I started as a sales rep with J&J some 18 years back and despite the progression in my career, have always been close to the sales function. Even as the P&L head for the business in Africa, I made it a point to share my earned knowledge with the team, and ensured that those in operations were in some manner a part of the sales function.
Over the years as a professional my belief has been strengthened that a stint in sales in a must for ALL key functionaries within the organization , and by that I mean , marketing,manufacturing, finance, stores, logistics.
What you have to understand, and understand well is even if you manage engineers, marketing, operations, or customer service; you’re still a salesperson. You sell every day. You don’t just sell products and services; you sell your projects, budget, ideas, and capabilities. And your customers aren’t just the paying kind; they include everybody you interface with.
During my 18 years career I have learnt some critical lessons because of my stint in various sales roles and this is why I believe that every manager should have a stint in sales as well
- Shut up and listen. Nothing you’ve ever read or learned is nearly as important as what the person across from you is about to say … if you just shut up and listen. When you talk first, you lock yourself into a position or path. But if you listen, you gain far more information.
- Problems create opportunities. Your biggest and best opportunities to make a difference will always be when things go wrong. How you respond in time of crisis, when somebody needs you, is a window into your true capability. And that spells opportunity if you rise to the occasion.
- It’s all about relationships. There are no companies or businesses, just people. Business is all about individuals and their interrelationships. When things go wrong, that’s the glue that holds everything together. There’s no such thing as a self-sustaining business.
- Your customer always does come first. Call it business Karma, but whatever you have going on, whatever you expect to accomplish on any given day, when somebody, anybody comes to you with a problem, help them first. Remember: you have way more customers than you think.
- Understand motives. When you think about what you’re going to say or do, you miss an opportunity to make a difference. If, on the other hand, you ask, “how can I help you,” or ask yourself “what’s in it for her,” you’ll be in a far better position to help … and recognize opportunities.