Successful career in sales possible?
December 9, 2005 1:02 AM   Subscribe

Introvert. Fear of public speaking. Marketing degree. Successful career in sales possible?

I recently (as in this week, heh) obtained a degree in marketing communications, aka advertising/public relations. The job search for advertising/pr jobs is turning up nothing. None of the local agencies (and I am in a fairly large city, without possibility of relocation) have any positions for recent grads--all require 3-5 years experience. I have sent them my resume and contacted hiring directors anyway, but to no avail. I am wrapping up a 7-month marketing internship in an office that has no immediate openings, though they have expressed that they "wish they could hire" me.

All of the actual jobs that I am finding via, monster, etc; requesting my degree are sales positions. With my shy personality, will I crash and burn in one of these positions? Would I ever even get the job in the first place?
posted by saucy to Work & Money (22 answers total)
It would be an uphill battle all the way and you would be at a constant disadvantage to your co-workers, who would in fact be your competitors.

I advise against it.
posted by kindall at 1:22 AM on December 9, 2005

will you crash and burn? i don't know, but it seems likely. luckily, fear of public speaking is something that you can get over.

you get over the fear by saying 'fuck it' and jumping in and doing it, and the first time you probably make an ass out of yourself, but that's the territory, and the next time around you're a little more confident and you do better and after 10 or 20 times it's no big deal. (until you move up, in terms of audience size or importance, that is.)

so, if you really want this kind of job, find a venue where you have to do some public speaking - teaching, politics, debate, whatever - if nothing else go stand on a bucket on the sidewalk and holler at passers-by about whatever you think they should know. the message isn't really the point. the point is to see yourself.

doing this will be an uncomfortable, terrifying, miserable experience for the first few times, but at the end you'll look back and realize you're a lot more confident and comfortable than you were when you started. in the long run it'll be worth it and, even if you don't take the sales job, you'll be a more complete person for it.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 1:41 AM on December 9, 2005

are you sure you would want it at all?

an idea: why not take the communications to writing (marcom)?
posted by mirileh at 2:29 AM on December 9, 2005

If you want a job with the local agencies, it'll take a while. Just be patient, and keep plugging away. It'll take time before you land the kind of job you think you want. Your internship sounds like a great opportunity--but you need to figure out what you can do to make them hire you. It's great that they say they want to hire you ... but saying that doesn't mean anything. If they felt that they needed you, they would hire you. Show them that they need you.

Companies, on the other hand, are always looking for sales people. Startng pay is low, and burnout is quick. Most sales jobs in which they are trying to get you--ie calling off of a posted resume--means that they are trying to get as many people as they can ... because most of them won't last. If you end up taking that kind of sales job, it will suck--unless you are one of the rare few that actually can succeed in that environment.

A good sales job--like the one you think you want--is just as hard as your marketing job to get.
posted by lester at 3:14 AM on December 9, 2005

A lot of people mistaken a sales job as being only suitable for talkative joes. Quite the opposite. The ability to listen and understand is the most important pre-requisite.

I find that reading up on a lot of sales books really do help - it sheds myths of what people need to make it in sales.

It may be hard at first, but it's just the same as picking up any other skill. Being eloquent, outgoing and confident takes practise, but it grows the more you practice.

And don't ever forget the power of networks - once you have a steady stream of customers / contacts in your good books, they will in turn, be your best sales people thru recommendations :-)

All these takes time, but not impossible.
posted by arrowhead at 3:23 AM on December 9, 2005

Saucy, being an introvert or an extravert makes little difference on being good at selling. The type of sales that you'd be best suited maybe a little different.

I agree with arrowhead in all of their points, but especially that the single biggest skill to have for success in a sales role is the ability to listen and understand.

In addition, you need to be able highlight the gap between what your customer is getting and what they expect and then presenting a solution that addresses their gap.

You also need to be able to build rapport with your customer and let them trust in you and that you are interested in their business.

Many large organisations which have a sales force are moving towards a 'solution sales' or 'order making not order taking' sales philosophy.

I'd suggest that you develop or discover your own sales style prior to reading sales books, but that may just be me. However, I'd strongly recommend a Dimensions of Professional Selling course to anyone in or considering a sales role.

Good luck.
posted by dantodd at 5:11 AM on December 9, 2005

What about a position as an Account Manager? That's technically sales, but it doesn't require lots of cold-calling and dealing with unreceptive people. Mostly, you're responsibile for keeping clients happy, and trying to get them to do more business. And it could help you transition into a marketing job later.
posted by junkbox at 5:52 AM on December 9, 2005

Sales, as well as advertising/PR, require the gift of the gab and outstanding presentation skills. That's the price of admission. Both sets of skills can be developed, especially presentation skills. You're trying to break into the business of persuasion - you're going to have to get over your fear of public speaking.

Client side might be a better fit for you. But if you decide to stick it out, be prepared to hang in there a while - it's tough to break in because it has to be. Good luck.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 6:14 AM on December 9, 2005

I don't know much about sales, but if you're looking to get over your fear of public speaking try your local club of Toastmasters International (googling should do the trick) It's a supportive group and they have a comprehensive program designed to make you a polished public speaker. It's helped me tremendously.

My ex-boyfriend was shy and he became a salesman. One thing that helped him get over his shyness (pre-sales career) was waiting tables at a busy restaurant. He was forced to interact with the customers and make mini presentations.

Good luck!
posted by bananafish at 6:45 AM on December 9, 2005

If you want to shed your fear of public speaking, you might consider enrolling in Toastmasters International. My dad had a horrible fear of public speaking which he lived with until he entered a management track at work and needed to give frequent presentations. He was a devout member of Toastmasters and it was a helped him immensely.

Me? I'm a natural ham and think on my feet pretty well. I find that being knowledgeable about your subject matter is 90% of the battle. The rest is clear speaking and mental organization.
posted by plinth at 6:46 AM on December 9, 2005

you get over the fear by saying 'fuck it' and jumping in and doing it

That may be an oversimplification for some people, but that's what I was thinking.

We used to jump off a 50 foot cliff into a lake, which was scary as hell the first time. If you just kept climbing and jumping, after about twenty times it was no big deal.

I guess that also requires that you not get hurt on any of those jumps, so better to practice in a drama class or something, rather than at work.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:02 AM on December 9, 2005

Yes, these skills can be learned, but you will have to make a commitment to consistently push your own comfort zone and boundaries. Don't want to go talk to that new person at a client meeting? Too bad. Worried you are going to look lame because you can't figure out how you are going to open with that new rep at the company you have to call? Too bad. Get sweaty palms thinking about running a sales presentation on your product to a group of 10, 50 or 100? Too bad. I don't mean to sound harsh, but you may want to prepare yourself for this - pushing your boundaries and natural inclinations most of every day in your work life can be exhausting and very stressful. Having said that, though, many of the most effective networkers and sales reps I know are natural introverts that can turn off their shy and get out there.

A few suggestions - get some practice on presentation skills and networking. Your local Chamber of Commerce or Toastmaster might be helpful here. Even those of us that have a natural gift for public speaking and presentation skills often benefit from practice or tips on honing those skills. Being knowledgable about the topic is essential, as is rehearsing what you are going to say. Practicing will also allow you to roll with the punches if anything untowards happens: technology fails, you get a heckler, your mic fails, you get mobbed by people afterwards, you find out you have 10 minutes less than you had planned for, you trip over the podium/mic stand/chair/table, etc. Even a gifted public speaker can have a meltdown or bomb an important conversation if they can't deal with the unexpected.
posted by Cyrie at 7:35 AM on December 9, 2005

Keep in mind, also, that December is the WORST time of year to look for a job. Aside from the hassle of scheduling around holiday vacations, most people who are currently working will stick around until at least the new year, to see how raises and bonuses shake out. If you can hunker down and maybe find some temp work for a month or two (btw, have you considered temp-to-perm?), the market should open up a bit.

One last thing- have you contacted any agencies directly to see if ANY jobs are available? I used to work at a large (600+) agency, and saw a few smart, well-educated people start out in the mailroom, because it was a foot in the door.
posted by mkultra at 7:38 AM on December 9, 2005

I'll recommend Toastmaster's too. Find a local club, they're all over the place. The nice thing about Toastmasters is that as you work on getting over your phobia you won't get hurt. You'll get support, encouragement and advice. Your first speech will be simple but you'll be really nervous. Still, you'll be talking about yourself (It's called the icebreaker speech - just introduce yourself). After that you'll have one speech under your belt where the sky didn't fall, where nobody threw bottles at you and where everybody appreciated your effort.
posted by substrate at 7:40 AM on December 9, 2005

I know a very successful salesperson who is by nature an introvert. She sees herself as an actor taking on a persona... so it isn't really her own -self- that is doing the interacting, it's her self in the role of a salesperson.

As I understand it, the introvert/extrovert characteristic has a lot to do with where one draws energy from. Some people are energized by interacting with people; others are drained by it. Skill and ability are mostly separate quantities.

My friend has said that her performance as a salesperson isn't affected by her shyness/introversion; rather, she finds that she is more worn out by her job than the more extroverted types seem to be. That doesn't mean her career is any less fulfilling for her, of course; it's just another part of the equation.
posted by tentacle at 8:33 AM on December 9, 2005

I am a naysayyer. I am an introvert that has had to sell for my own business for 13 years. I've only survived by networking, networking, networking.

If you go on one on one sales calls to extroverted type A personalities, they will eat you for dinner. They expect salespeople to be like them and if you're not they won't buy from you.
posted by Xurando at 10:23 AM on December 9, 2005

Recognize that many of the best actors in the world are introverts. Then, recognize that public speaking and sales are essentially about acting a part. Disassociate yourself from the role you have to play and just do it well.

I'm an introvert too. I've acted, worked in sales, and given presentations, and in each of those roles I was nervous the first time, right up until the moment of truth, when I just realized that the only thing that was going to screw me up was being nervous about screwing up. At that point you just sort of drop your pants and let it all hang out (usually only figuratively, but leave yourself the option). It's easier the second time, and by the third time you're almost enjoying yourself.
posted by Hildago at 10:40 AM on December 9, 2005

I am a borderline introvert who has been successful as a salesperson when I was younger. The worst thing I can say about it is that I would end the day exausted from all the interaction. Didn't stop me from getting good at it but it was always an effort.

In some ways it was a godsend - I learned how to relate and talk to people much better or at least sooner than I would have based purely on social interaction. It took me till 30 to learn how to be as comfortable with people socially as I learned to be professionally by 23.
posted by phearlez at 11:46 AM on December 9, 2005

Replace 'sales' in your mind with the word 'education'. You aren't selling something, you are education someone about what you (or your product) can offer.

I find that if I'm teaching, I'm leading, which makes me more comfortable.
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:56 AM on December 9, 2005

And to support Wild_Eep, education derives from the latin educo, which means to lead.
posted by plinth at 1:52 PM on December 9, 2005

educating, that is.

Sheesh, I need more sleep.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:33 AM on December 10, 2005

What about non-profits and related fields like being an admissions counselor for a college? That is more of a low key kind of sales position.
posted by 45moore45 at 2:02 PM on March 5, 2006

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