This is the first in a series I’m calling The Koan of Sales. In Buddhism, koan is a nonsensical or paradoxical question to a student where an answer is demanded and the stress of meditation on the question is often illuminating. So that’s what I’m going to do, ask some questions and see what thinking about them does.
And here is the first one: What the hell am I doing here?
When I was in my mid-twenties and on a business trip, I got off a plane in Syracuse, NY and watched my seat mate, an older man, maybe 60, head directly to the pay phone bank (pre-cell phone days) next to baggage claim. As I waited, I could overhear him making calls and trying to arrange sales meetings. How sad, I thought. To be that old and still flying into town and trying to cold-call customers. That will never be me!
I wasn’t a salesperson, and I didn’t want to be. I was in operations. People who did productive things reported to me. The small, high-tech company I worked for didn’t even have a sales staff. Ours was a niche market, we knew everyone well, and their needs were well-defined and predictable. We just needed to maintain our existing relationships and make sure we worked to develop new ones.
As Operations Manager, I was the principal point of contact for all our customers. I prepared all the proposals, I made the calls and the pitches, I was responsible for meeting our sales goals. I was a salesperson in denial. I eventually came to realize that when I went to work for a company that was big enough and diverse enough to have a dedicated sales staff, and I could no longer pretend I was not in sales.
Once I got over the shame, I found it was interesting and challenging and exciting and rewarding, and I liked it, and I was good at it.
How did you get into sales? Did you dream about it growing up? While the other kids were playing cops ‘n robbers, were you knocking on doors trying to sell your mother’s vacuum cleaner? Did you go to college and get your Bachelor of Selling degree? Spend your summers dialing the phone and offering carpet cleaning services?
I’ll bet not. I’ll bet you stumbled into it, like I did.
Why do we stumble into sales, and not dream about it as a career growing up, and plan and learn in order to support success once we get there? Why is sales training anything from a five-minute tour with your supervisor, to a three-day seminar on the latest thing in sales technique or methodology, to a 300-page binder of documents you’re supposed to review on your own time? Why are the majority of Internet blogs and opinions disparaging of the profession of sales? Why do salespersons call themselves Business Development this or Marketing that?
So, what did you do to get yourself into sales? And are you glad you did?