Last February, when I accepted a Sales Summer Intern position with Reynolds & Reynolds for the summer, I was honestly not expecting much out of it. I started my college career majoring in General Engineering and then ended up in Industrial Distribution, of which 70% of graduates work in industrial sales and 30% in supply chain jobs. I'd always figured that I was going to be part of the 30% since I am an introvert and will never fit the "sales" profile.
All I've wanted since I was 14 is to live in the same town I grew up in and work in a cubicle. I only accepted this internship, which was across the country and in a field that terrified me, since I didn't think any other company would want me (I don't want to sound stuck up, but I no longer think that was the case) and I definitely did not want another summer like last summer when I was a nanny for 44 hours a week.
I had the actual best internship ever and now I want to do sales for a career. It's not because I've suddenly decided I want to be smooth-talking and sleazy. That's only in the movies; that's nothing like what modern sales actually is. Modern sales is ideally suited, perhaps exclusively suited, toward people with engineering, problem-solver mentalities.
Surprised? Let me share a bit of history. Selling has existed for as long as humans have been using currency, but the modern sales rep career started during the Industrial Revolution. From then, for the next 100 or so years, sales professionals developed and perfected the pushy, always-be-closing behavior that we still associate with the profession. Studies show that that behavior works for low-value sales when the product being sold is relatively cheap and nothing too serious will happen if it doesn't meet buyer expectations.
During the 1960s and 1970s though, in attempts to ease the enormous pressure that competition had come to apply, companies began bundling their products together and selling them as "solutions" for customer problems. This did help them differentiate their products from those of the competition, but it only shifted that pressure onto the products.
Previously, in order to satisfy their customers, the manufacturers only had to provide a product that worked; now, they had to actually solve problems. As the faces of the company, sales professionals have always been the ones to shoulder much of that pressure in order to meet quotas. The smart sales professionals quickly abandoned their previous smooth-talking ways and slipped into more of a business-partner role with their customers, since you might be able to pressure someone into spending $200, but definitely not $20,000.
And now in 2018, we have both the pressure to solve problems, and; as a result of every company bundling their products into solutions, we've seen a return of that cut-throat competition that originally led companies to bundle in the first place—across just about every industry.
The breakthrough that has been formulated in response to today's complicated B2B sales environment is the Challenger Model, pioneered by Matthew Dixon and Brett Adamson in their book, "The Challenger Sale." It involves the company, and specifically the salesperson, knowing more about the customer's industry than the customer does, and making sales by teaching the customer.
The complexity involved in modern sales is almost absurd, and it is definitely a far cry from the profession of the fast-talking, greasy, used-car salesmen in the movies. Simply put, the meticulous research, preparation, industry knowledge, product familiarity, and planning that goes into sales now make it a job only a nerd can do, and that appeals to me.
In my opinion, sales is more difficult than engineering in some ways because it has a strong people element, and people are unpredictable, frankly annoying, and a lot harder to deal with than numbers are. Sales professionals must, in addition to all their knowledge and preparation, master the art of controlling and directing conversations, staying one step ahead of the customer at all times, and leveraging other relationships within the customer organization in order to influence decision makers.
For me, this people element has definitely been the hardest part of learning to sell, but Reynolds has embraced Challenger from the top down, which provides a lot of support, coaching, resources, and industry intelligence to the sales professionals, and that definitely makes it doable.
Sales is absolutely not for everyone, and I will be the first person to tell you that. It appeals to me though, because I do not want to work in a cubicle anymore. I want to travel all over. I want the freedom to make my own schedule and give myself a raise anytime I want just by working harder. I want a high-stress and high rewards job that pushes me and stretches me and requires me to do something different every day. I have never had the door-to-door snake-oil salesman personality, nor do I plan to develop it; furthermore, no successful sales professional I know behaves that way either. What they do have is an insatiable desire to learn, solve problems, and teach people about their product—in other words, they're nerds, and I'm 100% here for it.