This is the title of my forthcoming book. The best-kept career secret happens to be the highest-paid profession in our capitalist society: professional sales! What, exactly, is it? It isn’t retail selling. It only takes place at the highest levels of business exchange. Why is it a secret? Because practitioners are rarely titled “salespeople,” and academia refuses to recognize it.
Professional salespeople frequently earn more money than do corporate CEOs, college presidents, politicians and top management personnel. Speaking of college presidents, they are some of the greatest professional salespeople I’ve seen. They are continually selling their institutions to the public, selling their boards of trustees on future goals and needs, selling politicians on more favorable legislation, and selling themselves to their faculties. Faculties are often prima donnas who think they can run the institution better than present management.
Then we have teachers and professors. The best ones are great salespeople. They always make their courses spring to life. Teachers who are poor salespeople just go through the motions. And the poorest of all are university professors who spend their time researching and writing, leaving the teaching to graduate students. Unfortunately, salary levels often are tied to publishing drivel instead of teaching. Those who love to teach are professional salespeople.
In the private sector there are far too many types of professional salespeople to describe them all here. While successful salespeople have a strong innate sales aptitude, all have different educational backgrounds usually related to whatever they’re selling. As an example, my education and initial work experience was aerospace engineering, so my field of professional sales was, naturally, selling high-tech engineered products and services to that industry.
Now, what exactly did I do? My customers were all aerospace companies and electronics manufacturers spread all over Southern California. My clients were engineers and purchasing agents working in these companies. I called on them regularly to see if they had any upcoming uses for our products or services. When they did, custom engineering was always involved. They would then develop their own engineering requirements to which we suppliers would bid.
Satisfying their engineering requirements called for a proposal that my company engineers and I created and submitted with our prices. There were always at least six competitors bidding against us to meet those requirements. If I did my professional sales job properly, I influenced the customer’s requirements in our favor, which was a huge advantage in our bidding. Great fun!
Professional sales is as close to being in business for oneself as is possible without the burden. Professional salespeople have far more latitude to function without supervision than do any other class of employee.
What is the best college major for a career in professional sales? Liberal arts! Professional sales trainees are always in demand. Because colleges don’t recognize sales as a profession, the private sector is always looking for suitable trainees. Why liberal arts? Because it offers the best opportunity to interface with the widest variety of highly educated and highly paid people and that is vital to professional level sales.
I realize college kids don’t read my columns, but perhaps some of you parents might alert yours to consider this fantastic career that awaits those who are bored with school, especially those who may be considering quitting. Professional sales absolutely require a four-year college degree. Without it the doors are closed.
Bob Thomas is a retired high-tech industrialist who served on the Carson City School Board, the Nevada Welfare Board and the Carson City Airport Authority and as a three-term Assemblyman, and is an author. His book website is www.confessionsoftheentrepreneur.com