As the owner of a sales training business, I often get asked how I got into sales by clients and especially at graduate sales careers events. As it happens, it was pretty much by chance. I thought that documenting my journey and experiences could be beneficial for people who are thinking about a career in business to business sales, but are unsure if it is the right move for them. This article is available in video, podcast and slideshare formats.
I graduated in Construction Management in 1994! But I came out of University straight into a recession and could not get a job in Construction. I was working for a construction company for free in the day and Royal Marine Reserve and Fitness instructor outside of work. Being a fitness instructor, I set up a business doing that. It was going quite well. But one day I met a guy who worked for a company in London and he asked me if I wanted to be on his sales team. I initially said, no. I had a lot of people telling that I was too good for sales. But I had the good sense to give it a go and I’ve never looked back. I’ve had a successful 20 year career in business to business sales. A whole world opened up for me. I’ve travelled the world, made tons of friends, had some really good times and earned some good money. I want to share that experience with you, so that you can make good choices too. My contact details are below, please feel free to use them if you have any questions at all.
When I said I wanted to be a salesman, a lot of people were telling that I was making a big mistake, “Going into sales? Why would you do that, you’ve got a degree?” I think they were thinking of dodgy second hand car sales people. Move forward 20 years and these days I’m a sales trainer and coach. I always start my sales training courses by finding out what the delegates want to achieve. Just recently I was holding an introductory sales training course and the delegates all confirmed that they wanted to lose the ‘embarrassment’ of selling. It’s hard to think of any other career that people want to go into, but are embarrassed of actually doing so?? Why the embarrassment? The delegates confirmed that it was the poor reputation that sales people enjoy. It appears that selling as a profession is still not great. The Trust Project, by David J Kurlan, proposes that the least trusted sales people are car sales people followed closely by insurance sales people. Not sure a large study was needed to prove that point.
I’d like you to see that selling is actually a very noble profession, which is highly regarded in business and very rewarding.
When I was told the benefits I would get in my first sales role, I fainted. OK I nearly fainted. They said my on target earnings would be 4 times what I was earning as a fitness instructor. I didn’t believe them. And indeed they were wrong. I earned 7 times my old wage in the first year and more the years after. Of course it’s not just the money, I had a good car and benefits package too. You’ll hear people talk about OTE. This means on target earnings. Sales people typically have a basic salary which is 50% of their on target earnings. So if your OTE is £50k, your basic will be around £25k and the rest is made up from commission on what you sell. Sell nothing you get no commission, sell something and you will get a percentage of what you sell. Lots of people fear this as there’s no guarantees. But where are there guarantees these days? The best way to look at it is, the harder I work, the more I get paid. No other job has that capacity. If you’re a hard worker, then this is for you. If you’re lazy then find a job where you can hide and do very little. Sales will not be for you.
Salary is just the start. Most CEOs have been at some time sales people, so it’s a great way to get into management. Being in sales you need to know how your whole business works, so unlike other departments, you’ll have a total view of the whole business. Many sales roles allow you to get out and about with customers which means you won’t have the feeling of being tied to the desk for the rest of your life.
Many sales roles allow you to get out and about with customers which means you won’t have the feeling of being tied to the desk for the rest of your life. I really struggled to sit through the three hour lectures at university, so the thought of being 8 hours behind a desk was too much for me. Being a field sales person I only spend 1-2 days in the office and the rest of my time was out and about meeting people. I was what is known as a field sales person.
There are principally two types of sales roles in the world of business to business sales. Field sales where your job is to get out and see people outside of the office. And inside sales, where you spend your time at a desk calling people and selling to them over the phone. Many sales people start out as inside sales people selling on the phone and progress to field sales over time. Products and services that are sold over the phone tend to be lower in price and involve less people in the purchasing process. For example, I work with a company who sell the devices that read your credit cards in shops. If we wanted to sell to one shop, where the owner worked there, like a corner grocery shop, it would be more cost effective to have someone call him up and sell the product over the phone. If you were selling to a chain of 250 stores, you’d probably need to meet with a number of people from that organization to get the deal signed off, so it would be a field sales person that would do that type of sell. Now field sales are typically paid more than inside sales people because the deals they bring in a larger and the customers are more complex.
A third type of sales is technical sales. There are technical people that make the products and have a really good understanding of how they work, and how to fix them if they go wrong. Quite often the technical people at the customer site will want to talk to your technical people about technical issues, in which case you can bring in a technical person. Increasingly companies are seeing that there is a role for someone with both sales and technical skills. These guys are typically brought in mid-way through the sale. But if you thought that you like the technical component of products and services, maybe this hybrid role is for you.
So what makes a good sales person? If you type into Google, “Why become a sales person?” No. 2 on this list says this:
- To be successful in sales you need to be able to convince people that your product is just so utterly indispensable that they have to buy it, no matter what. Accordingly, sales people usually have an uncanny ability to make things like detergent and cheese sound sexy.
- While most companies train you on the basics of selling, there’s something indefinable and very personal which makes some people fantastic at selling, and it’s usually down to their own personality.
I have to say that I don’t think they could have got it more wrong. I could not male detergent and cheese sound sexy does that rule me out? Let’s just be clear, Eskimos don’t need snow and Arabs don’t need sand, so when you see adverts seeking sales people with those skills, move past them. They either have such a bad product that nobody can actually sell it, or they have unrealistic expectations about what a sales person can or should be doing.
The article we found through Google said: ‘There’s something indefinable and very personal which makes some people fantastic at selling?” Really or is it just you don’t know. Well we do so let’s look at the key ingredients for a successful sales person.
There are 5 ingredients that are required to make a perfect sponge cake, so what are the 5 ingredients for a good sales person? I see a lot of people in sales or who want to get into sales. They are all different and no two successful sales people are the same. But I can safely say that being adept at these skills will help you to succeed.
- Relationships: You need to be able to build relationships with other people easily. So look around you, are you the sort of person with lots of connections? Do you get the best out of other people? Can you influence them?
- Communicator: You need to be able to communicate verbally and in a written format. Do you like speaking in public? You’ll have to do lots of that. You also need to be able to listen, more than you need to be able to talk.
- Process: Sales people work to a process, so you need to be able to follow a process, like when you make a cake. The right ingredients, at the right time in the right place.
- Curious: People only buy from you if they have a problem to solve. To understand their problems you need to be able to understand their issues and their business. Has anyone ever described you as a good listener? Good listeners make good sales people.
- Business minded. We’re in this for a profit, so you need to be able to close a deal and negotiate a favorable outcome. This is a little at odd with what I just said about being a good listener. But that is why sales people are so highly sought after, because they have a wide range of capabilities that can be used in different situations.
We’ve look at the benefits. There are some challenges to being a sales person and it would not be fair not to mention those. Firstly visibility. If you don’t bring in the sales, it is pretty obvious. In other jobs you can miss deadlines and miss fuzzy goals. Here if you miss your sales target it is visible to everyone and you are accountable, even though you may feel that it’s not your fault. But that is why there is a risk reward basis to the pay. If you take on that risk, you’ll get a higher pay. So if you’re risk averse, then sales may not be right for you.
There are some rejections with the job, but nearly as many as you might think. And again it is outweighed by the benefits of making new contacts and winning new business. Rejection and failure can lead to disappointment. Great sales people can pick themselves up and keep going when others would give up. And of course like any successful career, you need to be willing to commit to some hard work.
If you’re still listening, that means you’re still interested. So how do you start in sales? Well first of all you need to sell yourself, so build up your online profile on LinkedIn. Have a good picture taken. Look back to the ingredients of a successful sales person and provide examples of how you satisfy those criteria. How have you created professional relationships, some examples of good communication and being business minded.
- All companies need sales people. All companies. So choose a company you want to work for and call them. Keep calling till you get an interview.
- Attend some Salestrong training or read some sales book. Neil Rackham’s SPIN selling is as close as you’ll get to a sales bible and you can get old copies on ebay for £1. The best investment you’ll ever make.
- Retail sales is different to business to business sales, but a lot of the experiences and skills are transferable. So get some retail experience which is relatively easy to do as a first step.
I hope you enjoy your career in sales. Have a look at our other training modules to help you on your way.