I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about sales – how difficult it is to find good salespeople, why this is the case and why so many entrepreneurs struggle with the sales part of building their businesses. My own evolution as a salesperson was far from easy, yet as I reflect on my about-to-be 31 years of selling, embracing sales as a profession has filled my life with unanticipated skills and knowledge.
How did my love for sales evolve? And what lesson has been the most valuable?
Selling – being a salesperson – was never on my radar. I followed a very safe path from high school to university to the workplace. I ended up with a wonderful job at Bay and College in Toronto, writing about Canadian real estate and gaining some notoriety as an expert in the U.S. And even though the magazines and newspapers I wrote for relied on salespeople to sell the advertising that supported my salary, I still thought of sales as a somewhat nefarious activity.
But when I left journalism behind to become an entrepreneur, achieving success meant … selling. I thought, with great naiveté and a ton of conceit, that translating my interview and speaking skills into sales skills would be easy. Instead, that first year of building the business, and learning how to sell, was brutal – lots of tears and a well-bruised ego.
Odd, because in those hot, stuffy university classrooms, as I patiently made my way through Chaucer, I learned that selle meant give. The word originates from the Old English sellan, and in Old Norse and Old High German, it meant to deliver, to keep a promise.
And this is what tops the list of gifts I’ve received from selling – a clear understanding of (perhaps even a bit of an obsession about) the importance of keeping one’s word. There is no other single action that inspires trust and builds long-term relationships more than following through on a promise. When you sell, you either learn this very quickly, or you struggle to meet your goals.
Of course, no one is perfect – unexpected events can lead to unrealized commitments -but for me, starting each day with the priority of keeping my word has brought me both business success and life-long, steadfast relationships.
And there’s so much more. What about you? What skills have you gained/developed as a result of learning how to sell?