Are You Cut Out for Sales?

March 22nd, 2010

Recently, one of my five semi-regular readers (Scott) posted a comment in which he said he felt his communications degree was valuable because it gave him sales skills -- and selling is important in just about any profession. Coincidentally, in a NY Times piece that ran on March 19, former Apple evangelist and high tech guru Guy Kawasaki says selling was the most important thing he learned when he was in the jewelry business.

Today I was running around making sales calls for the Career Changers TV show I co-produce, and I was thinking about what makes a good salesperson. Even in this lousy economy, pick up the classified ads or check Craigslist, and you will find listings for sales jobs. In part, that's because there's such a high turnover rate. Getting rejected for a living requires a very thick skin. One reason I'm a writer is that I don't like hearing "no" over and over. I tend to take it personally, which good sales people don't do.

The best salesmen and saleswomen are also great listeners, I think. They get prospects to open up and tell them what they want to be sold on. I'll never forget a timeshare sales pitch my wife and I listened to years ago when the Kona Coast Resort first opened. Halfway through, I told the young sales lady that we wanted to buy a week. But she kept talking and wanted to show us the rest of the tour! Good sales people know when to ask for the order, and when to shut up.

I have to agree with Scott that my broad liberal arts college education did help when I pursued careers in real estate and financial investments (i.e., legalized gambling in the form of commodities options trading). In both cases, I had to take courses and cram for exams to get licensed. But I hated cold calling prospects and using hard sell tactics, so I didn't last long in those jobs.

Anyone out there who tried sales work and hated it? Conversely, any of you love selling? If so, what do you sell -- and are things picking up?

Today's relevant links:

NY Times interview with Guy Kawasaki. He also talks about the importance of being able to write concise emails and get to the point quickly.

Another interesting NYT interview, in which Spreadshirt CEO Jana Eggers says something every good sales person knows: make friends with the receptionist or office assistant, because their boss often asks them what they think of job candidates!

And for sales jobs leads, you can go to our site and click on the YouTube Channel link for our Hawaii Job Openings video... or if you're lazy, just click here.

8 Responses to “Are You Cut Out for Sales?”

  1. Jana Eggers:


    Good column regarding listening and liberal arts being good for sales - and the ability to live through many "no"s! Thought you would enjoy this point from another interview I recently did:

    What is the best advice you ever received?
    To remember that everybody’s a sales person. Whether our audience is internal or external, we always need to communicate to understand our “customers” and produce what they need. (Click on my pic to see the interview)

    We would all do well learning some of the skills you point out.


  2. Rich Figel:

    Hey, Jana -

    "Mahalo" for dropping in! In our Career Changers TV show we've had segments suggesting individuals and businesses use Google Alerts to be notified when their name pops up in blog/internet tags -- and here you are!

    Thanks for the Coffee Break link. I'll add it to the CCTV website as well as another resource for entrepreneurs and small biz start-ups (although your advice is valuable for any size company).

    If you ever open a business in Hawaii, I'd love to work with you! There were a lot of things in your NYT interview I could relate to, and will refer back to in future blog spots.

    Ain't the internet wonderful for making connections!


  3. Rich Figel:

    For those of you who aren't familiar with Jana, she's the chief exec of Spreadshirts, a very successful company that makes personalized clothing. She also writes a blog in which she shares insights related to business and personal goals:

    Speaking of customized shirts, saw a good social media-related t-shirt idea that has local origins: Shane Robinson was wearing a shirt that said "@Shane" with "IRL" underneath it -- which stands for "In Real Life." Since Shane and his life partner, Roxanne Darling, are involved with the Social Media Club here, they were meeting lots of people they hadn't had face time with before. So one of their friends came up with the IRL shirt idea and it's been a hit at their SMC monthly meetings and Tweet-Ups!

  4. Scott:

    Aloha Rich-I'm currently in the interview process as an adviser with Edward Jones. I'm hoping my sales experience will pay off. Back to studying.

  5. Rich Figel:

    Scott -

    Good luck! Do you have to take the Series 7 exam to get licensed first for that position? I had some trouble with the math stuff!


  6. Michael:

    Billy Mays. He seemed to be a person who could sell United States for a hefty profit, if he could.

  7. Scott:

    Rich, yes, and the 66 exam. I'm not a math person but I have a mind like a steel cage. Plus, if I get this job I can join the local country club and write it off as a business expense!

  8. Rich Figel:

    Belated reply: Speaking of Billy Mays, Jana Eggers Tweeted this: Sales tips from the new Billy Mays: Be passionate, sincere, smile, use humor: + "Life's a pitch and then you buy it"...