Sales experience is a stepping stone in many career paths, even if it is not your dream job in itself. And experience in a sales environment shows up in the career plans of successful people and company-designed graduate schemes for good reason. Many grad schemes in functions like marketing put their new recruits through their paces in sales to help them develop key skills and see the business from a different angle.
If you’re working in sales already, then you will already have first-hand experience in the personal and professional development available in this field – but if you’re just starting out, or doing a grad scheme rotation with the sales team, check out some of the skills you can have in your toolkit by the end of it.
How to network (and not feel awkward doing it)
Networking does not come naturally to many of us, and being forced to network for your job can be a great way of getting over the initial awkward feeling you have when you first start out. Think of networking as a way of building relationships, rather than securing a sale, and recognise that relationships are two-sided. It’s as much about what you can do for others as it is what they can do for you. Help others to network also, and this good karma will come back your way.
How to listen – actively
I know – listening is not a tricky skill, but listening actively is a whole different matter. In sales you are looking to identify the motivation behind the words, the root of the issues you’re discussing with prospective customers. To do this well, you have to silence the chatter in your mind, stop thinking about your answer before you have heard the customer out, and feel comfortable with that. Tack on other specific skills like rapport-building, mirroring and using body language to support your verbal messaging, and you will be an expert at listening actively.
How to build productive, long-term work relationships
Business is all about relationships. When I first was told that you need to build relationships before you can have a hope of doing business – in any field – I didn’t believe it; surely work is work, and personal, friendship stuff is different? Getting the two mixed up is surely only going to be confusing? But no, whether in sales or any other sector, personal connection is what gets things done – and relationships are the glue that holds everything together. Learn this lesson fast with a stint in sales!
"What’s in it for me?" is a question you’re going to face a lot in a sales role. So, get used to answering this before you’re even asked, and this focus on root motivation will become a key transferrable skill even outside the realm of pure sales. Understanding others’ motivation is important if you want to influence and lead; combine this with a basic knowledge of nudge theory gained through sales training, and you’ll have a ’light touch’ influencing style that works with anyone.
How to recover
Much of what you learn from sales experience is about how to recover – whether that is from lost sales or a poor sales call, difficult questions or challenging customers. Learn how to reflect and react to disappointments, and you will soon figure out how to bounce back, on that call or the next – a skill that will help with your all-round resilience in every role.
Sales can be an energising, high-pace environment where challenges and results bring both exhilaration and disappointment – but, love it or hate it, it can be a fantastic learning environment whether you intend to make a lifelong career in the field or not. If you get the chance to gain sales experience, seize it with both hands – you will learn skills that will accelerate your career in any direction you choose.