August Turak

Author Consultant Speaker

Ten Ways to Recession Proof Your Career

Beyond compensation and job security, there are lots of other reasons why mommas should encourage their babies to grow up to be...

Back in the early days of MTV: Music Television I pitched a promotion into management. At the end of the interview the VP said that his only concern was that I didn’t have any management experience. I pointed out that as a sales rep I was already successfully managing hundreds of people across dozens of accounts and had the numbers to prove it. Besides, every sale I made required the internal support of people in marketing, research, engineering, legal, and accounting: folks that didn’t report to me but always went the extra mile for me. “If I can successfully manage so many people through persuasion alone,” I said, “imagine what I could accomplish with a little power.”

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Periodically some pundit proffers a list of the best careers. Though I’ve been scanning these lists for decades, I find it irritating, even unconscionable, that they never include sales. Seems like every college kid I meet is studying marketing or accounting: professions that are lucky to make a third of what a sales rep makes. Salesmen are the gunslingers of business, and hired guns not only command top dollar but the unremitting range wars of business ensure a constant demand. But beyond compensation and job security there are lots of other reasons why mommas should encourage their babies to grow up to be salesmen.

First of all sales teaches people skills, and as these same pundits ceaselessly remind us, the number one reason why people are not promoted or fail in management is because they lack people skills.

Second, the people skills you learn in sales are authentic. The philosopher Descartes once said of the University of Paris, “There is no idea so absurd that you won’t find someone teaching it seriously here,” and this describes many of our college campuses; especially when it comes to politically correct notions about human nature. Sales is instructive, even refreshing, because when money is on the line human pretense evaporates leaving only the unvarnished truth.

For example, in my first sales job I naively gave prospects my very best price on the first sales call. I didn’t get a single sale. Rather than appreciating my candor, prospects assumed I was merely posturing and often became angry when I couldn’t offer better discounts later on. Eventually I realized that no matter what they say, people want to play the game. Every human being wants to feel special by getting a special deal. Haggling is not about price. It is a value added feature that adds poker-like excitement to the selling process. I learned to haggle and let my customers feel like they were beating me up. And much to my surprise, I found that producing happier customers often meant smallerdiscounts.

The third reason to consider sales is autonomy. No job offers the freedom of being your own boss like sales. As long as you’re making your numbers, you manage yourself. One day as VP of sales I was preaching to one of my reps on the phone.

“Hey Augie,” he suddenly interrupted, “are you buying anything today?”

“No,” I replied.

“Then what the hell am I doing listening to you?”

He was damn right and though we both laughed that was the end of the call…

The fourth advantage is that sales squeezes out ambiguity. You don’t have to worry about whether you “look” busy or “seem” like you’re getting your job done. The sales “board” never lies, and I found this freedom from subjective evaluation exhilarating.

The fifth reason to consider sales is who we know is more important than what we know, and salesmen know everyone. Sales reps don’t have to look for career moves they come looking for them. In the early 1980s I went from a sales rep to VP of Sales and Marketing in three years because I was recruited by clients.

The sixth reason is professional development. Remote corporate campuses with lavish cafeterias are death traps for personal development. Every corporate desk jockey ends up talking to the same old people about the same old things. Learning from competitors, clients, and ever changing challenges is the best way to stay ahead of a rapidly changing business environment, and no one benefits more from this osmosis than a salesman.

Seventh, if you want to feel like you are making a difference go into sales. Nothing gave me a greater sense of personal satisfaction then helping a client overcome a challenge or producing the revenue that makes everybody’s paycheck possible.

The eighth reason is that selling skills, like a Swiss Army Knife, have thousands of uses. As I said in a previous article,We’re All Salesmen whether we are trying to charm a traffic cop, trying to get a child to eat his peas, or trying to get a date we can all benefit from being more persuasive. Selling skills are also transportable. It is relatively easy to impart product knowledge. Finding folks who can sell is hard.

Every salesman must overcome his fear of rejection and this is the ninth reason to consider sales. The back story to every success story in art, science, business or true love is a long series of rejections, and the single biggest reason why we never live our dreams is the fear of failure which is just another term for fear of rejection. Tenth and most importantly, sales is a royal road to self-knowledge. Sales reps must make thousands of decisions about people and the feedback is immediate and unambiguous. We all have assumptions –often erroneous- about how others will react to a given set of circumstances. As in my story about discounts related above, sales repeatedly brought my own errors to light and in the long run I benefitted tremendously – though often painfully- from being disabused of my pet prejudices.

At heart sales is not a technique, a skill, or an art. It is discipline that forces us to face the truth about ourselves and others. The real beauty of sales is that a salesman must change, grow, and adapt or else he starves. A sales rep lives and dies by his philosophy; he walks the tight rope of success without a safety net; and the thrill of his victory or the agony of his defeat is always right there on “the board” for the whole company to see. I wish I could say the same for all those damn pundits that never give sales its due….