Some people prematurely dismiss a sales career or its nonprofit analogue: fundraising. “I don’t want to push people to buy something they don‘t want or need.”
That’s wise but if you vet a sales position as carefully as the employer will be vetting you, you could end up with an ethical and lucrative job, even if you don’t have lots of degrees. The questions are: Are you cut out for sales and how do you vet a potential opportunity?
The more of these questions you answer in the affirmative the more likely you are to be successful and happy is a sales or fundraising career:
1. Are you money-motivated? For some people, money is a necessity but not a driver. But if you’re excited by the notion that you earn more by selling more, are motivated by the idea of meeting a quota, and that even if you get 9 of 10 nos, you'll likely persist, those are positive signs.
2. Are you a good listener and questioner? People mistakenly believe that key to being a salesperson is being a slick talker. Yes that helps but more important is that you ask good questions, really listen, and ask follow-ups to understand the prospect's needs as well as to build a human bond.
3. Are you willing to give (and give again) to get? The best salespeople, whether from a cosmic justice or pragmatic basis, are happily willing to give, to help, even if a sale may not derive. The good salesperson looks for an opportunity, for example, to dig up helpful information, introduce a potential customer to someone, even to come to one of their events. Imagine, for example, that your customer mentioned in passing that s/he will be performing in a community theatre production and you show up. Is that person not more likely to buy from you? And crucially, even if s/he never buys, isn’t that a good way to live your life? It’s a way of making friends as well as walking the talk so often brayed on resumes, “I delight in exceeding customer expectations.“
4. Will you have the strength of character to carefully vet your potential employer? People often fail in a sales career not because of insufficient resilience—If you have to tolerate 19 nos for every yes or can’t earn a middle-class income despite reasonable effort, the problem usually isn’t you, it’s that you're selling an unworthy or overpriced product or that your leads or assigned territory are weak.
So in reviewing ads for salespeople, Google it to get an initial feel for what you'd be selling and for whom, and in the interviews, ask questions like, “What is the probability that a reasonably diligent person will make $XX,000? What is your product’s strengths and weaknesses versus key competition? Tell me about the training I’ll receive.” Of course, the employer can lie but you’re more likely to get a feel for the job than if you’re the typical passive candidate. An additional way to vet the job is, when offered it but before accepting it, ask to speak with a couple of the company’s salespeople.
5. Are you unerringly ethical? If you are, you’ll probably not be the top salesperson in terms of dollars but will in the more important accounting, which counts both dollars and ethical behavior. What does the ethical salesperson do? S/he doesn't just avoid lying. S/he tells potential customers when they'd be wise not to buy. S/he points out the product’s weaknesses as well as strengths. Ethical salespeople are proud of how they're living life.
6. This last question is an awkward one but it's significant: Do most people find you attractive? Alas, disproportionately, successful sales people are widely considered attractive by the customer base. Homo sapien is a lookist species and so we’re more likely to buy from someone we consider good-looking.
At its worst, a sales job can be dishonest, impoverishing, and dispiriting. At its best, you can feel like an evangelist for a worthy product, service, or cause, and get well-paid for it.
The 2nd edition of The Best of Marty Nemko is available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at firstname.lastname@example.org.