Is selling a worthwhile career?


by Herman Alvaranga

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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The simplest way to think of the nature and role of selling is to make a sale.

This seemingly obvious statement disguises what is often a very complex process. This involves the use of a set of principles and techniques as well as substantial personal skills. This process also includes a wide range of different types of selling tasks. For example, there are those sales positions where the sales representative is required primarily to deliver the product to the customer on a regular or periodic basis. The emphasis in this type of sales activity is very different from the sales position where the sales representative is dealing with sales of capital equipment to industrial purchasers or complex financial services to astute investors.


One of the most striking aspects of selling is the wide diversity of selling roles. Broadly, salespeople can be classified as one of the following: order-taker, order-creator and order-getter.

Order-takers respond to already committed customers; order-creators do not directly receive orders since they talk to those who specify rather than buyers; while order-getters attempt to persuade customers to place an order directly.


I have never met a veteran Jamaican salesman who doesn't know how to beat their psychometric test!

Because of the wide range of selling situations and positions in sales, it is not possible to provide a specific prescription of the qualities required for a successful sales career. There is no definitive test or selection procedure that can be used to distinguish between successful and less successful salespeople, and apart from 'trying it out' there is no way of knowing if a person is suited to a career in sales.

However, there are a number of key qualities that are generally recognised as being important:

1. Empathy and an interest in people: This helps in more accurately identifying customers' real needs and problems, and understanding why the customers feel as they do.

2. Ability to communicate: This means an ability to get a message across to a customer, and the ability to listen and understand.

3. Determination: Although the salesperson must be able to take no for an answer, this should not come easily to someone who wants to succeed in selling. Determined salespeople often succeed in closing a sale.

4. Self-discipline and resilience: Most salespeople spend much of their time unsupervised and, apart from seeing customers, they are alone. As part of their job they can expect setbacks, rejections and failures. A salesperson thus needs to be both self-disciplined and resilient.


How many of you reading this article had parents who wanted you to become a salesperson upon graduation from college?

Mention of the word selling will prompt a variety of responses. It will evoke a high proportion of negative, even hostile, responses, including 'immoral', 'dishonest', 'unsavoury', 'degrading' and 'wasteful'. These underlying attitudes to selling derive from widely held misconceptions about selling, two of which are outlined below.

1. Selling is not a worthwhile career:

This notion is held by many, the common attitude being that if one has talent, then it will be wasted in sales. Unfortunately this attitude is often held by those in a position to advise and influence young people in their choice of careers. In some circles it is fashionable to denigrate careers in selling, with the consequence that many of our brighter graduates are not attracted to a career in selling.

2. Good products will sell themselves, and thus the selling process adds unnecessarily to costs:

This view assumes that if you produce a superior product, then there will always be buyers. This may be all right if a firm can produce a technologically superior product, but then it is likely that additional costs will accrue in terms of research and development, and there will be continued research and development costs involved in keeping ahead.

Needless to say, neither of these is correct.


As Bearden, Ingram, LaForge (2002) point out, “Sales personnel, along with management, are the prime bearers of the burden of contributing to profit by producing revenue.” Big up the sales professional everywhere!

Given their critical importance to achieving the firm's business level objectives, it is time for companies to give salespeople the respect that is due to them. The reality is that many people who have spent a lifetime in selling have found it to be a challenging, responsible and rewarding occupation. Usually these sales professionals are the backbone of their company.

If, like most companies, you offer a differentiated product, mass marketing alone cannot obtain the right commitment and achieve the exchange of value. You need salespeople unless, perhaps, you are selling the good old Jamaican JB overproof rum. And even then you will need an order-taker.

Herman Alvaranga FCIM, MBA is president of the Caribbean School of Sales & Marketing (CSSM). For more insights on sales and marketing go to his blog at

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