I don’t sell Bananas!

The last time I checked the dictionary, oxymoron still bears the same meaning of things that contradict each other. I always get a feeling that the best word to describe my job would be – an oxymoron. Sales is an oxymoron because it’s easy and tough simultaneously.

I was having a conversation with my grandfather the other day and tried to explain to him what the cloud was and what I did at work. He was a bit uncomfortable when he realized that I was a sales guy. It is not uncommon to see people cringe when they hear that you are a sales guy. I went to my college alumnus meet and I was the engineer that became “The sales guy”. It’s funny when people look down on what I do. The irony of being a sales guy is that you go to war with a shield and return home alive every day.

It is remarkable how we always consider sales as a very difficult or rather easy profession like the time I was taking the morning cab back home one day and two employees were wishing that they had gone into sales because the sales team looks very relaxed and less worried. I was too tired to kiss their hands and welcome them aboard.

Ask any kid that goes to school or a teen in their final college years and I am sure that the probability of someone wanting to end up in sales should be very less or none. To all the people who think that sales is the easiest job in the world or the most difficult job in the world, please allow me to relieve you of your stereotyping. Sales is not an easy or difficult job but a combination of both. If there is a skill that people should master then it’s always the ability to sell.

Here is a quick example :

I hope most of you would have taken a train at least once. If you have, then you must have come across women selling apples or oranges. They board a compartment and shout “5 apples for 50 rupees”. If no one is interested in their products and the train closes in on the next station they know they had to sell something and they use a simple sales trick and go “8 apples for 50 rupees”. Now, this is my favorite part because the moment you hear the revised pricing you see the entire compartment coming to life, that old uncle who was engrossed in his newspaper all this time finally shoots up his head to see what’s happening. If one person purchases then it follows multiple purchases. I always think if these hawkers would have targets. Maybe it’s their target to sell a set between two stations.

The fish market is yet another classic example. We see people selling fishes piled up next to their competitors and do all the tricks to get customers. The quality of the fishes determines the sales but still, It’s funny when you hear them sell. Exhibitions and trade shows are more analogous to fish markets but in more decent and controlled environments

Have you ever stopped to wonder that almost everyone on this planet has to sell something to make a living? Even beggars sell their poverty to get our attention, empathy and of course money. If sales is so important then why do we not ask our kids to be salespeople or have the importance of sales taught in schools and colleges?

We are made to believe that sales is not a great job. Whenever we hear that someone is a sales guy, our associative memory forms a mental picture of the guy in a sling bag that waits for hours in a shop or the person who knocks our door to sell dictionaries

In my observation of my teammates and different salespeople, I realize that all these people are rather very gifted individuals in the way they communicate. Even someone who is a sales guy beyond his fate is a good person to strike a conversation with. Most of these individuals are average people all their lives and are very patient in handling things. They were the kids that went to school and did average in everything. They were the bridge between the best and the below average students. They are the same wherever they go. They are not great performers in college or poor performers. They are average. They do the one thing they love to do, which is to talk and since they have put so much man hours in talking, talking and just talking- they get very good at it. This becomes a skill over time and they have a wide source of information and get good at knowing what to speak when to speak and when to stop. They become very intuitive in understanding people and gauging behavior through the virtue of communication. The information they have gathered all these years gives them the urge to want more and they naturally seem to know/learn something about everything compared to the hardworking kid knowing everything about one thing.

When this kid leaves college, he realizes that he has nothing to offer as a skill. Has no clue what he is going to do or end up to be. He goes to interviews with nothing to sell but himself and if lucky enough ends up being a sales guy. Sales is not an easy job but the average kid is used to environments where much is expected from him in the form of sales target and he knows that he will never excel it or go below the target, just like school where he never got great marks or failed in exams. Sales always give in to the concept of “regression to the mean” and who better understands regression than the average person?

That is not all! The average kid does what he is always good at doing – talk to people and end up getting paid for that.

Sometimes people think sales is an easy job but sales is also about building relationships. The next time you see a sales guy chilling around the pantry, or taking a walk with someone from another team in prime time be sure that they are well aware of their piled up tasks and targets but are more keen in building relationships internally. This is one of the main reason why a support engineer or a pre-sales engineer is ready to help the sales guy when a customer needs immediate help. Its all about building genuine and healthy relationships.

Every day in sales is an adventure. If something should go wrong, the customer is going to call the sales guy to vent out and we are always ready to take the heat. We make sure not to pass an angry customer to any of our support folks or engineers when they have a tiresome day. All that people outside the realm of sales see is the sales team flirting with their telephone but in reality, all there is to sales is to sit holding the phone’s handset and bleed.

When its a bad month in terms of revenue, the blame game ends pointing the sales team but what is hidden is the fact that we spent an entire month defending our products and not giving a chance for the customer to criticise any of our product, service or support because we are guided by the truth that we need everyone’s help to sell a product at the end of a day and we believe in what we sell and as a rule of the thumb, what we sell is always a great product. 

The whole point of this quick article?

Sometimes we tend to look down on the sales team. We think that they look more relaxed than everyone else. We think that being average is bad and being a salesperson is being average. But the alternative of this reality is that if being average is being a salesperson then being average is good.

Again, sales is not an easy or difficult job. It’s not even a job in the first place. It’s a skill to be mastered. Sales is not a job for people who like to win always because you are expected and bound to fail in your targets when working in sales. Also every month, the book starts fresh. You must have contributed 100k in revenue on the closing day of the month but your contribution is zero the very next day ( day one of the next month). Its one of the most heartbreaking and refreshing cycles in life that fosters harmony and tranquility to the mind due to the nature of this changing reality and going from 0 to 1 and 1 to 0 every month. 

An essential life lesson that should be learned by everyone and taught to kids- to accept failure and master patience to start again and forget everything about your previous achievements. Even more than that is the vital lesson of learning to sell an idea because,

At the end of the day, what good is an idea if you cannot sell it?

Epilogue :

Sometime back in 1999

Its a regular day at primary school and the teacher is doing her best to accomplish the most difficult task under the heavens – procure the attention of kids! She tries everything and with her tricks and threats manages to shush most of the kids. There is, however this one particular kid that won’t listen or stop talking. Almost throwing her hands in disbelief she yells “Stop talking now. If you keep talking, you are going to miss the lessons and sell bananas one day.

I am glad that I never listened to her or shut my mouth back in school or college days. I enjoyed talking to people and being average all my life and I still do. As for the teacher – I am not sure if she meant it but I am thankful that she saw the budding sales guy in me back then. Thankfully I don’t sell bananas – at least for now !!!

Happy selling and please respect the sales guy!