Retail salespeople can do their job from behind a counter, over the phone, or even by visiting their clients personally, whether they’re right down the hall or on the other side of the world. Most salespeople pitch their products dozens of times a day, five days a week. Whatever the product, they must convey confidence and goodwill, for making a sale requires a trusting consumer. People in sales must be ready to deal with rejection and disgruntled customers. As products and market conditions change constantly, salespeople must adapt if they want to survive. In fields such as consumers electronics in general and computers in particular, the rapid pace of change can be as overwhelming as it is exciting.
A skilled salesperson knows the product she’s selling and understands the needs of her customers. Salespeople often say they want to help people find what they need, and bristle at accusations that they are selling “just for the money.” After all, salespeople are a necessary part of a dynamic capitalist economy. Moreover, many salespeople truly enjoy the human interaction as much as the more palpable thrill of closing a sale. For some, the demands of travel detract from the time they can spend with their families; others enjoy the travel or find they can work from home.
A good sales record leads to a better job with a better salary and, often extra incentives such as higher commissions. Most of the salespeople we talked to devote their sales-related reading to specialized journals dedicated to the professional salesperson or to individual markets they serve. The amount of time salespeople devote to their job depends on what they sell and on their own personal needs. Nevertheless, even the best salespeople often work continually, because “you’re only as good as your last month’s sales.”
Paying Your Dues
The sales profession values experience over education. A specialized degree is not necessary to pursue a career in sales. An understanding of the product is important no matter what you sell, but the salesperson must learn to communicate well with clients, whether it’s face-to-face, over the phone, or by letter or e-mail. Ambitious salespeople may study marketing and sales techniques at college or business school either before or during their sales careers.
The skills involved in selling transfer well to other careers. Practicality, persuasiveness, and tenacity are all qualities esteemed in managers, and many salespeople use their job as a stepping stone to consulting or management positions. In addition, some may be recruited into positions as manufacturer’s field sales representatives for products they were formerly selling at the retail level.