice.
Interviewer: We didn’t include the name because this is for Grupo Planeta. (Pause) And… if I say that to you what would you think this is about?
Me: (I was about to say that Grupo Planeta is the largest Spanish language publisher in the world, so I guess it could be about many different roles. But I didn’t have time to answer as he answered himself)
Interviewer: That this is to knock doors to sell books.
Me: Hmmm… yeah, I suppose. (I have no idea about it, but he said that, so it had to be truth)
*And here comes the sentence I will always remember:
Interviewer: Well, this is nothing about knocking doors or selling books. But I like you, so please be tomorrow at our nice office for the second interview.
Second interview at their nice office
I was excited. Grupo Planeta was a big company, and this wasn’t about knocking doors or selling books, which I didn’t even expect as I didn’t know anything about the job market. I even didn’t know Planeta had employees doing that activity at all. But yes, Planeta was a big company, so there was probably a lot of different things a young guy right after university and with a master could do. Administrative roles maybe?
I get there to my second interview when I discover that it was a group interview with another 9 people. It took 2 hours and for the most part of it, it consisted of a presentation of how great the company was and especially, how much money the employees knocking doors and selling books where making. They showed a video of their annual congress. It was held at a big theatre and in the video, you could see how the top performers of the year received an award in front of everyone. Attached to the physical prize there was a good amount of money.
At the end of consuming that well designed story of being able to make a lot of money working for them, they told us that we could start with a four-month contract. No matter if we sold anything or not, we would make a guaranteed 900 Euro a month even if we didn’t sell a thing. After that, they went one by one asking if we wanted to try just 1 week accompanying a team leader, to see if we liked it or not. We could quit at any moment.
Was right there, in front of everyone else, where you needed to say either Yes or No. When it was my turn, I said Yes. I thought, why not? I didn’t have anything else, I could give it a try and at least earn 900 Euros a month until I found something else.
The week that probably changed my life
I was very nervous on Monday when I started my week trial with my team leader. He helped me calming down, he was a nice guy and I am still connected to him after so many years. We travelled about 30 km to another city, every day for five days, to the same neighbourhood. We met at 10 in the morning and worked until 22 in the evening. Then we would go to a bar, where we would meet with the rest of the guys and the manager to report if we sold or not, and if we did, how much it was. I got back home around 23 every night.
We started in one street trying to get into buildings and knocking doors. I was amazed by the methodology he was using to get inside other people homes. He had an initial pitch about a drawing contest for kids. It was just a strategy to get in and sit down on their couch at their living room. How strange was that feeling of invading other people’s life. That was their most private place, their home, and we were right there in their living room. Not knowing them and trying to sell.
The thing that surprised me the most though, was my team leader’s ability to handle rejection when people just didn’t open the door or even shut it in our faces. This happened way more times that the ones we were finally able to get in. But he kept going, with positive comments about it. I just followed him thinking “how he does that?”.
At the end of that week, he sold two encyclopedias and a kid book collection from Disney. In that week, he made around 700 Euros in commission. This was in 2003 in Spain, so that was good money.
Knocking doors and selling books
“This is nothing about knocking doors or selling books.” I can’t forget that guy saying this. Lying to me in my face. And the strange thing is that at the end of the day, I maybe even have to thank him for doing that.
After the week trial, I kept going. I started to sell. In my first month, I already got more than those 900 guaranteed Euros just in pure commission. The second month even more and after that, I was one of the top performers of the company, earning quite a lot of money, surely much more than anyone else I knew at my age. Most probably, at the same level if not more than many senior people in “good jobs” in my city. Yes, knocking doors, selling books; from 10 am to 11pm every day in a new city, village, neighbourhood.
I was still living at my parent’s house. I lived there since I was 1 year old. I grew up in that place. They live in a nice neighbourhood in the city, in a building where most of the people have good jobs. Many were doctors, lawyers or had their own businesses.
I remember a time where I arrived at the parking with my car, parked, left the car and met of my neighbours there. The mother or two friends of mine. She didn’t work, but her husband was a doctor. She was very happy to see me, I was wearing a suit of course and looked like a business guy. She was very enthusiastic, and our conversation went this way:
Woman: Hi Alberto! Wow! How handsome and smart you look on that suit, are you working?
Me: Thanks! Yes, I am!
Woman: Oh great! That’s very nice! And what do you do for work?
Me: I work at Planeta
Woman: Oh…don’t worry, you will find something better soon.
And then she left.
The toughest working experience. The one I learnt the most from
Even if I was there just for a year, and I didn’t like the job at all, that experience helped me in changing my personality. I used to be a shy guy, not with people I knew well, but with strangers. Working there, I was exposed to people I didn’t know every day, getting into their homes, sitting on their couches and eventually, selling something to some of them. I also had to run away once from a jealous husband that wanted to kick me, I am still not sure why, but that’s a different story.
This selling experience helped me to be more open, believe in myself, be good at handling rejection and not to feel afraid of trying new things and learn from them.
Perception of salespeople
Knocking doors and selling books was just a start. In my career, I worked for several companies, sold many different things in different industries across many regions. I was good at it. I always improved and grew professionally from one job to the next one. I achieved good results at all of them, but as I mentioned above, for many years I still felt embarrassed about working in sales. That was perceived as a “not good enough job” by other people, and by me.
Some people and especially in some countries, have a negative perception of what sales people are. That often include the following:
- Sales people lie constantly.
- They only care about money.
- They are aggressive.
- They aren’t good team players.
- They switch jobs too often.
- They do whatever they need to just to close the deal (and get the commission).
The problem, is that in all my years of experience, I have seen many sales guys that are like that, and unfortunately, that’s what people think we all are.
There isn’t a Sales university degree, same as there is in Marketing as an example. In many countries and at some levels, Sales is the job everyone can do, even if they aren’t prepared for it, they will learn how to do it. Just put them on the street and they will eventually sell something.
Selling could be your Swiss Army Knife skills-set
Working in sales doesn’t just require one set of skills. Especially, when you get to a certain level, like selling to large enterprises, this can empower you with a very diverse and complete set of skills if you take the time to learn and are professional about it.
Skills you probably have and maybe you don’t even know:
- Project management skills: working on large scale deals with a big corporation it’s a project on its own. This requires many capabilities similar to any other kind of projects managed by project managers. Large deals usually take 6 to 9 months from scope to the closing stage. When you are working on several ones at the same time and they are at different stages, this requires the ability to set up priorities, manage timeframes, deadlines and make sure you are on top of each of them to deliver the expected results on time.
- Sales engineering skills: if you are working on selling to enterprises, you probably have a sales engineer working side by side with you on your deals. They take care of all technical details, implementation, training, etc. You will learn from them. Sometimes, you don’t have that person, so you need to do some of it yourself. Everything you can learn that allows you to be more self-sufficient when working with customers, will be of a tremendous value for you in the future.
- Product management skills: if you are good at what you do, selling, and you do spend some time asking customers for feedback about your product or service; this will make you a strong internal stakeholder. When it comes to product development, the information you get from the market about features, competitors can be extremely valuable for your product development team. You will be perceived as an expert on what customers really need and would like to have, and your knowledge will be extremely beneficial to your company.
- Marketing skills: there is a fine line between marketing and sales and if you are interested enough, you can learn a lot about how marketing and lead generation works. You could be involved in marketing decisions, help building content or even do webinars for customers and prospects. This will increase your knowledge but also, your capacity to deliver the right message to the right people.
- Public speaking skills: you will probably attend conferences and events and sometimes, you will be asked to make a pitch or speak as a keynote speaker at one of them. This could be extremely valuable for many other aspects of your work, to engage better with your customers and who knows, maybe you open your own public speaking consulting business in the future.
- Data analytics skills: the more you work with large companies, the more expose you will be to data. Things like being able to build a business case or an ROI based on implementing what you sell, it is something that many companies request nowadays.
- Financial and legal skills: not necessarily that you will be an expert on finance or legal matters, but you will be in constant communication with those departments and you can learn quite a lot about how company numbers work or about legal requirements of doing businesses in different industries or countries.
- Management and Leadership skills: working in sales may give you the opportunity not only to learn from your managers, but also to be a manager yourself sometime in the future. Leadership is a different question, most of the times either you’ve got that skill or you haven’t. you can always become better at leading, although true leadership begins with some natural talent that you need to have.
- Many more that come with the job: negotiation, closing, networking, interpersonal, communication, etc. All skills you may already have, but that you will have the opportunity to improve if to are willing to.
Why you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about it
There is so much to learn, to improve and to get better at. Working in sales turned out to be a great platform for me to develop new skills and to improve my own dramatically. Selling can be the gateway to become the professional you really want to be, to do what you really would love to do, to be the person you want to be in life.
Try to get the most of it, try to learn and improve as much as you can and feel proud. Feel proud because you have an extraordinary profession. You help companies and people to solve problems, overcoming challenges they are facing thanks to using your product or service. Feel proud because you can create your own path, your own destiny.
Do you want to be a CEO of a cool start-up sometime in the future? What do you think a CEO does for work among other things? Sales. CEO’s are sales people.
So, the next time someone tells you “Don’t worry, you will find something better soon” when you say you work in sales, just answer “Thanks, I know I will.”
Thanks for reading. If you like the post please click on “like” and share it. If you would like to leave a comment, please do. I am always happy to get feedback in order to keep learning and improving.