As Black Friday sales loom upon us with the droves of shoppers and seasonal workers, I got to thinking about my own experience working in sales. About five years into my career as an accountant, an old colleague of mine called me about a job at her company—a recruiting firm for accounting and finance professionals. I was immediately interested. Recruiting sounded fun, and like a milder version of a high-pressure sales job. And I knew accounting and finance. How hard could it be?
I stayed in that role for two and a half years, until I started my writing business. And while it was much harder than I thought it would be, today, I couldn’t be more grateful. Working in sales taught me many valuable lessons about business. Here are a few of them—and six reasons I think everyone could benefit by working in sales.
You learn to talk to strangers.
If you ever find yourself in a position where you need to pitch something or ask for something, sales is great practice. You learn to talk to people, and not in a cheesy, I-want-to-sell-you-something way, but in a genuine way. You learn to remember people’s names after one introduction, and remember the names of their kids and the fact that they have a trip to Hawaii coming up soon. I’m the type to ask people a lot of questions anyway, so working in a very people-focused job was fun for me. But no matter who you are, learning to deal with and talk to and listen to and be real with people is very valuable.
You learn to ask questions.
Whatever you’re selling, you need to understand it well enough to convince someone else that they need it. In sales, you learn to ask a lot of questions. You learn to become an expert on something and become savvy enough to talk to other people about it intelligently. It becomes important to you to be useful to someone, and therefore, you learn to find out what other people need and how you might be able to help them.
You learn to take notes without breaking eye contact.
A weird skill to be proud of, I know. I am the master at this. When you’re meeting with people to learn how you can help them (in my case, it was both our employer clients and our employee candidates), you learn to listen carefully and write things down all while still making people feel heard. For me, I just don’t feel like I’m giving someone my full attention when I’m looking at my notepad.
You learn to deal with rejection.
Hopefully by the time you’re an adult you’ve learned a bit about failing and how to pick yourself back up when you stumble, but if not, a job in sales will teach you in a hurry. I’m not saying this is fun. But it toughens you up. Not everything goes your way. Not everyone thinks you’re great and wise and selling something they want to buy. In sales, you learn to let things roll off your back a bit more, and that’s a great life lesson.
You learn about prioritization.
My boss at the recruiting agency once told me, “Whatever you do, stay close to the money.” It sounded very salesy at the time and I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes in secret when he said it, but I get it now. What he really meant is that it’s easy to waste your time doing things that have nothing to do with your job’s purpose: to sell things. So, be efficient. Don’t waste your time on things that don’t help you get your job done.
You learn about ethics.
Let’s face it, sales gets a bad rap for unethical practices. Probably the most valuable lesson I learned in sales is that your integrity is never worth compromising. You can really stand out to people by being honest, straightforward, and nice. I never thought of sales as a way to make a bunch of money. Instead, I focused on trying to solve people’s problems. I wanted to be that salesperson that always made the decision that was best for my customers—not for me. So I think if you treat sales as an opportunity to become a better business person and learn about how your company works, you’ll learn more than you ever imagined.
I’m incredibly thankful for my sales experience, because I think it made me a smarter business woman. I’ve dreamed of being a writer since I was little, but would I have had success gaining clients had I not been in sales first? Who knows, but my hunch tells maybe not. In sales, I learned to hustle. I learned to work smarter AND harder. I learned about the law of volume and that if I want a lot of business, I better not sit around hoping it will come to me. All valuable lessons no matter what your industry.
OK, salespeople, what’d I miss? What has being in sales taught you?