Sharon Parker is the author of Selling with Soul: Achieving Career Success Without Sacrificing Personal and Spiritual Growth. Below is a Q&A with her about Selling with Soul, advice for people who feel reluctant about selling and why she wrote her book.
1. Your first reaction to advice that you take a job in sales was horror. Why?
Like most people in our culture I thought of sales people as unscrupulous and self-serving. I remember looking down at my suit and shoes and wondering what it was that made the career counselor think I was sleazy. I took my first sales job out of desperation. I was a single parent and needed a job, and I was tired of hearing that I was over qualified or under-degreed for the administrative positions I’d been pursuing.
2. What was your initial experience in sales like?
I was told to go make one hundred cold calls, pumped full of sales training tapes and videos, and taught nonsense like, “ABC – Always Be Closing.” I was miserably unhappy and went home every night feeling like I’d been masquerading as someone else all day long.
3. What was your “aha” moment?
I realized one sleepless night that I could keep on doing what I’d been taught and be miserable, or I could try it my way and, whether I succeeded or failed at making my numbers, I could at least feel some pride in the fact that I was being honest and true to my values. When I stopped trying to sell like the “experts” and started being myself, I found that my ability to listen, to problem-solve, and to be honest with my customers set me apart. I began to see my customers as people just like me and to look for ways to help them be successful.
4. Were you happy in your sales career at that point?
I felt better about my job, but I still longed to do “important” work, work that really made a difference. I admitted my frustration to a colleague one day as we flew to a meeting. He argued that what we did was truly important work because we were changing and humanizing the corporate culture. He said many other people had the knowledge and the expertise to be good teachers, counselors, and social workers, but there were few of us willing to work within the world of business and to lead change by our behaviors and examples. From that day forward, I saw myself as what the late business guru Peter Drucker described as a change agent and I saw my work as intrinsically important.
5. Wasn’t it difficult to challenge the status quo? Did you ever suffer repercussions or setbacks by doing things differently?
There were many times that I was fortunate enough to work for managers who also put people first and who supported my priorities. Just as often, though, I found myself in conflict with people who managed to the quota and made short-term decisions to achieve it, all the while knowing they were sacrificing the future and harming customer relationships in the process. I was accused of being soft, or too emotional, or afraid to make the tough calls. My ongoing frustration at being squeezed between the stereotype of sales people on the one hand and the short-sighted thinking of many sales managers on the other, led me to write the book.
6. You call this your “karma book.” What do you mean by that?
I wrote the book to help smash the negative stereotypes of sales people and to show that selling is a vital profession worthy of respect. It really bothers me to see so many sales people carrying that stigma inside themselves and feeling bad about the work they do, when the truth is that sales is the only job that creates jobs. A great idea can result in a failed business without effective sales. Brilliant product engineering can lead to a warehouse full of unsold inventory. Excellent manufacturing can fill that warehouse even faster. Nothing happens until something is sold. When sales people do their job with integrity and empathy for the customer, they are the lifeblood of our economy and they should feel proud of the work they do.
7. You believe “soft skills,” like listening, handling conflict, avoiding compromising situations, and communicating directly and honestly are important. Why?
People buy from people. Catalogs, computers, the internet and eBay have not changed that fact, but they have changed our roles. We may no longer be seen as the product or technology experts, called in to educate the customer about the possibilities, but sales people are still the experts on how their products and services are actually used to solve problems. That requires us to truly understand our customers’ challenge and their goal, and that’s where the soft skills are essential. That’s where the trust and understanding are established.
8. What do you hope this book accomplishes?
My greatest desire is that sales people reading it learn to trust their values and to do their jobs in harmony with their principles. I want them to see themselves as bringing value to their customers and their employers. I want them to see themselves as life-long learners and to challenge themselves every day to be better. I want them to understand that the more they help their customers succeed, the more successful they will be. And I want them to look in the mirror every morning and feel proud of the work they do. In my business, Sparker, the Coaching Company, I have worked with hundreds of sales people and shared these lessons. When a 30-year veteran tells me that he feels good about his job for the first time in his career, I know I’m achieving my goal of making a difference.
Selling with Soul: Achieving Career Success Without Sacrificing Personal and Spiritual Growth is available on Amazon if you click here.