If you recently graduated from college or university, you've probably been reminiscing on the good old days, saying farewell to friends, and catching your breath after non-stop graduation festivities. Then, the real world sunk in. As you begin contemplating your future, one of Robert Frost's most famous lines of poetry may be top of mind: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood."
Except, with this slight addition: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I had no idea what the hell to do.
This "not knowing" is one of the most crippling feelings in the world. You’re crippled by the thought of how much the path you choose might impact your life. You’re crippled by the pressure of succeeding, even when you’re not sure what you really want to succeed at. You’re crippled by the ‘what ifs’ you associate with taking a wrong turn.
Last year, that was me when I graduated with a double degree in Finance & Marketing. I took some time off to to travel, and then — fresh out of uni — I took a role with HubSpot in its small, but growing, Sydney office. The next thing I knew, I was flying out to Boston for a month of training.
If you were to talk to my fellow graduates today, you'd find that most went into consulting, financial services, banking, law, or marketing. But, I took the road less traveled and entered sales.
In the year since I've been in sales, I've learned there are sweeping misconceptions about the entire profession and what I do every day. People tend to associate sales with sleaziness and doing whatever you can to manipulate or persuade somebody into buying, ultimately just so you can meet your quota. The conception also seems to exist that sales is a stop-gap, rather than a viable, long-term career path.
But, that couldn’t be far from the truth. Let me explain.
You’re Already Selling, and You Don’t Even Know It
First, I think ultimately everybody is in sales. Regardless of your role, in your day-to-day job there is undoubtedly some degree of selling. Whether you’re pitching an idea to your manager, trying to get company-wide buy-in to secure budget for a project, or simply selling yourself when you think it’s time you’re considered for a promotion. Sales skills are necessary in every job to some degree. If you’re a student, you can bet you’re already developing selling skills. Have you ever:
- Given a presentation to your class?
- Spoke up in class and had to communicate your point of view?
- Had to persuade your classmates to choose you over another person for a group assignment?
These are all parallels to prospect or customer interactions that I have on a daily basis now that I’m working in sales. I’ll bet in all of those situations, you had to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and ultimately focus on helping the person you were ‘selling’ to, right?
If you’re giving a presentation, your main focus is on adding value to your audience. If you speak up in class to communicate your point of view, it’s usually because you see a gap in the discussion that you want to help fill. And if you want to be included in someone’s group assignment, it’s because you see their potential and want to contribute towards it, and share in their success.
All of these things benefit someone else, and were all things I enjoyed doing throughout my education. What I didn’t know at the time was that developing these skills would prepare me for a career in sales at a company I love.
Selling is a By-product of Helping
At the root of my role, it’s not my job to sell anything. I really just need to focus on helping people find solutions to problems they are facing. The sales come as a result of doing that well.
Online technology and the scale of information that’s available to anyone with an internet connection has given buyers virtually unlimited potential to make more informed decisions. B2B buyers are now much better equipped to understand and compare products than they were a decade ago.
Buyers don’t need sellers to find a potential solution to their problem. They’re already finding the solutions themselves. We’ve all heard various statistics stating that 50-90% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer speaks to a salesperson.
Does this mean salespeople are becoming obsolete? No, I don’t think so.
Buyers also use salespeople to help them find solutions to problems they didn’t think there could be a solution to. With tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft (and the thousands of SaaS startups) constantly innovating and introducing new solutions to business’s problems with the technologies they develop, it’s hard for businesses to keep on top of those developments. Sometimes a business can be stalled on a problem without even realizing there’s a piece of software or a tool that can solve that problem.
“Ultimately, selling is about guiding and helping, not about pushing.”
So, what does that mean for me as a sales person?
It means I have to keep up to date with these potential solutions, as well as think about how they apply to each industry and each business I’m speaking to. If anything, this means I need to wear many different hats, including that of a consultant, a marketer, as well as business owner. Being able to do so is crucial to empathizing with my prospects.
My Role Makes Me Feel Accomplished, Not Ashamed
I started off my experience in marketing roles, working with some pretty cool companies and some very talented people. Although I was able to see a lot of my efforts materialise into successful projects, I couldn’t help but find it difficult to quantify exactly how much my work had improved the business’s bottom line.
Whilst marketing is a very data-driven profession, success and failure isn’t always as black and white as when you’re working to hit a monetary quota in a sales role.
Beyond the satisfaction I get from helping businesses solve their problems, sales makes me feel accomplished in my career on a personal level.
My quota means that I have a numerical target that I have to hit each month. If I don’t hit it, I don’t get paid as much. Most people in a sales role will have some split in their compensation, which usually consists of a base pay (which is the same every month) and a variable component.
A lot of people think it’s scary to have so much of your salary dependent on a variable component, but I think it’s incredibly honest and clear cut. I know exactly what I need to achieve throughout the month to make a certain amount of money. It allows me to predict and plan the conversations I need to have every day.
I love that I’m on a quota. Sure, I don’t really sleep anymore and I do cry on most of my weekends, but -- jokes aside -- the motivation and energy that being on a quota has given me has been the game-changer in my professional and personal life.
Taking the High Road
When you’re fresh out of school and in such a critical point in your career, you need to know that you’re learning and improving. I imagine there’s a lot of people who yearn for this feeling, but who haven’t considered that a career in sales can offer them that level of job satisfaction. So, again, I leave the last word to Frost: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
Maybe sales can make the difference for you, too.