Sales: High risk, high pay. Dare to take on the challenge?


Author's note

There are many types of sales careers: some sell cameras at a roadshow; some sell systems to a company; and some sell ideas. The general public often associate salespeople with retail associates as they are the most common form we see. An example would be selling transactional retail related commodities like moon cakes and televisions. However, there's more to the word sales and here's a peek into the world of a B2B (business to business) solution sales person. Not to be confused with a transactional sales person as they have very different career paths.

As a solution sales person, often you are the “face” of the company and have access to various levels of leaders. Presenting to CEOs and a board may sound like the job of a full team, but often, you are out there in the field, presenting to senior management alone. Yup... like sitting in a room full of sharks, alone.

What you need to endure (or learn to deal with)

The pains of cold calling and its inherent benefits

Have you received calls from a credit card salesperson before? That's a cold call and you can be sure that most sales people hate doing it. The sad truth is that all salespeople need to know how to as it’s necessary for any one getting into the profession. 

However, some people think that it's beneath them to do a cold call. It does feel so especially when you are possibly paid way higher than the other person on the line. Other times, you will feel like you are "begging" to speak to the right person, facing rude people who can snap back at you with a "what do you want?", to " our CEO is too busy to talk to you". It is often said that as long as you have the right message to deliver to the right audience, both parties will win. Unfortunately in the game of cold calling, there are too many self-important folks out there who abuse their power of handling incoming calls to block you from delivering that message.

Nevertheless, cold calling, as mentioned is a necessity. Not only for the business, but for its inherent benefits. It teaches you on how to be engaging, succinct, and forces you to refine your sales pitch. Amongst the plethora of sales tools that claim you no longer need to make another cold call, remember that hard work and experience contribute to a person’s success and not shortcuts!

The pressure of targets!

As a salesperson, you will need tons of sales activities to lead to the eventual sale. For some products and solutions, you may be working on 1 or 2 accounts for the entire year to bring in enough to meet your target. For others, it could be living on a month to month target.

What that means is that some managers are like bean counters: they only care about how much you've achieved, how many meetings you have, how many calls you have—its rare to find a manager who possess decent leadership skills just because most sales managers are promoted based on results and not leadership abilities.

Imagine having your manager breathe down your neck every day asking when your deal is coming in, even threatening to not approve your leave if you have not met the quota. Working under a sales manager who micromanages is common enough that salespeople change jobs frequently just to avoid them. As they say, people come in for the vision, but leave because of their bosses. Others change jobs not because they want to, but are told to leave because they were unable to meet their targets.

There's also the emotional stress that you would probably give yourself. Because you are the one selling, the ability to close sales inexplicably gets tied to your confidence and self-worth. So when you are not doing well, not only do you have to worry about losing your job, your confidence would drop to rock bottom too. When it comes to sales, you can be a hero one day, zero the next.

Targets are necessary to allow some kind of business prediction for investors, and salespeople are the faceless front line soldiers who face the brunt of the pressure to bring in the money. This is definitely not for the faint of heart. 

You need to work well with others and do your admin

For some companies, you will be working with your colleagues who may be involved in conversations with your potential clients; they are typically either business partners to your solutions or known as pre-sales.

And, what most people forget, is that salespeople have tons of administrative work to do. From preparing charts and graphs to create beautiful presentations, to preparing your territory planning every quarter to meet your quota. To be truly successful, you need to be resource efficient and understand your market well—that takes planning and strategy. And people think that all salespeople do is talk big!

The dirty face of doing business and the challenges of being women in sales

In some industries—one of the notoriously known ones would be oil and gas—drinking with clients is almost a mandatory to bring in the deal. As most decision makers are men, you can imagine going to pubs with entertainers (you know what I mean) to please potential or existing clients. Wild nights with lots of morally wrong things we are taught as a child is definitely done in those places.

Some salespeople downright tell lies to get their deals through. They may tell you that the system does something when it cannot, or strike an under the table deal to give some of their commission to the client in exchange of a signed deal. But it's not always about the salesperson. In fact, some clients might try to manipulate salespeople to offer different pricing to other clients, hence putting themselves at an advantage.

Sometimes the evil exists within your company. When you have a bunch of really competitive sales people, imagine working with an eye over your shoulder all the time because you don't know when your colleague is going to throw a knife. Who knows, maybe they may even sabotage you in your face. Colleagues taking your accounts, exploiting your weakness or any vulnerability—it's a terrible thing when you work in a sales team that endorses this culture.

Other times, managers (the really bad ones with terrible leadership) who can't account for their bad figures throw their salespeople under the bus as a sacrifice. To them, it's just yet-another-one-gone-so-I'd-just-hire-one-more-money-maker-since-I-can-afford-it. That's some sales managers out there for you.

For women, there are many times you will be challenged as it is still a very sexist world out there. Some will offer indecent propositions with the lure of helping you get your deal through. Others may suspect your success as a result of sleeping with decision makers to get your deals. Walk into a conference room full of men in suits, and they'll likely think you're just a “young sweet thing” with no capabilities to speak of.

All of these evils mentioned are perpetuated by the black sheep of the industry. Not only do they cause mistrust among potential clients but they also hurt businesses in the long run. Sadly, such people exist and they still do such evils today.

Compensating the risks and emotional roller coaster of sales with perks!

A great way to earn money

As a salesperson, you are responsible for your own success; you have a huge control over how successful you want to be. Depending on the type of company or solution that you work with, your percentage of commission is usually a 60-40 or 70-30 ratio, with the larger number making your basic monthly pay.

For companies that deal with high volume sales, it is also not unusual to take home a lower base pay but a much higher commission. Recruitment consultants (head hunters) have been known to take home $1 million per quarter for top billers. A peer of mine has taken home a paycheck of $300,000 for a good month of placing senior candidates as a head hunter.

As the money maker, sometimes you can “call the shots” in smaller organizations. I've heard of sales people asking for new laptops or have access to parking lots as compared to other staff—they normally get it first or have the first pick. When questioned, their standard response would be, "hey, I bring the money in for the company right?"

Freedom and independence

Most times, you will plan your meeting schedule so you have the flexibility of arranging meetings to your availability. You don't have to be desk bound though some might feel there are cons to that to, but most will view this as a pro.

Additionally, if you work in a regional sales role, though strenuous, you can earn tons of air miles paid for by the company. Salespeople (if given the appropriate budget) get to stay in beautiful hotels, upgraded on flights, and eat sumptuous meals with room service while in your bathrobe.

Concluding thoughts

It takes a certain calibre to survive in fast paced sales and perhaps hold onto your sanity: A truly successful salesperson must have the tenacity to have doors slammed at you (figuratively, but sometimes literally), and survive the pressure of bringing in deals. Not only will your integrity be tested; your ability to think on your feet and collaborate well with others will be required too, especially when you start working on more complex solutions.

If you think you have it, and you are confident you can persuade executives to part with their money, you will definitely be well rewarded. If that's true, then this my friend, is the perfect work for you.