Everyone should work in sales at some point in their career — the earlier the better.
My first post-college job was with a Fortune 500 company. In terms of workload, we only experienced two conditions: Busy and busier. So I never thought about the task of drumming up sales. Why would I? Work magically appeared.
Many people, especially those who work for large companies, are not exposed to the difficulties and challenges faced by sales teams. But we all should be. Why?
Sales skills are incredibly useful — in every field.
To many people the word “selling” implies manipulating, pressuring, cajoling… all the used car salesman stereotypes. If you think of selling as explaining the logic and benefits of a decision, then every job requires sales skills: Convincing coworkers your idea makes sense, showing your boss how a project will pay off, helping employees understand the benefits of a new process, etc. Communication is critical in any career; you’ll learn more about communication by working in sales than you will almost anywhere else.
Here are more reasons everyone should work in sales, at least for a period of time:
You’ll learn to negotiate. Every job involves negotiating: With peers, with other departments, even with your boss. Salespeople learn to listen, evaluate variables, identify key drivers, overcome objections, and find ways to reach agreement — without burning bridges.
You’ll learn to close. Asking for what you want is difficult for a lot of people. Closing a sale is part art, part science. Getting others to agree with you, and follow your direction, is also part art and part science. If you aspire to a leadership position, you must be able to close. Great salespeople know how to close. Great supervisors and managers do too.
You’ll learn persistence. Salespeople hear the word “no” all the time. Over time you’ll start to see “no” as a challenge, not rejection.
You’ll learn self discipline. If you work for a big company, sometimes you can sleepwalk your way through a day and still get paid. When you work on commission, “If it is to be, it’s up to me,” is your credo. Sales is a great way to permanently connect the mental dots between performance and reward.
You’ll learn to work well with a wide range of people at all levels. Plus, working in sales is the perfect cure for shyness. Learn to step forward with confidence, especially under duress or in a crisis, and you can take on any role in an organization.
If you want to own a business, you’ll always be in sales. Every business is an extension of its owner. Even if they have a sales team, a business owner is always involved in sales. (In many companies the owner still handles the major sales personally — or at the very least is brought into the process to help close the deal.) An entrepreneur who can’t sell faces a major challenge. Gaining sales skills will help you win financing, bring in investors, line up distribution deals, land customers — in the early stages of starting a company, everything involves sales.
Understanding the sales process and how to build customer relationships is incredibly important, regardless of the industry or career you choose. Spending one or two years in a sales role is an investment that will pay dividends forever.
Think of it this way: The more intimidating or scary a position in sales sounds, the more you need to take one. You’ll gain confidence and self-assurance, and the skills you gain will serve you well for the rest of your business — and personal — life.