I believe that every person could benefit from working both in the customer service sector and the sales sector prior to pursuing any other career. This was my path– six years in retail followed by two years in outside sales. Both experiences taught me invaluable skills relevant to my job every single day. If you didn’t have the luxury (or as some might describe “horror”) of experiencing a sales job like I did, allow me to impart upon you some of the key lessons I learned that could benefit you today– immediately– in your own career, no matter the industry.
This is an ongoing series focusing on different topics… starting with what I consider the most valuable lesson I learned: which is that rejection is no big deal.
Let me paint a picture for you of a young girl, clutching her audio recorder with sweaty palms and practically hyperventilating at the thought of interviewing sources (a.k.a. her own classmates and peers) about their opinion about hard-hitting news topics like the health benefits of drinking Jamba Juice smoothies. This was me at 20, studying journalism at Arizona State University and working myself into a crumpled, neurotic mess whenever I needed to approach strangers to engage in small talk, covering “serious” college concerns like on-campus style or whether Emo culture was a passing fad.
I’m glad to know that I had enough self-awareness to realize that my crippling shyness was going to hinder my career as an aspiring journalist/writer. This awareness was the most prominent factor that drove me to pursue a sales position in the first place, thus making fearlessness the single most importance lesson I learned from my outside sales experience.
So I went from sweaty-palmed college student, to an even more sweaty-palmed (but well dressed!) salesperson, masking my insecurities with a winning grin while convincing small business owners of the value of my company’s payroll administration benefits. It was a masochistic exercise in personal development. In the beginning I would hype myself up before walking into a building several times before actually entering. I choreographed what I like to call the “dance of apprehension” as I entered, left and re-entered offices, my car, etc., backing in and out like as if I were an SUV being maneuvered into a compact parking space.
I’d say that the worst moment I ever experienced was when a business owner screamed at me in front of all of his employees. The lumbering red-faced man bellowed at me, “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see how important I am? Get the fuck out of here!”
Okay, actually that never happened.
In reality, I think the worst reaction I ever received (a result of an unannounced in-person visit) was when a man assertively told me, “I don’t have time to listen to your sales pitch.” Fair enough. Of course I fled outside where I could burst into tears in the privacy of my car.
“Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
– my cousin, Kelli.
(Also, apparently, the motto of Jimmy Choo CEO Tamara Mellon, according to The Guardian).
Here’s the thing– once you get used to the initial shock of rejection, it almost becomes fun to embrace failing– just because you had the guts to go for it. I’m not here to tell you that fear goes away– it doesn’t, actually. But as a salesperson, you learn to embrace the fear and roll with it. My cousin has a great mantra that has always stuck with me: “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” A great one because, for me at least, my sense of fear of talking to strangers never really diminished completely. But saying this mantra is like saying to yourself, “fuck it” and allowing your drive to overcome the discomfort you feel.
A sales career teaches you how silly it is to worry about rejection because you are rejected almost on a daily basis– typically in the form of polite, straightforward let-downs versus whatever your worst nightmare is. Once you get over the fear of the “worst case scenario,” almost any task seems worth pursuing because you’re no longer afraid of what the outcome might be. The thought of being rejected seems harmless once you’ve been there so many times.
Often people are so overwhelmed by their own fear of failure that they become frozen in circumstances that make them unhappy. Scared of what they envision to be a negative outcome, they take no action whatsoever. When you are rejected on a daily basis as a salesperson, you realize how much emotional baggage is tied to the notion of failure and rejection, and you learn to shrug it off. You shamelessly and unabashedly approach situations with a new sense of calm and detachment.
Today you might be afraid of not closing the deal or not booking the appointment (if you’re in sales), or perhaps you’re afraid of something more personal– scared of starting a new chapter in your life, worried about hurting someone’s feelings, feeling vulnerable about having your ideas criticized, or launching a project that turns out to be a bitter failure. I’m not saying it doesn’t suck to be rejected– it burns, it stings… but it diminishes over time. And eventually, the thrill of the audacity of trying outweighs the bad.
And I’m not saying you won’t fail. You probably will. A salesperson knows that after experiencing various types of rejection, you realize that there isn’t ever just one opportunity to “succeed.” In my experience, one usually encounters multiple opportunities to achieve their goals. Which means even after you totally embarrass yourself at a meeting, botch a introduction, put your foot in your mouth, or hear “no” for the first or zillionth time– just know that you have many more opportunities to try again in your future.
When it comes to interviewing strangers, I’m not saying I’ve completely eradicated the sweaty palms from my method of operation, I’m just saying I now enjoy the thrill of it. And honestly, sometimes I do totally embarrass myself– but at least I have the guts to try.