Okay, there’s a chance I’m being a teensy bit overly dramatic, but a lot of people have misconceptions about what makes a good salesperson or what it’s like to work in sales. Let’s take a look at some of the most persistent myths and see why they are just plain wrong.
1. You have to be super outgoing to make it as a salesperson
Sales jobs involve a lot of interacting with people you don’t know, so it makes sense that extroverts would make better salespeople. But Daniel Pink (quoting research from Wharton School) explains that it’s not extroverts or introverts, but ambiverts that make the best salespeople.
Ambiverts fall in the middle of the introversion/extroversion scale, which means they’re neither totally shy and reserved nor completely outgoing and gregarious. And they tend to make better salespeople than extreme extroverts because they’re better at listening and staying attuned to the situation. Read more on Daniel Pink’s blog and in the Washington Post.
2. It’s all cold calling, all the time
There are a couple of reasons why this is false. First of all, cold calling is a dying art (if you can call it that), mostly thanks to this handy little tool called the internet. The general trend these days is for salespeople to work more closely with marketers (and use web-based tools) so they can target companies and individuals in a more specific way than simply getting on the horn.
Plus, the amount of time you spend making calls to potential clients varies considerably depending where you are in your career. Tracy Britz, who now works as a Senior Account Manager at LSI, says that when she first started as a Field Sales Engineer, she spent a good amount of time making cold calls. But once she proved herself and her ability to manage her clients (that took about two years, BTW), she was asked to handle more sophisticated tasks. To read more about Tracy’s career progression, click here.
3. It’s a dead-end for your career
If you’re worried that accepting a job in sales will have the same effect on your résumé as dotting your i’s with little hearts, please don’t. Many of the skills that you can learn and develop as a salesperson are directly applicable in a broad range of other positions.
Working as a salesperson, you’ll learn how to find and cultivate clients, manage client expectations, close deals, and overcome objections. Imagine how useful all that is to a potential employer, especially since you’ll have developed those mad communication skills to tell them all about it! To hear a little more about the lessons learned as an entry-level salesperson, check out Ms. Career Girl’s post on the topic.
4. It’s about making people buy things they don’t want
When you hear the word “sales,” it’s easy to image a man in a suit ringing doorbells and trying to get people to buy encyclopedias, or window insulation, or whatever. But sales is not about pushing a product on people that they don’t want; it’s about helping people figure out what problems they’re having and offering them solutions. This is why a lot of sales jobs involve more than just cold calling or ringing doorbells. You spend your time researching your market, identifying people who your product or service could benefit, and listening to your customers to find out what they really want or need. Now that sounds much better, doesn’t it?
5. I majored in history/engineering/underwater basket-weaving, so I’m not prepared for a career in sales.
Do you like interacting with people? What about letting them complain and then proposing a solution? Are you an effective verbal and written communicator? Can you set goals for yourself and meet them? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’ve got what it takes to make it as a salesperson. Sure, having some background knowledge of business would be beneficial, but it’s by no means necessary. At the entry-level, most employers will train you on their particular methodology and tactics, and the best way you’ll learn is by actually just getting out there and doing it. And as you can see from our profiles of Damien and Tracy, people from all sorts of educational backgrounds go on to build successful careers in sales.
Homework time! Think of all the people in your network—friends, professors, family, etc. Identify one or two people who have a job that you think is interesting, or might know someone who works in an industry you’re interested in. Send an email asking if you can arrange a meeting over lunch or coffee to find out a little more about what they do and how they got there.
P.S. Are you thinking about a career in sales? Let us know how your job search is going.