Sales: A Conscious Career Choice?


The two words ‘ information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through. – Sydney Harris

It is this time of year when girl guide biscuits are on sale. I love it – not for the biscuits – but for the fact it is teaching our children sales skills. There is one example I always smile at. I passed it 2 weeks before the biscuits were on sale – a sign on the side of the road saying ‘Girl Guide Biscuits For Sale Here Soon’. An enterprising young lady has regularly set up a stand in a beachfront carpark on a busy stretch of road in a local suburb. It’s so popular now, she has taken to advising her clients when to expect her back there. What a great example of sales and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, what an exception.

At some point in our young lives – our parents and family tell us we need to consider a career. In fact, in many countries, it isn’t an option to avoid education. We need technical skills to earn a living in our adulthood. We need information. Accordingly, we dive head long in to academia to learn these technical skills. Later in our education we make a decision as to whether we wish to pursue trade skills or further academic skills – but the learning continues.

So from the age of five to our late teens or early twenties we are fully immersed in furthering our technical knowledge to help us earn our living. We are seeking information to serve us well in our career. We learn how to build houses, reconcile financial accounts, design bridges and all other manner of career skills.

But, after all is said and done, we exit our academic life to a work force. A work force where our work isn’t presented on a projector or screen. Where the task is seldom laid out in front of us in explicit detail. We exit to a workforce where we aren’t accountable to a teacher trying to help us learn. We exit to work force with a customer wanting us to help them grow. To help them learn. To help them solve problems and capture opportunities. We enter to a workforce where we have to sell. First, we have to sell ourselves to a future employer to get a job. Then, sell ourselves to our work colleagues so we can work together. Ultimately, we have to sell to clients.

What happens for many is we go in to a sales void before entering our careers. Academic life is about obtaining technical skills – rather than sales skills. It is about giving you the skills to do your job, not to work with clients. Your teacher is there to critique the technical aspects of your learning, not your ability to sell what you’ve learnt to a client. Ultimately, we seek information rather than the ability to communicate it.

These technical skills have long identified us. Our job titles have long been a description of what we do but not why we do it. The titles are functional descriptions of the process – not of the outcome. We are panel beaters, carpenters, lawyers, etc. As a result, making these decisions early in life focuses us on what we do, not on the benefit the client enjoys.

We exit to a workforce after 16-25 years of life often having forgotten and/or neglected any sales skills we naturally had because we just didn’t need them through our academic life. We were so focused on our technical skills, we now have to (re)learn our natural sale skills.

However, it by this point we have often learnedthe stereotype about sales people. As a result, we don’t often sell because we don’t want to be THAT person. No one told us we’d have to sell in this career – I’m not doing that! The prime example that reinforces this is the fact often organisations don’t use the world ‘sales’ in role titles. So if we hide ‘sales’ from our clients, what do our staff think?

There are many careers being taught which are client facing and/or directly involve selling – yet sales and selling skills seldom features in their curriculum. The focus remains on the technical side of the role. There are also many careers being taught which naturally result in people being in business for themselves, again sales and selling seldom features in their training.

Sales isn’t taught as a subject and most certainly isn’t taught as a career path. So how can children entering and in academic life choose to pursue sales as a career? Do they? Most don’t – they choose a career based on their technical aptitude and desires, not because they wish to sell. They become accountants because they are good with numbers – not necessarily because they wish to wish to help clients. They become builders because they are good with their hands, not necessarily because they wish to help clients build the home of their dreams. Many are surprised to find selling features highly in their career choice. Technically, they can be brilliant – as this is what they’ve been learning for so long to do.

It is often the business that has to teach them the skills to translate this knowledge in to a language that is meaningful to their clients – of for the person to learn these skills themselves.

As we move through the modern era of technology – many of these technical skills we value so preciously will be automated. Its often cheaper, quicker, more accurate and consistent. Those houses could be produced in factories by machines in modular form (and, in fact, already are). Accounting is and will continue to be revolutionised by technology, bridges will and are being designed by computers. Many other industries are being challenged by technological automation. However, despite all this technology, someone still has to work with the client to understand where they are, where they want to be and advise the best solution(s) to get there.

We are seeing an interesting dynamic happen in social media. LinkedIn is a great example – people are changing their fucntional job/role titles to identify not with their technical skills but what this means to clients. They are moving towards being advisers and offering solutions and away from being technicians and providing products.

So, is it now time to consider sales as an important career skill and start incorporating it amongst the technical knowledge we learn? Or is it even time to consider it as a career in its own right and start formally offering sales training in an academic sense?

Some of us are naturally entrepreneural. They don’t see a lemon tree, they see thirsty customers on a summers day and a solution in their back yard. But this is the exception not the rule.

Much is discussed around whether sales is learned or natural. We don’t enter this world with a desire to avoid the door to door sales person just like we don’t enter this world with a fear of spiders. We don’t enter this world thinking sales people are white shoe wearing, slick talking, self serving people. We learn them.

We enter this world with no knowledge of sales at all – but we enter this world with the ability to communicate with people. We enter with the ability to sell, just not the skills to do it. We learn those – but we have to choose to.

So why aren’t we fostering this ability as part of the academic journey our children embark on? Why aren’t we giving them the choice and ability to choose sales as a career?

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