If you want to change your stars, learn how to sell something

In 2001, my feel-good movie of the year was a not-so-well-received romantic adventure comedy called A Knight’s Tale.  It starred Heath Ledger and Paul Bettany, two unknown up-and-coming actors, and many critics did not care for the Medieval setting with 70’s rock music mixed into it.  However, the movie grossed three times its production costs ($117M to $41M respectively) with its main theme ringing in the hearts of those who long for a better life: rags to riches.

One of my favorite exchanges in the movie is when William (Ledger) sees a parade of knights riding through town and says to his father, “Someday…I’ll be a knight.”  When a man nearby replies in laughter by saying, “A knight?  You might as well try to change the stars”, William turns to his father and asks, “Can it be done, father?  Can a man change the stars?”  His father, in a steady voice, assures him that “Yes, William.  If he believes enough, a man can do anything.”

I imagine that anyone who longs to do more in life, especially in regards to their occupation and their income, had chills at that moment, and imagined what it would feel like to go from peasant to knight, from being unknown and poverty stricken to the spotlight and a lifestyle of benefits and blessings.

In America, we are so privileged to live in a country with the opportunity to “change the stars” in our life and become anything we want to become.  However, in my brief time on this planet, I’ve noticed that many people just don’t know how to do it.  The desire is there, no doubt, but the skills & experience to make it happen are lacking.

I, no doubt, fit into this category as I journey through the growing pains of changing my stars, and I’ve realized that occupationally speaking, there is one set of skills every person needs if they want to achieve in business: the ability to sell something.

For the longest time I feared sales and never wanted any part of it.  Negotiating scared me, and salespeople in general made me uncomfortable.  In the past, I had friends who encouraged me expressing their belief that I would do well in sales, but I didn’t believe it, and I had no desire to give it a shot.

And then life threw me a curveball.  Sometimes that happens, and I found myself changing careers, moving out of the public sector and into the private sector, with no business experience.  I knew I would have to take an entry-level position at a company and just work my way up from the bottom, start climbing the old corporate ladder, as they say.  Sounded like a plan, but I had no idea what that meant.  I wanted to be the guy in charge sitting in the corner office, managing others and living the good life, but how do you get that job?

As I applied for everything under the sun, most of which I was not qualified on paper to do, I quickly realized that the only jobs I was being offered were entry level, 100% commission sales.  Have you ever done 100% commission sales?  Do you know what this means?  It means if you don’t sell anything, you don’t get paid anything.  Yeah, sign me up for that, I sighed in disbelief.  However, when you need a job, and your family is counting on you, you do what you have to do.  So, against everything inside of me, I became a salesman, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made, from an occupational standpoint.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned being a salesman:

1.  Sales is the foundation of every business.  Without sales, a business fails.  This should give motivation to aspiring business leaders to learn as much about sales as you can.  It also should give a sense of security in that the sales department is the most valuable department in any organization because of the revenue created, which pays for the rest of the organization’s operations.

2.  Most people work on commission.  As a public school teacher, everyone around me was a salaried with benefits employee, and commission seemed like an odd and scary way to make a living.  However, outside of the public sector, the majority of people work on commission.  Think about it.  If a doctor doesn’t have anyone walk into his office, he doesn’t get paid.  If a carpet cleaner’s phone never rings, his paycheck doesn’t exist.  If a lawyer’s clients don’t need his services, his massive hourly rate means nothing.  Commission work is much more prevalent than we think, and we should embrace it rather than fear it.

3.  Being successful in sales requires excellent communication skills.  Sales is all about providing a solution to a problem, but without asking the right questions and becoming a good listener, sales becomes a game of pressure and deception.  The best salespeople provide their customers with the best buying experience because they communicate effectively.  The first step, which is the most important to remember, is to care more about your customer than your commission.  If you care about providing a quality solution to a customer’s problem, the money will follow.  However, without solid communication skills, you’ll never know the customer’s problem you’re trying to solve, and you will come across as a pushy salesperson.

4.  Door-to-door, 100% commission sales is every bit as valuable, if not more valuable, to success in business than a 4-year college degree.  Conventional wisdom is that a college degree is the key to success.  Although a college education is a valuable experience for anyone to have, doing door-to-door sales for a couple of years teaches some invaluable skills, namely managing one’s emotions, time management, organization, cooperation, persistence, cash flow, marketing, management, and much more.  It’s no wonder some of the most successful people in business either never attended or didn’t finish college.  If you want to learn business, get into 100% commission door-to-door sales.

5.  Sales reveals the real you and requires you to grow professionally and personally in order to succeed.  Hearing no is a difficult thing for anyone to do.  Yet, being able to hear no and not be negatively affected by it is even more difficult to learn.  It doesn’t take long to find out what’s going on in your head and in your heart when you’re asking everyone you meet to buy something and only 1-5% say yes.  You’ll find out how tough you are and how thick your skin is, and you will be forced to accept the weakest aspects of your life.  When confronted with this, most people quit.  They don’t want to deal with these less-than-desirable facts of life.  However, facing these realities causes personal and professional growth to occur, and success is soon to follow.

If you want to change your stars, learn how to sell something.

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