I've noticed something about selling that doesn't apply to any other profession: Everyone wants to sell. Every accountant, school teacher and engineer—especially engineers—fashions himself as a closing machine.
How do I know? When I'm in social settings meeting people for the first time, and tell them I'm a career sales professional, I frequently get that wide-eyed look.
"You ARE?! For who? What do you sell? Tell me about it."
It's not just me. I've seen the same exercise play out with other sales professionals, too. Why?
The answer lies in what I call the 5 Great Misconceptions of Selling:
1.I can do THAT #1
Most people who’ve never sold for a living think all salespeople do is call up prospects, tell them you have what they need and…well, what else is there? Talk/close, talk/close.
"I can do THAT" thinks the CPA, the housewife with three kids, or the school teacher with a classroom full of sixth graders.
Someday I'm going to ruin their fantasies and tell them about 300-page RFPs; sales managers whose idea of "management" is to call their reps every two hours and ask what they've sold; and cold calling.
Speaking of bad management, I had a VP of sales who always said, "If you're not ticking people off, you're not trying hard enough." Then the first time I had a prospect called her and said, "Hey, this guy is pushing too hard," she pulled me off the account.
So, yes, you, too, can do the "talk/close" thing. But you won't make any money. There's a lot more to it.
2.I can do THAT #2:
They remember the last salesperson they dealt with and KNOW they could do a better job.
There was the pot-bellied car salesman who smelled like Marlboros; the 22-year-old HD-TV salesperson who talked of pixels, interlacing, and HDMI when all they wanted was a TV.
So it's simple: Just look presentable, don't smoke, speak in plain English, and people will beat a path to your door. Right?
That's a good start, particularly speaking in plain English. But there's still more to it.
3.I can do THAT #3:
They think selling is all about "being good with people."
True. That's part of it. Receptionists need to be good with people, too. So do dental technicians. So, is that the answer?
Making someone feel comfortable while waiting in a lobby or getting a shot of Novocain takes skill. But being pleasant and persuasive enough to get them to part with $100,000 is another thing altogether.
4.The hours, the travel, the golf:
Work 20 hours per week, fly to exotic places such as Istanbul and play golf at private clubs with the likes of Jack Welch—and somewhere along the way we find five minutes to talk business.
My first sales territory was selling IBM copiers and typewriters in San Francisco where I covered Hunters Point Shipyards. Since then I've traveled to Bozeman, Eden Prairie, Indianapolis, Mesquite, and Manteca.
Once I actually flew to the wrong city—Idaho Falls—when I was supposed to go to Boise. That happened in 1984, and I swear I wasn't able to tell that story until the new millennium.
Newsflash: Not all salespeople make $750,000 a year, wear a Rolex, and have a beach home. For every one like that, there's 1,000 others driving to the office in a Dodge Dart, making 100 cold calls a day, and generally doing everything right just to make $50,000.
And if they fall a deal or two short of making their quota, they're looking for a new job. No one in the company has less job security. Believe it or not, good sales pros get fired all the time.
I was the Director of Sales for a software company in the speech recognition space, took over a sales region that had never made its numbers, brought in new talent, and in three years we were the top performing region in the company finishing at 150 percent of quota.
Big promotion, right? Wrong. I got fired because my boss needed to carve out more territory for a few of his inner circle cronies.
So you're asking, "What's the point here?" Here you go:
1. The barriers to entry in the selling profession are non-existent. Anyone can call themselves a salesperson. If you like talking, are good with people, and like big paychecks you're no different than 99 percent of the sales wannabes out there.
Professional selling is about asking good open questions and listening; not talking, doing demos, and asking about someone's weekend.
2.Having a business card that says "account manager" doesn't mean much by itself.
Frankly, the profession is rife with lazy people. They want the Rolexes and the beach homes but don’t want to pay the price. Believe it or not, this is GOOD, because…
3.…if you're the type of person who doesn't mind paying the price, then selling might be for you.
Doing the dirty work, prospecting, learning new skills, putting up with amateurs masquerading as sales managers, etc.—if you can embrace that, then you can be great.
4.Selling requires constant skill refinement.
As Tim Koegel says in his book, "The Exceptional Presenter," "Those who practice get better; those who don't, don't."
New selling techniques and best practices are always coming along. Thousands of books on selling are available on every topic from cold calling to negotiating to how/when to quit a deal.
5.Here's one last truth: Salespeople don't practice.
So if you do like to practice, you'll have a competitive edge. And you just might one day get the Rolex and beach home.
Mike Walsh is the CEO of Reality Based Sales.
As a sales professional, for 25 plus years, he has closed more than $35 million of business with corporations including Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, T-Mobile, and United Airlines. His company focuses on the field of professional selling and the "7 Deadly Selling Skills" every "sales rep" needs to master to become a "sales professional."