Let’s remove the stigma from sales

I love sales. It’s one of the things that I spend most of my time doing, be it talking with partner startups, fellow applicants, or donors. Yet while I write this now, I feel uncomfortable. I think of all the negative images of smarmy used car salesman, and how being a salesperson is a career choice of last resort.

We unfortunately live in a culture where being a salesperson is not upheld as an honorable profession. Our best and brightest pursue careers that are framed as being “analytical,” such as consulting, law, and investment banking. The irony being that to truly succeed in all those careers — and in any career for that matter — requires being good at sales.

In the end, sales is just the ability to convince others to buy into a vision or idea. It’s the ability to motivate others to unite behind a vision. Great companies and organizations are built by thousands of people working together — meaning the ability to sell and hence get the right people on board — is crucial to the development of any organization.

Then why is sales viewed in a negative light? I think it partly has to do with the fact that when people think of a salesperson — they think of someone who is trying to sell a product that will not actually benefit the consumer. While that is sometimes the case, it’s also important to realize that sales is at its best when mutual value is being delivered to all parties involved.

In the end, sales is about empowering action. If we want more great builders, then it comes down to teaching the skills relevant to motivating others and inspiring confidence — in essence sales.

That’s why we need to start teaching sales in schools, and encouraging more of our best and brightest to learn these skills. Teaching to sell is all about experiential learning — the more you practice the better you get at it. It’s also a mixture of knowing about public speaking, human psychology, and the actual product/idea that you are selling.

If someone is launching a business, they have to be able to inspire confidence in customers, investors, and potential employees. Virtually every conversation is in some ways a “sales” experience. If we had more effective salespeople, we would have more successful businesses, and organizations springing up across the country.

Teaching these skills is at the core of teaching entrepreneurship. Yes, coding is important, as is product development, but there are plenty of great products that flounder because of unconvincing founders. In particular, Canada has a reputation for being great at producing research, but ineffective at commercializing and selling it.

It’s time that we remove the stigma surrounding “sales” as a career path. We need a paradigm shift, where sales is recognized as simply the ability to build relationships with other people, and motivate others to unite behind a vision.

Being good at sales is at the core of getting stuff done. If we want more builders, doers, and strivers, we need more great salespeople.

-Scott Stirrett

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