Most of us have a basic understanding of the traditional “professions” such as doctors, lawyers, accountant which will be fairly accurate and similar to what the roles actually are. However, when it comes to sales how much do we really understand about what this type of career might actually involve?

Julie Nottage, now CEO at Aquamarine Consultancy in Bristol, is an expert trainer with a real passion for people & business specialising in management consultancy. Julie very kindly shared the inspirational story of how she initially set out on a completely different career path, couldn’t find the spark to know what she wanted to really do in life and how she stumbled across her future employer having mistakenly dismissed any possibility of sales as a potential career. Here’s what she told us …

Getting your first-choice career and it not being right

I started out wanting desperately to be a Chartered Accountant from the age of about 16 and was determined to get into this profession. I studied Economics to help this future ambition, I applied to the major accountancy firms and yes…….got my dream job offer to join an Accountancy firm as a Trainee Chartered Accountant. Sorted, life goal achieved…here I go!

Fast forward two years and you would find a desperately unhappy person forcing herself to get up every day to do a job that I personally did not enjoy. Was it that I couldn’t do the role, the auditing and numerical analysis? No, it’s just that I wasn’t a good match for this career. So, with my parent’s support, I bit the bullet and resigned one sunny Friday to the horror of my boss!!

What to do when you’re in the wrong place

I had only ever looked at Accountancy roles, so I went back to the drawing board and, with an A4 piece of paper, I sat down and wrote out two columns – one listing the things I love (people, communication, variety, leadership) and the other saying things I did not like at the time.

My Mum and I then looked in the jobs pages of the newspapers ( and apprenticeships weren’t really around then) and I applied for anything that matched with my ‘Likes’ column!

After many interviews and hard work, I managed to get offers for the following roles – Trainee Newsreader for the BBC, Executive Officer for the Ministry of Defence, Teacher Training, PA office for WEA records, and HR for an Accountancy firm. Yes, they were all varied, but whilst they all met my “Likes” list, none really set my heart on fire.

Going to a careers fair changed my life!

That summer, I went to a careers fair and was looking at the various stalls waiting for that light bulb moment to arrive when a chap approached me from the Procter & Gamble (P&G) stand. Just to explain – P&G are a huge US-owned consumer good company known to most of us as the name behind the high street brands such as Aerial, Bold 2-in-1, Febreze, Head & Shoulders shampoo, Olay and Gillette amongst others. And of their 65 brands, about half generate sales of more than $500 million a year.

However, back at the time of the careers fair, sales was an option that I had already dismissed due to my lack of self-confidence, shyness and perception of what it would be like as a job.

“Have you ever thought of a career in sales?” I was asked unexpectedly. “No thank you.” I replied. “I am quite shy, would not like to drive around in a Rep car all day with my jacket hanging in the back, sell to people who don’t want to buy and anyway I don’t have the gift of the gab”.

Luckily the P&G employee persisted. “But that’s not what sales is about.” He said. “It’s about self-management, leadership, collaboration, business management and creativity. To convince you, why not come for an interview to see if you like us and if we like you? You could shadow someone currently in the role.”

I took the risk, had the interview and enjoyed many years of a wonderful sales career in P&G.

What I learned about sales

You can learn how to sell – To start with, it’s easy to think that you have to be born to sell, but let’s get this straight: nobody is born with selling ability, although everyone is capable of it.

It’s not about how you talk the talk – It’s also common to believe that you need the ‘gift of the gab’ to be successful at selling, but it’s really not about smooth talking; it’s about doing a lot of simple things well.

There’s a technique to sales – So often you also hear people say that lack of success with a sale is down to the customer, whereas 90% of sales in my experience are actually down to the individual sales person and their specific, individual approach.

You make your own luck – You can’t put a good sale down to pure luck! We all create and own our luck – especially in sales.

It’s never about the price – It is never purely about the cost: just remember that price is rarely the reason for losing an opportunity, but it might be the excuse and there’s an opportunity to ask questions to find out more about what is really behind any objection.

And finally …

My reality turned out to be that sales is a fantastic career choice for any self-motivated person who loves a mixture of people and business.

And my mantra has always been “Business Results Through People Not Despite Them” which completely sums up sales: collaboration with customers, colleagues and consumers is key. Having a passion for selling is contagious and therefore motivating.

Responsibility is given to you on day one and I started by managing a sales territory worth £100,000 and finished as a Sales Director managing 25 people and a £40 million business.

But the very best part is that it’s a FUN career that is also immensely rewarding. Take a look, lose the pre-conceptions and surprise yourself!!! Good luck.

Thank you, Julie. You can reach Julie at Aquamarine Consultancy in Bristol on [email protected] It’s Your Future – Let’s Get It Started!

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