THE SALES LIFE
by Todd Natenberg
“Why I Choose Sales Over Journalism”
Editor’s note: The sales profession attracts people from a lot of different professions, so Todd Natenberg’s progress from Arizona Republic newspaper reporter to account representative for telecommunications company LCI International in Rosemont, Ill., might not be headline news. But Todd’s account of why he left journalism and what he’s found in his new profession of sales is a good back-page story, and might just articulate what many salespeople know about their profession but just haven’t been able to put into words.
A lot of people ask me why I left journalism two years ago to pursue a career in sales. For many, what I used to do and what I do now are as different as night and day. One is exciting, offers fame, helps others, and involves special skill and talent. The other is pressure-filled, quota-driven, involves endless rejection, and anybody can do it.
In fact, there are many similarities between journalists and salespeople. Both use communication and persuasion, talking to people who often have no desire to talk to us. Both deal with rejection
In fact, I laugh when people ask how I deal with rejection as a salesperson. “Try being a journalist,” I say. When someone hangs up on you on a sales call, the worst that can happen is you lose the deal, maybe get upset, and evaluate what you could have done differently. Unfortunately, journalists can’t write stories filled with “no comments.”
In some people’s eyes, journalists are even lower forms of humans than salespeople. At least with salespeople, customers know there are commissions involved, and they have a vested interest. Though people think journalists really care about their subjects, sometimes, in fact, they only care about the “story.”
BREEDING PROFESSIONAL CYNICISM
Journalists are without a doubt the most cynical people I have ever met. How could they not be? People lied to me constantly, I received few financial rewards, and when what I wrote exposed a truth that someone didn’t want to hear, more often than not I was ostracized for it.
In sales, yes, people lie to us. They use us for leverage with rates, don’t return calls, and attack us personally when they’re having a bad day. They see us as trying to make a buck at whatever price, and we view them as trying to get the best deal they can – with no regard for us as individuals. What’s the difference?
Salespeople don’t realize what a profession like journalism “lacks” and what a profession like sales offers. My salary as a 24-year-old reporter was terrific but would not change much over the years. The sky’s the limit in sales. Leaving journalism was the best move I ever made.
People can say what they want about salespeople - that we would sacrifice our family or friends if it meant top commissions. But there is another side to salespeople that few truly see. Call me naïve, but the top salespeople in my office are among the most genuine individuals I have ever met. That doesn’t mean we’re all close friends, or even that there aren’t those individuals who might show more than one face.
WHAT MAKES SALES GREAT
What it means is that the same positive attitude and confidence – even cockiness - they have in business dealings they have in their personal lives. Top salespeople don’t let little things get to them. They see their jobs as part of a larger picture – with all the peaks and valleys. They ride the highs and survive the lows, seeing them as bringing them one step closer to the highs.
Whenever I’m down, and think all my work is for naught, I think of the stonecutter who spends his whole life chipping away at a stone that does not so much as crack. Then one day he taps the stone with the hammer and it shatters. But he must realize that were it not for the first five million whacks, the stone would never have broken.
I like to think I made a difference as a journalist – having the ability and talent to write is a gift. But I also realize that the way I convinced people to talk to me as a journalist is the same way I do it as a salesperson – by building trust. If there is no trust, the interview won’t get started, the story might not be written, and the “deal” just might not close.
People talk about the need to respect others and be respected in journalism, I had to find respect within myself – by believing in what I was doing – because no one else was going to offer it on a regular basis.
But in sales I’ve found – if you’re good – respect follows you wherever you go. You win Honda passports, trophies, your name appears in lights, and you win trips, not to mention reaping some major financial rewards.
All this for telling somebody why one long-distance/local provider is better than another. To me, that’s exciting.