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Blog post – Odd Career Pathing to Sales

June 9, 2011

I was recently asked about my background.  People that know me find it a little funny that my first entrance into the professional world could be looked at as a little bit “non-traditional”.  My “first” career (I put the “quotes” up, as I actually did quite a bit of sales work while still in high school and college part time – mainly telesales) demanded extreme levels of:


  • Persistence
  • An eye/ear for detail
  • Razor-sharp communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal)
  • Coolness under extreme pressure
  • Pragmatic, developed, and systematic approach to preparation
What I’m talking about – I was a High School Band Director.
I could take you through the entire chronology of my own personal decision-making process on (a) why I went into teaching and then (b) why I decided it wasn’t for me.  It was a challenge, it was exciting, and it was everything I hoped it would be.
But one thing I can wholeheartedly tell you that the skills and requirements that make an outstanding music teacher are completely congruous with the skill set needed to be a top sales performer:
  • Persistence – “Don’t practice until it’s right – practice until it CAN’T be wrong…”
  • An eye/ear for detail – “You were a little bit sharp on the 4th note in that passage, and rushed the tempo from here to here…”
  • Razor-sharp communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal) – “Try conducting a rehearsal with 140 kids in a concert hall…”
  • Coolness under extreme pressure – “Jimmy’s mom called – he can’t make it to the band competition…”
  • Pragmatic, developed, and systematic approach to preparation.
A while back I had the pleasure of working for one of the best sales leaders I have ever seen.  He always had his finger on the pulse of each and every deal, kept tabs on every detail, and could relate personally to each and every prospect in a way I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed before or since.  He could speak on ANY topic, but he absolutely ruled the relationship process and also ran an incredible sales group carved out in his own image.
One day on a client presentation visit, I learned we had something in common.  Our backgrounds were similar, in that he had a Theater Arts degree.
Sales comes down to one thing – people.  Do you listen to them?  Can you solve their problems?  Do you dedicate yourself to finding the best possible solutions for your clients’ needs.
In the comments below – do you have any examples of alternative paths taken into sales careers?
  1. June 9, 2011 10:10 am

    No 9-year-old ever said, “When I grow up, I want to be a salesman.”

    That’s not just due to the common acceptance in playground culture that the statement of such a career goal mandates a severe wedgie be administered promptly at the onset of recess. But in our youthful enthusiasm and immaturity at that time, we all shoot for what we think are loftier lots in life — astronauts, basketball players, firefighters and gangsta rappers.

    We gravitate toward sales as a career path much later in life when we realize that we’re not only blessed with the skills that Brian honed and harnessed in the disciplines of music and education, but we also have a way with people of backgrounds that range as widely as our own. This self-recognition happens much later in our development, which explains the paucity of Bachelor of Arts degrees in “Selling Studies” among the graduating class of 2011.

    In his post, Brian states all of the critical core skills one must develop to succeed in sales (all of which I can attest that he has in spades). To that list, however, I would add the following innate traits:

    • Empathy – to help us relate to our customers not just professionally, but on a personal level.
    • Natural Curiosity – which subconsciously drives us to achieve the varied background Brian has to allow different people to relate to him.

    These are attributes with which we’re born. They’re not aptitudes that we drive ourselves develop through education, discipline and practice. They’re gifts, and Brian has way more than his fair share of them. Great salespeople make great friends, and I’m happy to count him among my own.

    Brian, all of your previous roles make up the consummate sales professional that you are today. Your experience in music and teaching was a critical stepping stone to get you to this point is an asset to be admired and embraced.

    Keep on selling!

    (… but you might want to watch your back around the monkey bars.)

  2. Brian permalink
    June 9, 2011 10:31 am

    I always laugh when the reason for not hiring a potential sales person, is his/her lack of experience. Last I checked, there isn’t exactly a degree one can obtain for becoming a sales person. How did any company’s current work force get experience before they had experience? So experience cannot be a determining factor in hiring or not hiring that candidate. As a business owner myself, I look for examples in candidates of what I want a good sales person to possess. Are they aggressive, yet tactful? Do they follow-up? Are they process oriented and can they frame a strategy? Can they communicate problems and get to resolution? Do they listen? Do They Listen? DO THEY LISTEN?

    If the candidate can demonstrate they are accustomed to behaving in the manner that I think comprises a good sales person, I give them a shot. I’ve had many sales people working for me that weren’t sales people prior to joining the company. One such case was a make-up artist. Although, I’ve also hired sales people with extensive sales experience. Can you guess who obtained a million dollar book of business first? You guessed it, the make-up artist. I think it had a lot to do with her experience as a make-up artist. When you really think about, women are very demanding when it comes to how they look and especially what their make-up looks like. I imagine my make-up artist sales person got plenty of experience in listening and figured out how to give her demanding customers what they wanted and needed. This translated into her success as a sales professional with my company which happens to sell medication management services. Not even remotely similar businesses.

  3. June 9, 2011 12:46 pm

    Brian – I personally think the lack of traditional sales track is a huge advantage. It shows your ability to not only master new products, but master new industries and new ways of thinking. That’s vital at this moment in our economy. Likewise, you don’t have traditional habits instilled. That gives you a broader, more systemic view. So many companies need to make small to moderate cultural changes given the shift in the economy and technology. A broad systemic view makes it more possible for you to impact those cultural shifts. And to do it in a non-abrasive way. Good luck!

  4. Joe permalink
    June 9, 2011 1:05 pm

    I agree whole heartedly!! It seems more and more that as sales professionals, pushing the needle really comes from teaching the value of our products/services to our customers

  5. June 9, 2011 1:07 pm

    Having been the subject of a few wedgies in my time, I now know how to evade and avoid :-)

    I have worked with my sales reps in my time that have come from all kinds of “walks-of-life”, and I really think in a lot of ways the natural aptitudes of the individual tend to trump the learned experiences, when all other things are equal and level.

    If you’re naturally curious, easily absorb new concepts, adaptable to different environments, take constructive guidance well, constantly look inward to challenge your self – I think these are among the most important primary factors.

    Thanks Bob!

  6. June 9, 2011 1:09 pm

    So much of the success hinges on listening, and process – the process completely involves listening every step of the way through the relationship.

    Make up artist to sales champion? That’s completely awesome!

  7. June 9, 2011 1:11 pm

    Culture tends to override everything in some of these decisions. Also, some trainers/managers would say that the lack of pre-formed habits and “ruts to be stuck in” could become an advantage.

    If I were pre-screening new hires, I would want to see how a particular individual “ramped-up” in previous roles, even if somewhat unrelated. At the very least it would demonstrate the ability to absorb.

  8. June 9, 2011 1:19 pm

    The best sales job I ever had was 13 years of coaching high school and college basketball. I never had a tougher sales job than to get my team to buy into our philosophies and to “sell” each athlete to make an investment into our team. I had to demonstrate our system, validate the reasons, and even times negotiate with the student athletes, the parents, and even the officials. In many ways I was always selling, in my dealings with the media, in working with the athletic director, and in recruiting etc. When working with a team of 12 players I also had to find that single and unique motivator that each athlete had. You simply could not use one method to push each player, just as you simply cannot use the same sales technique to close each prospect. I had to understand, to listen, to assess their needs, and it was my job as the coach, just as it is in sales, to present the “features, advantages, and benefits” to those involved on my team or in the conference room.

  9. June 9, 2011 1:47 pm

    I can totally relate.

    When I’m asked about the toughest product to sell, I always come back to the 9th grade 14 year old trumpet player. Trying to “sell” him on the idea to put down the Playstation controller and to pick up their horn was an uphill battle.

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