Monday, 26 October 2009

“7 years old and you want to be a salesperson?!”

The news today (26th October 2009) tells us of plans drawn up by the Government’s Schools Secretary Ed Balls. Primary schools will be offering career-related learning, as well as opportunities to experience university life and the world of work, to children aged 7-11. “So how soon did you get into selling?” At most sales training courses either within the formal sessions, or at the breaks or meal times, the question of how we all got into selling arises at some point. It is a fascinating opportunity to hear people’s story. A few of the entrepreneurial types seem to have known early in their life (maybe as early as seven years old) that they wanted to be in business but the stories of most delegates portray a less planned career path and even completely accidental introductions into professional selling. Here’s part of my story but what I would really like to read about are your stories so please post a comment and share how you got into sales. I did not ‘discover’ the world of selling until I was well into my twenties. During the third year of my degree course in Chemistry (described suitably in my case by the academic world as a “Thick” sandwich course) I spent nine months in the care of Beecham Products Ltd., the food and beverage wing of Beecham’s now GSK. My ‘work placement’ was as a laboratory assistant in the central quality control laboratory at Brentford, West London. After six months I had earned my spurs and my enlightened managers asked me what else I would like to experience in the business before I had to return to college. So I asked about what happened in other departments. The result was they sent me for a week at a time to a distribution centre, a marketing department, to work at the laboratory at the factory that made Lucozade, out with the lorries delivering to stores and then I had a ‘mind altering week’ out in Dagenham east London with a sales representative. At that time Beecham had the franchise for Coca Cola and brands like Ribena, Morton’s Tinned goods, Lucozade Quosh, Horlicks Schloer etc. The sales representative I travelled with had to sell a target of 16 cases of product each call to a store. In those days retail salespeople had to do a stock take, stack the shelves in store, and merchandise. After this you had try to secure a suggested order and sell any special promotions. These were recessionary times with the particular challenge that the local dominant employer for the area was Ford, and their Dagenham plant was on strike! It was to say the least a tough sell. Yet I learnt from watching this salesman so much about persistence, how to try and maintain a positive mental attitude, observing lessons in humility, of coping with rejection but also and most importantly, having fantastic fun at work. Like many people I met at Beecham, he allowed me to get some exposure of his work world and seemed genuinely interested in me and what I wanted to do. At the end of the week he asked that question “So what do you want to do career-wise from what you have seen in all the different parts of the company?” I answered “Personnel (HR) work probably.” At which point the guy challenged me “Why?” he asked. I replied “because I like to work with people”. At this point he went into a rant about ‘****ing Personnel Departments’ much of which I was sure was exaggerated and certainly biologically improbable. However when he came to a conclusion of his fulmination he summarised (ever the professional salesman) as follows:- “In Personnel you see people when they join, when they have a grievance and when they leave. If you really find people so interesting just think what you’ve experienced this last week with me “ Then with the detailed recall of a Formula 1 racing car driver describing every bend and chicane of every lap of a Grand prix he went through each call of the week we had just done without referring to notes. This was a feat since call we had visited a lot of stores. He described the enormous variety of people we had met; some kind, some generous, some funny and yes some downright foul people. He concluded “If you like people you should give selling a go. Each day is different and the pay is good if you work hard.” He was right. Had I not met him I would probably never have considered sales as a career. “So how did you get into selling?”


  1. Great Story Hugh!

    Well I got into sales really for the same reason - I worked in a bank call centre for 3 years at 18 and it gave me a taste for earning extra money when making sales, however left me wanting when I couldnt ever meet the people I was talking to day in day out. I did a stint in recruitment and found that again it was the same problem - seeing people when they are unemployed and thats about it. I then joined TACK and the rest is history!! Again starting on the phone I enjoyed interacting with the corporate world and wanted to go out into the field - 4 Years later here I am and wouldnt ever change careers from field sales!!! I enjoy meeting the different types of customers, trainers and delegates and have learnt so much in such a short time.

  2. Thanks Laura

    Yes the reality of meeting people is rewarding.

    Thanks for sharing part of your story and look forward to future installments.