PenYou ask a salesperson if they had always wanted to be in sales, and most will say something like, “No one grows up wanting to be in sales.” Then, they’ll tell you their story. I have actually met a few people who have said they’ve always wanted to be in sales.

The average person, when asked what they think about salespeople, will immediately conjure up an image of a stereotypical used car salesman from the 70’s. In the 70’s, I grew up with a used car salesman. He was my Dad. I was always around salespeople. They would come to our house. We would visit my Dad at work. I knew one thing back then, as a natural introvert, I was not one of them. I could never be a salesperson.

In college, I developed a passion for Advertising, and in 1995, I was preparing to graduate from the University of Texas with a degree in Advertising. Advertising is like selling. It’s a dialogue. You conduct research, you process the data, and you create a campaign that shows your target audience that your product will make their life easier, or happier, or healthier. It’s the sales process, but I didn’t know anything about sales back then.

I had completed an internship with GSD&M Advertising Agency, so of course I thought I was ready. I sent my resume out, interviewed, and was offered a position with an advertising agency in town. I was so excited! Then, right before I graduated, I received a call and was told that the position I thought was waiting for me was no longer available. It was given to someone with more “research experience.” Research experience?

I didn’t know it at the time, but my advertising career had ended. So there I was – a college graduate doomed for his lack of “research experience.” A few weeks later, I attended a job fair and found a company called Harris Publishing. Incredibly, they were hiring for a position titled, “Research Associate.” It was too good to be true! I was turned down for my lack of “research experience,” and here was this company hiring Research Associates. This was going to be my big break! Advertising Agencies here I come! I would work for this publishing company for a year or two, and bam! My plan was to be hired on by some amazing advertising agency with offices in New York, San Francisco, and Austin.

That was my plan until I went to the interview.

Now, if you’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street recently, you’re probably going to read the next part of this story and think, “He’s making this up. There’s just no way.” It’s true. When I went to interview at Harris Publishing, I was asked by the interviewer to sell her a pen. She looked at me with a straight face and said, “Sell me this pen.” Believe it or not, it wasn’t the last time I was asked to sell a pen.

I looked at the pen and proceeded to very nervously sell her a pen. Looking back now, I think I did a pretty bad job, but I don’t think they were looking for perfection. Also, I wasn’t sure what this had to do with “research experience.” Harris Publishing publishes alumni directories. I worked with the High School Division, which meant that I would call the alumni of whatever high school had contracted us, update their listing in the directory, ask if they knew the whereabouts of any of their fellow classmates, and try to sell them a book.

This was a sales job.

Well, advertising agencies were not knocking on my door. Within a few weeks, I was making more money than some of my friends starting out at advertising agencies around town. Where they got their “research experience,” I will never know. So, I decided to stay for a while, and it turns out I am a great salesperson.

So, if you’ve recently been asked to sell a pen, here are some things to consider:

1. As a salesperson, you get to be an expert at something. It’s hard to believe, but in my first day selling accounting software, I had to be an expert in accounting software. So, get ready for the ride of your life because this is the most challenging part. It’s funny because wherever you work, many of the non-sales personnel will think of you as the “talent.” They think we’re mindless actors reading a script. Some think we’re all BS artists. Truth is, some salespeople are, but they don’t make it, especially selling a product as complex as software or financial services. If you are a learner, if you have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, sales may be for you.

2. You’ll always have a job. Would Tom Brady be just as good if he was playing for the Dallas Cowboys? Bring on the Tom Brady jokes, but sometimes, a Quarterback is only as good as his team or coaching staff. I’ve heard people say, “That guy can sell ice to an Eskimo!” You know, I don’t think I could sell ice to an Eskimo. Does the Eskimo need ice? If I ever found myself selling ice in Alaska, I might quit, and go sell blankets. Failure doesn’t mean you’re not a good salesperson. Not being able to sell a particular product to a particular clientele just means that you might have to move on to a different company and sell a different product to a different clientele. Because of all this moving around, turnover is high in sales. Companies have to fill those spots because without salespeople, they’re not making money.

3. Sales can make you a better person. For someone looking from the outside in, this may be hard to believe, but when you deal in interpersonal relationships all day long, if you’re not working on yourself, you’ll be out of the game. We all have flaws, and in sales, our negative personality traits can get in the way of building a solid relationship with a prospect or client. We, as salespeople, often have to turn inward and attempt to fix this highly sensitive instrument that we use to make our living. We have to like what we see in the mirror because that’s what we’re selling.

4. You get to help people. If this is not one of the main reasons you go into sales, you may need to move on to a different career. Again, from the outside in, most customers think salespeople just want their money. Some of your co-workers will think that all you want is to move their product off the shelves. Salespeople are not coin-operated machines that dispense product when you add money. I am well aware that the people I talk to on a daily basis have lives beyond the transactions. If you don’t care about your customers, then you can and will be replaced.

5. You can make a lot of money. In sales, we don’t measure our success in dollars per hour. Most sales positions don’t pay a salary or an hourly wage. Commissions can be scary, but in an hourly position, you can get fired for not doing your job. In an hourly position, your hours can be cut or increased based on your performance. If you’re doing really well, you are rewarded with a raise or a bonus. The difference is, when working on commission, you have complete control.

I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had not accepted that position with Harris Publishing and kept looking for a job with an Advertising Agency. I think about it so much, I named my daughter Madysen Ava (after Madison Avenue). There’s a good chance, I would have become an Advertising Account Executive, which is a salesperson.

When I was studying Advertising in school, no one told me “Account Executive” meant salesperson. I found out later that Sales Jobs are like M&M’s. They come in different colors, but they all taste relatively the same. Obviously, I now know that a “Research Associate” can be a salesperson. Imagine my surprise when I found out that a stockbroker is a salesperson. A lawyer is a salesperson. A doctor is a salesperson.

If you are a salesperson, happy selling!