Written by Somen Mondal
As the CEO of Ideal.com, I often have the opportunity to speak to job seekers and students, both MBA and undergraduate. Whether it is a crowd of 30 or 3000, young or old, men or women, I hear one question over and over again. It goes like this, “I don’t know what I want to do. What type of job should I look for?”
My answer is always, “Get a job in sales.”
My first summer job in high school was working at Lotus Software (Anyone remember Lotus 123…? … Anyone?), and my job was to call customers and update their CRM. All day. This introduced me to the world of sales.
In particular, it taught me two things: a) how to get a person’s attention and b) how to convince them of the value of my service. Although this wasn’t a true sales job, it was the type of job that’s a great precursor to sales.
As the great Harvey Mackay once said, “Everyone is in sales.”
That minimum wage sales job at Foot Locker? Sales. The waitressing gig you spent up-selling a side of sweet potato fries? Sales. Even the time you painted your neighbor’s fence for $40 -- sales.
My first real foray into the formal sales world was forced upon me when I started my first company. We were a young company, with a product that worked. We knew it worked, our small set of early customers knew it worked, but now it was time to scale. As the CEO, I had to cold call and close deals.
Being thrown – unwillingly -- into sales was the single best experience of my career. Why? The strengths and strategies I learned through selling have helped me immensely throughout every aspect of my life, career and personal. This is why sales is the best first job.
1) You’ll Be Ready to Sell Anything
Why do I tell people to get sales experience? Everyone is in sales and once you’re cognizant of it you will see it everywhere you look. Maybe you don’t directly sell a product in your current role, but how did you get that role in the first place? You had to convince someone to hire you. You were selling yourself.
In my opinion, being able to sell is the foundation of any successful career. If you’re the CEO of a huge publicly traded company, you need to sell your vision to your shareholders. Even as a Ph.D. student, you need to sell your ideas to receive funding and publish.
Interestingly, universities are beginning to put a much larger emphasis on teaching negotiation and sales skills. Hult International Business School rated “strong sales skills” as a top 10 critical skill of today’s workplace. And a survey of Harvard Business School graduates said the biggest skills gap they had before founding their company was “a lack of sales experience.” Don’t let this be you.
2) You Will Perfect Your Communication Skills
Being able to articulate your ideas is vital to any career.
I’m a true believer that when it comes to speaking and speaking well, practice makes perfect. There is no other profession that allows you to continually practice your pitch, relationship-building, and rejection-handling more than sales. Every day, you build on your ability to persuade and influence. These skills will follow you down any career path you choose to take.
A common trait great leaders share is their ability to inspire through words. This is another great skill you learn in sales. Every phone call is an opportunity to work on your pitch -- and trust me, your first pitch is going to suck. Don’t be discouraged. The second one will be a little better. By your 100th call you will have vastly improved your communication ability and be a natural. Practice makes perfect.
3) You Will Increase Your Confidence
Your first couple sales calls are going to be brutal. But we all started there. The best thing you can do is dust yourself off and try again. You’re going to close a deal, eventually. And when you do, you’ll see what makes sales so addictive.
Closing deals made me far more confident. I’d always been a bit of a geek growing up and never thought I’d be able to sell anything. But when you close that first big deal, the high you get will remind you why you love sales in the first place and push you to continue.
And after a few months I was talking to perfect strangers and turning them into your customers and even friends. This boost in confidence benefits you in all areas of your life, inside and outside the office.
So if you’ve ever been that person in the audience wondering, “What should I do? Where do I start?”, start in sales. Whether you’re looking for a summer job, your first (or your last) job, or a change in career, sales skills are invaluable.