If you really want to boost your career, find a way to work in sales -- either with your current company or employer or by taking a part-time job that involves sales. Whether you work for someone else, own your own business, or even work in a role where you never interact with customers, sales skills are still incredibly useful.
Why? Many people hear the word "sales" and think of pressuring, manipulating, and maneuvering potential customers into making a purchase -- all the stereotypes of used car or timeshare sales. Think of sales as clearly explaining the logic and benefits of an action or decision and it's clear every job requires solid sales skills: Convincing peers an idea or initiative makes sense, proving to a boss or customer that a project will generate a solid return, or helping employees who work for you understand the benefits of a new process and embrace the changes required. The ability to listen and effectively communicate is critical in every field, and many people learn more about effective communication by working with sales than they do from working in any other role.
When you work in sales, you:
Develop self-discipline. When you work for a large corporation it is sometimes possible to put in less than maximum effort and still get a paycheck -- and sometimes even get promoted. (Look around at some of your coworkers and tell me I'm wrong.) If your pay is based solely or even partly on earning commissions, effort is rewarded -- and a lack of effort is definitely penalized. Sales is one field where performance absolutely impacts results and rewards.
Develop negotiation skills. Succeeding in every job requires negotiating with coworkers, bosses, other departments or divisions, customers, suppliers -- everyone. Working in sales helps you develop the ability to really listen, to evaluate possibilities, identify key stakeholders, identify important drivers, deal with objections and conflicting opinions, and find ways to reach agreement without leaving scorched earth in your wake. Good negotiators operate short-term while thinking long-term.
Develop determination and perseverance. When you work in sales, you'll hear the word "no" almost as often as you hear the word "hello." With experience you'll see "no" as a challenge to overcome and as a feedback tool to use to improve your performance.
Develop the skills to work with a wide range of people. We can choose our friends, but we can rarely choose our customers. Working in sales will definitely broaden your diversity horizons, in a really good way. And working in sales will help you overcome hesitation or shyness, and give you the skills to step into unfamiliar or even uncomfortable situations with confidence.
Develop the ability to close. Many people have a hard time asking for what they want. Reaching agreement with others -- and getting others to act on those agreements -- is a basic business skill. Working in sales is a great way to learn how to close and is a useful skill in every profession.
Sales skills are especially important if you hope to become an entrepreneur. No matter how big the company, every business owner is involved in sales and the entrepreneur who lacks the basic skills faces some major challenges. Sales skills are needed to get financing, inspire and motivate employees, sign distribution deals or partnerships, land the first customers. Every key effort involves sales, especially in the early stages of starting a company.
Does it sound a little scary to think of working in sales? That might be the best indication you really should work in a sales role, even if only for a short time. If you're hesitant it could be because you feel you lack the skills to succeed.
But don't worry: Even if you get off to a rough start you'll quickly gain confidence, and gain skills you can leverage forever.