“Nothing happens in business until somebody sells something.”
A boss I had early in my career made that comment to me. Now, 30 years later, I truly understand the brilliance of that simple statement.
The simple truth is that we all use sales skills almost every day. From the teenager asking his dad if he can use the family car to the CIO selling his boss on an important, yet expensive, system upgrade, strong sales skills are critically important to achieving success at work and at home.
Any entrepreneur, business owner or CEO will tell you that good salespeople are incredibly hard to find. Look at Indeed, Monster or Career Builder and there are hundreds of thousands of job ads looking for salespeople. Other than software coders or Java developers, there is perhaps no career track that is in higher demand than sales.
Unfortunately, the current perception of sales careers among millennials often is not positive. With so much underemployment among new grads, you’d think it would be different.
Why So Few Applicants?
The Benefits of Sales Experience
From a career standpoint, sales experience is a huge benefit. First, knowledge of the customer and their needs, as well as understanding how they make purchase decisions, is absolutely essential to creating winning business strategies. In fact, many of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have significant sales experience, as do most entrepreneurs.
Second, even for those that pursue other career tracks in operations, finance or logistics management, an assignment in sales can provide significant benefits. The ability to assess and understand your organization’s business needs and develop and sell solutions to address challenges and opportunities is highly valued by upper management.
My own story is indicative of the importance of sales experience. I majored in chemistry in college, but knew that I didn’t want to work in a laboratory or in research. My first professional job was in technical marketing for a chemical company. In that role, I interacted with salespeople and thought that I could have success in that career path.
Ultimately, my sales experience allowed me to identify an unmet need in the environmental industry, which led to the start-up of my first company. Since I was selling to many of my established contacts, my start-up broke even within a few months and grew to an $11 million business in three years. I’m not unique by any means. A lot of people with strong sales skills are replicating this story every year.
Even if you do not have the entrepreneurial bug, it’s important to know that successful sales professionals typically earn more money during their careers than many of their college classmates pursuing more traditional careers. This is often because of incentive based compensation – the more you sell the more you earn. Employers are very willing to pay for results.
If you’re intrigued by a sales career, do some research – talk to alumni in sales, get a sales internship, do a job shadow with a salesperson, or even try retail sales to get your feet wet. The more you know, the better, so you can make an informed decision. With good due diligence, I’m confident that you’ll see the potential for a very rewarding career that is well compensated and gives you tremendous career flexibility to move into upper management or even start your own company. The sky’s the limit!
Bob LaBombard is CEO of GradStaff, a national college recruiting firm specializing in the entry-level job market. Bob has more than 30 years of experience working with recent college grads and the employers who want to hire them.