THE SECRET TO WORKING IN SALES

Mombasa, Kenya 1983

I grew up in sales.

Long before my successful sales career I was selling candy, mangoes, pizza, burgers, Indian food, landscaping, computer parts, cars, alarm systems door to door and so many other things.

Always sales. A little over 30 years later, and I’m still selling, but I find myself in a position of mentorship and training more and more often.

In light of that, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to quantify exactly what it is that I’m looking for in potential business partners and employees, and I’ve realized a very specific common strain runs through most of my favorite candidates: Experience in sales.

When you work in sales, whether it’s door to door, services B2C, B2B, working the floor at a convenience store or a big box store, working the register at a family business, or taking orders at a fast food restaurant (I know that’s more service-oriented, but it’s still the same set of skills I’m talking about), you start gaining the one thing that I think is really important for everybody to understand: The ability to read the customer.

If you’re unable to read the customer, to adjust to a customer’s response in real-time, directly in front of your face, I think you’re missing out on something that makes every great businessperson truly exceptional.

We’re living in a faster world, and if you can’t reverse-engineer your customer’s finish line in order to make him/her happy, you’re going to have a very hard time breaking through the scale and the speed that we’re now dealing with thanks to the streaming economy.

As somebody who likes to rant– and let’s be honest, I love to rant. I love to talk.

I love to hear myself talking. I love to be heard– It’s shocking to me how much I like to listen.

To be honest, I used to struggle with it.

“Why the heck do I like to listen so much?”

And then it dawned on me (which probably prompted me to write this article): “Oh… I’m a sales person.”

I had no choice.

Customer walks in and I had to listen.

Long before I could spout about what Keypad would go best with that system, I had to hear what system they were going to install.

Long before I could go on about what system they should buy for their vacation , I had to know how many windows were there and, more importantly, what their preferences and lifestyle were.

And so, my friends, I implore you to recognize the world we’re living in; to recognize that the consumer will always be right forever.

I implore you, if you’ve never worked sales, to try and find a situation that allows you to do that.

I implore my sons and all college students to highly consider taking a summer job stocking shelves or working a register.

The soft skills (which are, in my opinion, hard skills) that you will learn in that job will be transferable to everything you do for the rest of your life.

This piece was originally posted on my website. Head over to LinkedIn, I’ve got over 30 features over there. Take a look.