Teaching and counseling at a small public college, the authors are no longer surprised that few college graduates view a sales job as attractive. Many students have concerns about compensation, measures of performance, ethical issues surrounding product quality, and accuracy of sales information.
The authors have the opportunity to meet and talk with professional salespeople throughout the year. We meet them when they visit our campus to recruit, when we attend job fairs and professional conferences, and when we make site visits to employers. Some of these sales professionals are new college graduates themselves, others are mid-career veterans, and yet others are senior staff who have long years of experience. They represent a full spectrum of experience in the field. Without exception, they speak of the professional challenges of larger accounts, important presentations to management, exciting travel opportunities, superb professional development opportunities, and satisfying financial rewards. They speak most often of wonderful, interesting colleagues and business friends. Here's how they sump sales:
Advantages: A ready hiring market that allows you access to employment immediately upon graduation. The opportunity to acquire specific product information and become an "expert" in your field: countless opportunities to learn and improve interpersonal skills that will remain valuable assets throughout your working life.
Disadvantages: Not many. There is a strong emphasis on individual decision-making, time-management skills, and self-direction. Increasingly, professional salespeople are required to be technically and quantitatively astute in order to manage a sophisticated use of technology needed in customer contact and service provision. They must meet a need to be more of a listener than a talker, a problem solver, not a solution dictator, and a consultant, not a high-pressured order taker.
Return on Investment: Significant! A sales career will transform even the most broad-based of business majors into a real specialist in business affairs. You'll understand marketplace economics, consumer behavior, and organizational systems in a way never possible in the classroom. You'll also gain immeasurably in your ability to interact with individuals and groups in every type offsetting. Sales are a jump-start to a career in which recognition comes faster than in most any other employment sector.
Sales: The Insider's Surprising View. Most interesting is how they think of themselves. As a group, they are poised, professional, and comfortable in social situations. They would tell you, often as not, that a career in sales is the reason, not the other way around. Individually, they range from extroverted toastmasters to quieter, more scholarly types. Some are comfortable with large groups, others prefer one-on-one. Many think of their job as educational and informative, not persuasive and certainly not hard-sell. They are deeply respectful of the people who comprise their market and do not seethe as easily manipulated.
Ask any successful salesperson, "What is the most important skill you have?" You might expect the answer would be "personal power," or "persuasiveness," maybe "the ability to overcome objections" or "product knowledge". While all these attributes of a salesperson have their place, the skill most successful salespeople say they value above all is the ability to listen.
Sales: Selling Through Problem Solving. Contrary to public opinion, the objective of sales-certainly sales as practiced by professionals with a college degree and working for a reputable firm-is not to make somebody buy your product.
Sales: The Job Specifications. There are as many different types of sales positions as there are individuals to fill them. Each job holds the potential for both personal and professional growth, to varying degrees. Each job also places different demands on the job holder in terms of work productivity, self-management, travel, professional relationships, and product knowledge. Of special interest to the math major, some sales jobs will place a greater premium on their math education.
Let's identify some of the activities engaged in by salespeople. How they do their job is highly individual. With top sales professionals, you 11 often see a singular professional style that is not only highly idiosyncratic but also indulged and approved of by top management. Glancing over this list, you can immediately understand that this job is far more complex and sophisticated than popular myth would have it.
- Identifying and contacting prospective customers
- Assessing needs and maintaining good relations with existing customer base
- Designing and delivering sales presentations
- Keeping records/activity reports/sales performance records
- Tracking sales orders/delivery schedules and other details
- Handling complaints/returns when received
- Keeping an eye on the competition and reporting competitive activity
- Learning about new products and mastering marketing strategies
In any organization that has a sales force, to begin work there is to understand the organization in a very concrete, specific way in the sales force; you learn how the organization is perceived by the consumer. This is true whether you are an admissions representative for a college or selling industrial boilers. Customer contact and your understanding and appreciation of the demands of a sales job will be the foundation and source of your credibility and authority as you advance in your career. One of the surest paths to promotion is having graduated from a corporate training program. The training is usually exceptional, and it affords you an opportunity to meet lots of other people in the organization and gives you a broad overview of your employer. The following position we list obviously uses training as direct grooming process to management:
You'll have to learn everything about whatever you're selling, whether its corporate health plans, retirement systems, computer software, or large pieces of manufacturing equipment. Details, capabilities, costs, tolerances, competitive advantages, and a host of myriad details are crucial to being able to provide answers to questions. Product knowledge as a job demand can be confusing to those unfamiliar with retail. It doesn't mean amine-depth knowledge of what you prefer to buy, but an awareness of what different publics want in consumer purchases. Those publics may be classified by income level or by gender or age.
Customer Knowledge and Contact
Sales is about meeting people-lots of people. Each of these persons has a different need and appreciation for your product. Most of the time you encounter your clients on-the-job, since you have initiated the meeting, you will also encounter a variety of receptions from award welcome to a glacial stare. It's going to be up to you and your sales skills to make these moments work. One way you'll learn to do this is by appreciating exactly what each customer wants. Is it service? Perhaps it's product quality? It might be dependability. Sometimes it's the lowest price available. When customers are busy, you soon learn to judge each as an individual, find out what they need and get down to business! The ad below suggests a fast-paced retail environment where customer demand is high and salespeople and buyers must be creative and know both the stock and the customers:
No client believes you're interested in him or her if you've looking at your watch or tapping your foot while he or she speaks. Eye contact, your full attention, and the appropriate sounds and movements of affirmation and understanding convey the message "I'm listening to you!"Salespeople understand that communication is a complex business.
Sale is the art and science of communication. The communication is often about important issues such as product features, delivery dates, prices, conditions of sales, financing, and so on. A miscommunication can result infer more costly problems than just a lost sale. It's important that both parties understand each other. Professional salespersons become adept at ensuring that their message is correctly received and "decoded."
We've mentioned the importance of listening. Answering the client's concerns is also important. Ensuring that the client understands you can be accomplished through questioning, re-framing and restating what you've said, and by writing things down. Who said salespeople were just great talkers? Salespeople need to be excellent writers, speakers, listeners, and non-verbal communicators!
Whenever we talk to people who are currently in sales or have enjoyed a sales job in their work history, they invariably speak of the "personal" skills that they gained from sales work. What are these personal gains, and why are they so important? We've identified some of the most critical skills below.
- Poise. Meeting new people, ease in all social situations, and the ability to chat and make friends with a variety of people all develop an unconscious poise and confidence in sales professionals. It stays with them throughout their career, no matter where that may be.
- Ability to handle stress. Sales situations-any situations involving people and negotiations-will involve stress as well. A sales career teaches the kinds of planning and strategies to anticipate and avoid stress and the social skills to define and minimize the tension of stress-producing situations.
- Time management. Most sales positions demand exceptional time management. Teaching which clients to call on during which times, deciding when to do your paperwork, determining how to best use drive and fly time, and strategizing your week, your month, and your year for best effect all develop excellent time management skills. Many senior executives, when asked how they can be so productive, respond, "I began in sales and learned to use my time effectively." Decision making. Whether you're out on the road alone, in negotiations with a client, competing for a major account against worthy adversary, or discovering new markets or sales opportunities, there will be a need to make decisions. Management knows you will frequently be called upon to think for yourself and the good of the firm. Your job in sales will continue to demand good decision-making skills, many times on the spot.