Should I Go Into Sales?



Occasionally, someone approaches me and asks, “People tell me that I am a natural-born salesman, that I have the ‘gift of gab,’ should I go into sales?”

The answer is maybe.

First, you should not choose a career because someone else thinks you would be good at it, although that’s excellent input.  If someone thinks I might be an excellent paleontologist, I will thank them but let them know that although I enjoy seeing dinosaur fossils at museums, I cannot see myself as an expert in this field.

I will typically respond: “Is this something you want to do? Or are you giving it some thought? Are you dissatisfied with your current occupation?”

I started as an accountant, which I initially studied in high school, before working full-time.  Accounting came easy to me, and I enjoyed it, although the monthly closings and manual payrolls and accounts payable that I handled could become tedious.  While in accounting, I worked for some good companies and had nurturing and challenging (to put it nicely) managers.  The last company I worked for encouraged me to take and pass the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination.

Then, after implementing several accounting software packages, I was offered a position as a salesman in Chicago, where I had lived most of my life.  After consulting with my wife and considering the need we had to have surgery for our baby son, we decided to move back to Chicago, and I began my long and successful sales career.  I never regretted leaving accounting for sales and was fortunate to sell accounting applications for many years.

Sales can be a very emotionally and financially rewarding occupation.  But, it is not for everybody.  Here are nine factors to consider:

  • Enjoyment: My father told me, “If I have a job that you like, you will never work a day in my life.” Is working in a sales position something you yearn to do for a career? If you don’t have the passion, it’s not for you.
  • Compensation: Your base salary in sales will normally be less than what you could earn in some non-sales positions. But the upside can be unlimited – if you are very successful.
  • Pressure: If you think you are under a lot of stress to finish the project you are working on, you must understand that the pressure to close sales and achieve your sales quota can often be overwhelming. Your sales manager will want to hold you accountable for your sales forecast and will often be upset if the sale you forecasted does not close at that time. And the pressure will not go away until the sale closes.  Your sales manager will constantly be in your life, like a body appendage.
  • Prospects and customers: There are all kinds of prospects. Some are very nice and informative, telling you where your proposal stands and maybe even advising you what you need to do to close the sale.  In my estimate, that accounts for about 5 percent of all prospects.  The other 95 percent will tell you some information or perhaps none.  Often, you will need to operate like a detective, piecing together clues to determine what is happening at the prospect.  And some will mislead or even lie to you, intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Rejection: Can you handle it? Most people you contact will not be receptive to learning about your company’s products. Many will not answer your emails or telephone calls.  Some will be rude; others will hang up on your calls.
  • Autonomy: You will have a lot of autonomy if you achieve or exceed your sales quota. If not, you will think your manager is hanging over your head, watching every move you make and second-guessing your sales strategy and tactics.  Your manager will appear in your dreams, and you will wake in a “cold sweat.”
  • Flexibility: Again, you will have flexibility in your schedule and lots of time to incorporate a work/life balance after you work 75 hours per week IF you achieve your sales quota. If not, you must often account for your activity, including the daily calls you make.
  • Rewards: Sales provides ample emotional and financial rewards, from being congratulated each time you close a sale when you collect your commission to monthly and annual sales events where top sales achievers are recognized in front of their peers. Most companies have incentive reward trips for the highest achieving salespeople and their spouses at luxury resorts.
  • Career path: Sales often includes upward mobility within the company, as many executives have come from the sales profession. Many CEOs, COOs, VPs of Sales, and operational executives started out or spent a significant portion of their career selling.

So, if you understand this and want to try the sales profession, my advice is to go for it! But have realistic expectations.  It may take you a while to close your first sale.  After a year or two, you can re-evaluate if this is what you choose to do for the rest of your life.  If not, you can always go back to your prior profession or change.  Perhaps go into sales support first and see if you like that. But, you will never know if you don’t try!