Can I Do Sales?

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One of the responses I received to my last blog post on “Is there life after retirement?” was “Can everyone can or should go into business or even into sales?”

The underlying point was that it takes a certain kind of a person with a certain kind of skills set to succeed as a business person or in a sales career.

I cannot agree more. But what I have found surprising is that those who have made it in business and in sales are not “one kind” but rather many kinds in terms of physical traits, personality, and psychology. The much bandied around “business acumen” or “sales type” stereotype needs to be examined further.

I will discuss here the subject of sales and leave the business issue to a later blog post.

We encounter different sales people ranging from the door to door salesman (e.g. Rainbow vacuum cleaner), to the multi-level downliner, to the night market “koyok” seller with his non-stop monologue sales pitch, to the real estate and insurance agent.

But why do these images come to our mind and not the advertising and PR consultants, the architects, the doctors, the lawyers, bankers, engineers, lecturers, teachers, etc? Why do we mostly associate sales with promotion of products and not with creative ideas and concepts and professional services?

The word sales in its broadest sense will include getting someone to buy something or use something or do something.

Defined this way, everyone is involved in sales and nothing happens until a “sale” is made. Parents have to do a lot of “selling” in bringing up their children. Educators have to do a lot of selling to influence their students to learn and to apply their knowledge. Government ministers have to do a lot of selling of government policies.

Every business and everyone who wants to promote the use of something has to “sell” either ideas, beliefs, values, or products and services.

But even if we accept this broad definition, we recognize that some  jobs have a bigger component of sales than others. The accountant has only to sell his skills to be employed, and to sell confidence that his accounts are properly kept and reported and in compliance with accepted practice and governance.

The sales manager and the sales executive have to do much more selling daily to be effective in their jobs, which are measured by sales production and growth.

So it is helpful to look at different occupations as differing in degree of sales skills component.

Relationship building, communication, the art of negotiation, empathy etc, are needed skills for all occupations, but crucial in sales.

Moreover, there are so many ways we can influence others, and the way which is more effective depends very much on the person we are talking to.

I have found that quiet, soft-spoken people who listen more than they talk, while apparently unsuited to sales, can prove otherwise and be very successful in sales. The slick salesman with the gift of the gab, tends to put off many people especially when it comes to “knowledge” products or services.

There are certain processes and skills which need to be practiced and honed, and everyone with a desire to learn will benefit from good training.

But there is no running away from the 80:20 rule (Pareto’s law), and in every group, it will be the 20 per cent who will be very successful and generate 80 per cent of the sales.

Why is this so?

Is it due to education, aptitude, attitude, opportunities, training, environment?

All these factors no doubt have an influence, but I think the single most important factor is indefinable and often called the X factor. It is a combination of ambition, drive, trustworthiness, likeability, self-confidence, belief in the product or service. Both good attitude and aptitude are necessary factors, but may not be sufficient. The tipping factor is often enthusiasm and belief.

It is said many people buy the sales person more than the product. Many people would buy from one person and not another because of feeling rather than fact. Herein lies the problem – their feeling may be wrong and they can be conned, but humans will be humans and it takes all sorts of humans to touch different sorts of human. So the answer to the question “Can everyone succeed in sales?” – Yes, if you can find enough of people who buy you.

Is There Life After Retrenchment?

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The present economic crisis has raised fears of retrenchment in many employees, especially in some sectors like manufacturing and financial services.

For employees with families to feed and mortgages to pay, the loss of a job is really frightening, especially when there’s not much in the kitty.

The rich with their fat bank accounts and those in government service and statutory boards who have never faced financial crises would not know the mental and emotional stress which looming retrenchment brings.

Not me. I was retrenched in 1985 when I first heard of the word “retrenchment” and had the unpleasant task of laying off some employees first before axing myself.

My bosses called the exercise “simplification” and “restructuring” at first, but it boiled down to some ten workers losing their jobs and having to fend for themselves. Thank God the recession wasn’t that deep then and all of them did secure jobs.

Is there life after retrenchment?

For me, the loss of a good paying job set me thinking – why be at the mercy of someone else? Why not do your own thing and be your own boss, and you’ll never be retrenched.

Moreover, I had a strong desire to use more of my time to help out in church, and doing my own business would allow me that flexibility. But what business?

This is the question which thousands ask, and a wrong answer can cause even greater harm and loss than staying put as employees.

Statistics still show only the minority will make a success of business.

I have seen many people losing their life’s savings in failed ventures and worse, getting into debts.

Nevertheless, by faith I took the first step to be an insurance broker, and signed a contract to be an “independent contractor” which basically means I am not an employee and will not be paid any steady salary. I had to find my own clients and keep an agreed cut of the commissions. In other words, I started with (how humbling) zero income and had to sell insurance and build up my own income.

The reaction of people around me was predictable. Are you crazy? My parents wisely advised me to find a paying job. They knew I had a wife and four boys to support, and a house and car to upkeep.

I would never have gone into business, albeit a small one, if not for my desire to devote more time to serve God in my church. I was inspired by Paul, the tentmaker who often supported himself with his own hands.

As it turned out and by the grace of God, there was much life after retrenchment for me afterall. It’s now 23 years since my retrenchment.

My four boys have grown up. My wife never had to go back to work to help out.

Business had been fairly good and I’m still at it because I have looked at my company as my third family after my own family and my church. I am still excited about “marketplace ministry”.

I am also keen to help those who may have to make mid-life career switches because of retrenchment or mid-life crisis review.

If any reader is now facing retrenchment, have faith and see whether it is really a blessing in disguise.

Perhaps you have never ventured out of your comfort zone.

A new challenge is daunting, but it can also bring out the best in you.