The Single Greatest Career Skill You Can Have

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What’s the single greatest career skill you can have? Let’s cut to the chase – it’s sales! Before you make a quick exit out of this site, understand that I don’t mean that you need to be a salesman or saleswoman – selling cars, real estate or vacation packages. I’m referring to sales in the broadest sense possible, and it applies to nearly every income earning capacity you can be engaged in.

The economy and job market are changing in fundamental – and largely negative – ways. We all need to be better at what it is we do, and that means sharpening some skills. Perfecting sales skills is absolutely necessary in business and the job market. In a weak labor market like this one, we need to be creating new opportunities all the time. Sales skills will help you do that.

Not everyone can make a career out of sales, but we all need sales skills in order to advance our careers or businesses. Sales skills will help you in any number of work situations you probably haven’t thought about. (We’ll get to the mechanics of improving your sales skills at the end of the article – it’s not what you think).

Job hunting and interviewing

The Single Greatest Career Skill You Can Have
The Single Greatest Career Skill You Can Have
Whether we like to admit this or not, it is a fact that when you are job hunting and interviewing you are engaging in a sales activity. You are trying to gain employment by people who don’t even know you. That’s sales no matter how you look at it.

Perhaps this is why so many people find job hunting and interviewing to be an uncomfortable affair. It’s not just the nervousness about whether or not you’ll get the job – it’s questioning your own ability to make it happen.

This is a sales function that you need to master. You can do that by rehearsing interviews and phone conversations. You can even role-play with others. Once you develop a knack for interviews, they’re not nearly so scary. Consider this to be one sales skill that needs to be a permanent part of your repertoire.

Making your job work

The better you are at “sales”, the more likely you are to be successful in whatever your job is. When you work with other people, you need a certain amount of people skills in order to make the social arrangement and the workflow go smoothly.

You might think that this type of behavior is “sucking up”, or even “brown nosing”. Put whatever negative labels on it that you want, there are times in any organization when this strategy is absolutely necessary.

It’s often matter of knowing the right things to say – and the wrong things that shouldn’t be said. Once again, we may not think of that technique as being a form of sales, but that’s exactly what it is. You’re often trying to get what you want at work – for example, getting extra help when you’re busy, engineering changes in the workflow, or even asking for a raise. In order to do any of these, you’ll have to let your sales persona come through.

Getting promoted

This is taking the inside sales job at work to a still higher level. Getting a promotion is at least something of a popularity contest – let’s go ahead and admit it. The people who are most adept at landing promotions are often those who know how to win favor with the people who are in a position to promote them. That’s a form of sales.

Whenever you’re dealing with your superiors, you should always treat them primarily as clients, not supervisors. If you think of them as clients, it means that you will need to win their approval. That’s a sales function, and if you become good at it, you’re much more likely to be promoted in the future.

Accept that your employer is your client, and you need to sell yourself to them on a continuous basis. That’s sales.

Many jobs involve sales

In today’s blurry economic environment, nearly everyone in an organization has to be a sales person. For example, if you’re in customer service – even on the back end of the process – you’re in a sales function. Your job is to keep the customer happy so they’ll do business with your employer in the future. The more you are aware of this fact – and the better you are at it – the more valuable you are to your employer.

Since computers are now doing so much of the back office work, and staffs are being pruned to bare bones, anyone who hasn’t been laid off is closer to the customer base than ever. You need some sales skills to do that effectively. Don’t resist it, embrace it.

Promoting yourself and your skills on the open market

If you’re a contractor or a freelancer, you need to be able to promote yourself in your market niche in order to keep your income flowing. As a freelance blog writer, a portion of my work activity is devoted to getting new sources of business. That requires some sales ability.

In this sense, sales is mostly about knowing your product – you – as well as the market you’re servicing. From there, it’s a matter of positioning and presenting yourself as the solution to someone else’s problem. That’s the most basic element of sales, and is actually not as hard to master as you might think. But mastering it is absolutely essential.

Starting and running your own business

Today, becoming self-employed is the ultimate solution to a career crisis. Many people will have to become entrepreneurs if for no other reason than the fact that their career skills have or will become obsolete. But Job 1 of self-employment is sales. There is perhaps no other career capacity to enter where sales will be more important than in self-employment.

As a business owner, you’ll need to be out selling yourself and your business all the time. In fact, when you first start you business, sales will be most of what you will be doing. And even once your business is up and running, sales will always be a part of your job.

Years ago I worked with a CPA – one of the most successful I’ve ever known. He made an astute observation, saying “I’m and accountant second – but a salesman first.” He went on to say that that’s true of anyone who is self-employed. I agree completely. Whatever your business is, you must first and foremost be a salesman.

Like job hunting and interviewing, I suspect that this realization is a major reason why more people aren’t self-employed. If you don’t think of yourself as being a salesperson, you may never make the effort at having your own business. However since self-employment is a distinct possibility in your future, you should begin to embrace sales right here and now. When the day comes you’ll be ready.

Mastering the art of the soft sell

Having or developing sales skills does not mean you need to become a killer salesman. Unless you’re preparing to go into sales as a full-time career, you should think of it more as being a process of mastering the soft sell.

What do I mean by soft sell? We’ve all seen the stereo-typical in-your-face, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer type of salesman. We also appreciate that that kind of over-the-top hard-sell is no longer effective, if it ever was. Soft selling is mostly about disarming people, so that they will at least consider what it is you have to offer.

Mechanically, soft selling looks like this – try adding these tactics to your repertoire:

  • Be ready to listen – This is how you learn exactly what your client, customer, supervisor or coworkers want. Until you know this, you won’t be able to help in any constructive way. It also prevents misunderstandings.
  • Always be ready to demonstrate what you know – You should be a living resume of your own skills. That means you’re able to clearly explain what it is you can do in as few words as possible. Try putting together a list of five or six skills that you’re especially good at (we all have a few), then memorize the list and be ready to pitch yourself smoothly whenever the moment arrives.
  • Develop perpetual forward motion – You should be someone who makes things happen. Even if you don’t know exactly how you will make it happen in a given situation, commit to finding a way. And even if you don’t get the job, the deal, the sale, the gig, the promotion or the raise, vow to never quit. You can’t win ’em all, but you can’t lose ’em all either. Never forget this.
  • Be upbeat and positive – That doesn’t mean being a happy idiot, but understand that being glum and depressed will repel people. By contrast, people are drawn to positive personalities – in both business and social situations.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself – This is the quality of being “comfortable in your own skin”. You will make mistakes, and sometimes you’ll screw up royally. You’re not perfect, but so what? Never beat yourself up over it. Learn to use humor to smooth over tense situations. And if you do make a mistake, admit to it, then do what is reasonably necessary to fix the problem. Proper follow through after a mistake is a big confidence builder – for you and for your clients.
  • Don’t over-promise – Knowing what you can do also requires knowing what you can’t do. Over-promising only sounds good when you’re doing it. Once it becomes apparent that you can’t do what you promised, you will have blown the deal, what ever it is.
  • Have confidence in yourself and your skills – That’s confidence, not arrogance. If you don’t come across as believing that you can do what you say you can, why would anyone else?

Notice that none of these tactics are hard to adopt. Some you may already have, and others will just require some personality modification. But all will help you to bring out your inner salesman, and that’s the best career skill you can have.

Have you considered the importance of sales – or at least soft sales – in your career, job or business?

( Photo by Irion Books )

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6 Responses to The Single Greatest Career Skill You Can Have

  1. People are generally afraid of anything having to do with sales and I have to admit I was one of them until I started my own business. Out of necessity, I found it’s a learned skill just like anything but the bottom line is you just have to go out there and DO IT!

  2. Agreed, it can be learned. But most people have a stereotypical view of what sales involve and get turned off by it. And it’s absolutely true that you need sales if you’re going to start a business.

  3. I was nodding throughout the post. Couldn’t have stated it more beautiful, there is no way around selling in life. Hell, even in dating one is trying to “sell” their desirability! To sell is indeed human.
    I freelance from time to time and there is no end of soft selling, to keep those contracts coming one has to keep the communication up, network like crazy and do awesome work that prompts referrals and repeat business.
    Mastering the art of selling is something that would serve anyone for the best in their lives. As Sandra says, it can be taught and learned!

  4. That’s true about dating Simon, and really just about everything in life. We’re always trying to pursuade people to see things our way, or to produce a more favorable outcome, whatever the activity. That’s all sales.

    I think it helps if we can realize how important sales are, rather than turning our noses up at it (though that’s really fear of it more than looking down on it). We should concentrate on mastering soft sales, so we don’t get the wrong idea what sales are really about. If we can be concious about it, we can do it more effectively, particularly when it comes to making money.

  5. This is so true! I am a salesperson by nature, BUT only for things I have a passion for. I actually quit a couple of businesses when I was at the top of my game because the product didn’t live up to the original hype I was selling. As soon as that happens I lose the desire to sell the product. I have also found that when a person is “starving” (young and need to pay the rent), the sales job is a tough one. No one likes a desperate salesperson 🙂

  6. Hi Jennifer – I’m with you, I never could sell a product I didn’t believe in. If you can, you might be an in-your-face sales type that people avoid like the plague 😉

    I agree that sales are tough for young people starting out, they need a steady paycheck, not commission. But I’m not advising anyone to take on a sales career, but rather to adopt a sales persona in doing the job that they do.

    Every business out there needs more revenue, and if you can help that happen – if only subtly – you raise your value to your employer.

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