Are You Selling Out by Getting into Sales?

I’m going to tell you a true story about my first day in sales. 

My first day was on a Wednesday. As some of you might know, my career prior to sales was teaching high school math, and I left two weeks into the school year. This was not received well.  

The night before I started my new sales job, I was at Meet the Teacher Night at my school and I showed up to meet the parents and introduce my replacement. It was awkward. It was like breaking up with someone but still being around to say, “But I found you this new person!” I got home at 9 pm. I was too exhausted to be nervous for my first day of the new job. 

The next day, I started my new job at a tech company at 9 am for an initial HR onboarding day. I was told that I’d be meeting the sales team for a group lunch. I had the “new kid at school” feelings and was worried if I’d fit in. 

After we grabbed our lunches, we went into a conference room where I was immediately greeted by a bunch of intimidating type-A people. It was a chaotic whirlwind of handshakes and rapid fire questions. I was told that coffee was for closers. I was asked how much cocaine I did. I was asked if I was ready to hit the phones. Every other word was an expletive. I was told that if I was last place on the leaderboard I was fired. I was asked if I wanted to get rich. I hadn’t heard adults cuss in a professional setting before. The volume was such that if it were my classroom I would have gone into damage control. It was the absolute worst first impression I could have had. Less than 24 hours before, I was talking with parents about the importance of community in the math classroom and now I was living in Wolf of Wall Street

What I didn’t realize is that everyone was joking and is actually really nice. They were in rare form and decided to quote a lot of the famous movie Glengarry Glen Ross. My hiring manager was mortified. I hadn’t seen the movie. I was so perplexed by their vulgarity. 

About a year later, I watched the famous clip of Alec Baldwin’s 7 minute motivational speech and I realized everyone who greeted me on my first day was playing the stereotype of sales. They were more or less inducting me into the team. 

Over the next year I learned a lot about how modern sales isn’t slimy and why former teachers are great for this role. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Teachers know what is good for others and help them get there. In the movie Inception, they talk a lot about the difficulty of planting an idea in someone’s head. Teachers understand this: How do I get a student to realize their full potential and change someone for the better? Teachers recognize the issue. They diagnose. They do this by listening. By observing. By letting the person across the table talk and then being responsive. They practice radical empathy. Change is the hardest thing people can do and teachers help children or teenagers change, all the while being subject matter experts. This is exactly what sales is. Sales is helping people create their best future.

  2. People can do informed research on the internet before they buy. Amazon has done a lot for our ability to read reviews and get the best price. Even in car sales it’s easy to figure out the factory price and to see a dozen options for the same car before you even talk to a sales person. When people work with a sales person, it’s totally different than the pressure to sign a contract and the deceit we associate with “slimy sales.” When people work with modern sales folks, they want to collaborate. They want to be helped through the change process. If you are working with the right prospect, they want you to help them sell internally. This is totally different than what I imagined sales would be like. People want to buy from someone who teaches them something new.
  3. Sales is the continuous pursuit of progress in the face of constant disappointment. When teachers work with their students, they face more setbacks than forward movement. Years later, teachers may see the fruits of their labor with students—that’s the same with prospects. The ability to recognize the micro-progress in the face of a surface-level defeat is something teachers can do. Ever have a student go from failing miserably failing to only-kind-of failing? Do you know that feeling of pride in progress for the student? Ever work with a student who makes major progress academically but still struggles socially? Teachers can see the good that happens with hard work and they don’t need to knock it out of the park every single time. Most importantly, teachers are trained to treat each situation with fresh eyes and continue to work hard with every student. That’s the same with prospects.

  4. Teachers see the forest through the trees. They can plan long term and start with the end objective in mind and work themselves back in time to what needs to get done today. The ability to lesson plan in teaching translates so well to sales. Teachers know what should be achieved and they’re able to make it happen because you see the steps to get there. They are also patient because they’re used to many of their student learning objectives taking up to 6 months to achieve. This is your sales cycle. Good sales people help solve little problems until a solution is put into place that allows the main solution to be adopted. Good sales people are trusted advisors. 

The above reasons are why teachers would be good at sales but it’s also why teachers shouldn’t feel slimy by going into it. I remember saying during my first year of teaching public school that I would never teach at a private school because I didn’t want to sell out those who really needed me. A lot of the feelings I had about the private school world were wrong. I was just as wrong about sales.

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