I've worked in classrooms since I was 15, and I taught full time for almost 5 years. Now, as I'm looking to embark on a new career in sales, many of the skills that made me successful in the classroom will make me successful in sales too. Here are 4 of them:
1. Knowing your audience’s context
Understanding your buyer's context is one of the most important parts of sales. Every decision you make about what to do, what to say, and when to do or say it depends on your understanding of your buyer's context. Your entire success or failure rests on whether or not you get that context right.
Teaching is the ultimate context test. You can’t take anything for granted when presenting new information to 7 year-olds. There’s so much they don’t know yet, so you are always having to put yourself in their minds to make sure that what you say makes sense and that they care about it enough to listen. This skill is essential to your job as a teacher just as it is essential to your job as a sales rep.
2. Presenting information in a logically sequenced way
When you have such deep knowledge of your product, it can be easy to give too much information, too little information, or skip essential steps along the way. It’s important that you are able to deliver information in a logically sequenced way: the right information in the right amount at the right time. Otherwise you’ll confuse, overwhelm, or bore your buyer.
As a teacher, one of the things you spend the most time thinking about is how to make sure that all the information you present builds logically and systematically upon previous information. This requires work both in the planning phase and in front of the classroom as you may find yourself needing to adjust to real-time feedback. It's the same with sales. Planning is essential for creating a logical sequence of information, and tailoring to feedback on the spot is crucial to your success.
3. Understanding the structure and power of narrative
Messages are more effective when they have the structure of a narrative. Humans love stories and you will be a better communicator and more successful sales rep if you can tell a compelling story and paint an appealing picture for your buyer.
I taught 11 literature classes in 4 years, and I taught about 8 novels and 6 poems to each one of those classes. As a result, I developed a keen sense of the structure, the art, and the power of narrative. I have noticed that through teaching literature, I've become a much better analyst of stories and a better storyteller. This deep understanding of narrative gives me an unusual advantage in sales as I'll be able to craft my messages to be effective and impactful.
4. Navigating difficult conversations
In sales, you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone in conversations. You must be assertive and confident in situations many would shy away from, whether that's asking questions about a buyer's business, challenging their preconceived notions, discussing money, or asking for the sale.
As a teacher, I learned to be comfortable having difficult conversations. I often had to say no to students when I didn't want to disappoint them; I had to reprimand them or mediate conflicts between them. Other times, I had to deliver bad news to parents or help calm their fears and anxieties regarding their children. I got very comfortable at having conversations many people would try avoid or gloss over. My ability to push through discomfort and have these important but difficult conversations will make me a more daring and confident sales rep.
Though teaching and sales may seem to be very different careers that require different skills sets, I have found that my time teaching has given me valuable skills that transfer to other areas of life and other careers. I am grateful for that time and look forward to bringing the wisdom of those experiences with me wherever I go.