You can never understand someone else’s position unless you have walked a mile in their shoes, or so the old adage goes. This seems to be especially true for people considering a career in sales. Of all the professions out there, there seem to be more misconceptions about working in sales than any other job.
Many people think that a career in sales is one filled with constant anxiety and rejection. The real question is, how much of that view is a function of perception rather than reality? For example, did you know that although 50 percent of sales prospects see sales reps as pushy, only 17 percent of sales reps see themselves that way? Did you also know that two-thirds of sales reps regularly miss their quotas, only 46 percent of sales reps feel their pipeline is reliable, and 40 percent of reps can’t relate to their customers’ problems? At the same time, career opportunities in sales continue to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is expected to be 6 percent growth in the number of sales positions between now and 2026. That represents 81,100 new jobs.
Working in sales can be rich and rewarding, if you understand what a career in sales is truly all about. To help remove some of the mystery and illustrate the real potential offered by a career in sales, here are 8 misconceptions about the sales profession:
1. “You need to be an extrovert to succeed in sales.”
The truth is that “introverts” can thrive in sales. In fact, introverts often outperform extroverts—remember that 50 percent of prospects see sales reps as pushy. Introverts have variety of desirable traits that are ideal for a job in sales. They tend to take the time to be more prepared. They also tend to be better listeners and more empathetic, which makes it easier for them to relate to prospects’ problems.
2. “Salespeople are born, not made.”
Sales techniques can be taught like any other skill. Every job has a learning curve, including sales; however, with the right instruction, dedication, and attention to detail, anyone can become a sales rockstar.
3. “Sales is about selling people something they don’t really want.”
Good sales reps are problem solvers. Selling is about working with prospects to understand their needs and presenting potential solutions to address those needs. In fact, the best sales professionals are adept at reframing the benefits their offering provides so that they can be measured with the yardsticks their prospects are using to measure their own success. At that point, the prospect becomes a customer because doing so makes good sense.
4. “Good sales reps need to have thick skin.”
The premise behind this misconception is that every deal is about winning or losing—if you close the deal, then you are a winner. The best sales reps operate on an “everyone wins” philosophy so every negotiation is a win for both the customer and the company. When your goal is to have everyone emerge as a winner, you don’t need thick skin.
5. “Sales is a numbers game.”
Most sales successes are measured using quantitative metrics, such as monthly or quarterly quotas. However, sales figures aren’t the only way to measure success. Sales is a people game. Sales managers tend to measure success by monitoring the number of sales calls, meetings, leads added to the pipeline, closed sales, margin dollars contributed by each sales resource, etc. And it is absolutely true that making a conscious effort to set and track the attainment of quantitative goals lays a good foundation for success in both the short and long terms. However, it’s not about “churning and burning enough so that you’ll eventually make a sale.” It’s about treating every interaction with perception, empathy and diligence. And remember, a “no” doesn’t necessarily mean “never,” and prospects who are impressed with you and your offering but who are not quite ready to buy now often emerge in the near future to consummate the sale.
6. “Good salespeople make good sales managers.”
If you remember The Peter Principle, the premise is that everyone rises to their own level of incompetence. Being good at sales doesn’t mean you are necessarily good at managing the sales process, or at training other sales professionals. Research shows that good salespeople thrive on individual achievement, whereas competent sales managers rely on oversight, reporting, and motivating the team. These are very different skill sets.
7. “Sales managers stop selling to focus on managing.”
Even if you have the skills and personality to be an effective sales manager, that doesn’t mean you have to abandon selling. Good sales managers work side by side with sales reps, helping them solve problems, resolve issues, close deals, and support customers.
8. “Sales is a dead-end profession.”
Sales training and experiencing problem-solving for customers provide a solid foundation for business success. In fact, 85 percent of company leaders and entrepreneurs started out as salespeople. Once you understand selling and the sales process, there is nowhere to go but up.
Recent assessments find that sales is now the second-hardest role to fill in the US economy, right behind skilled trades, like plumbers and welders. Some have gone so far as to say that the shortage of qualified sales professionals has become a genuine block on the US gross domestic product.
Everything you may think you know about working in sales isn’t necessarily wrong; however, you still may harbor some misconceptions. Like practically every other worthwhile skill, sales can be taught and, with the right attitude and effort, mastered. It’s all a matter of investing time and resources to understand how much you don’t know, then working to master the attitudes and sales skills you need to succeed.