How Theater Prepares You for a Career in Sales
By Nicole McCloud
“Who’d ever hire someone with a THEATER degree? I’ve ruined any chance at a real professional career!”
Dramatic as that may be (I *was* a drama major after all), those were the exact words I spoke on my 25th birthday. I was convinced that by following my passion and pursuing a degree in Performing Arts, I had completely jeopardized my future. Little did I know that my background in theater would end up being my biggest asset and differentiator.
When I made the switch to a sales career, I realized I’d already learned some of the key elements to being successful in sales. And since I’ve recently moved into a Sales Leadership role, I’ve found these themes more relevant than ever. Here are five skills my theater background gave me that translate perfectly to a career in sales.
Anyone who’s been in a play knows how much work goes into the final production: Nightly rehearsals, memorization of lines, and sacrificing weekends to perform. These things are both necessary and non negotiable. Having this type of rigor already embedded in my DNA allowed me to quickly transition to an Account Executive role, where the amount of effort you put in directly impacts your performance and results.
Empathic and active listening
Good actors have to understand human behavior and be able to see their characters’ points of view, even when very different from their own. The best way to get into character is by doing research, and the best way to stay in character is by practicing active listening when performing with your scene partner. Similarly, the most successful AEs are also incredibly empathetic and great at active listening, which builds trust and credibility throughout the sales process. These traits allow you to build relationships and become a trusted advisor; as a Sales Leader, these traits are also a fundamental way to relate to and build trust with your team of AEs.
The best actors know they never fully master their craft — Even Meryl Streep still uses an acting coach from time to time! And that advice rings true for pretty much any profession, including sales; we can always grow both personally and professionally with the help of constructive feedback. Look for a coach or mentor who’s been in your role before; their feedback and encouragement is invaluable.
Salespeople have to present to an audience all the time — in front of customers and oftentimes in front of peers and leaders. Being comfortable “on stage” has been a huge asset and has even presented me with additional opportunities I would otherwise not be considered for, such as speaking at Dreamforce, the largest technology conference in the world. Standing at a podium in front of hundreds of rapt listeners? No problem for a theater pro… or a seasoned sales person.
Embracing what makes you unique
So you have a background in theater or something less “traditional.” Embrace it. The unique skills you bring to a sales role often end up being a huge asset and major differentiator as you build your career. Learning to be proud of my background, instead of hiding from it because it wasn’t like everyone else’s, has allowed me to grow exponentially. As a new sales leader, I’ll always be open to hiring those who have less traditional backgrounds; what I care about is how you think through the skills you’ve acquired… and how you’ll put them into practice.
Go on now… Break a leg!
About the Author
Nicole is a Regional Sales Manager at Salesforce, focused on helping small and fast growing businesses. She spent the past 3 years focused on helping business deliver a better customer service experience, and recently discovered her passion for coaching and development which led her to her current role. She is also a self-proclaimed theater nerd, and spends much of her free time urban hiking in San Francisco to discover new parts of the city.
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Originally published at www.salesforce.com.