I like when college students come to my door and try to sell me stuff. Strange, I know. Why exactly would anyone want to answer the door for a salesperson? Well, I like to hear their sales pitch. My husband finds this brand of entertainment amusing and thinks I am crazy. Since I work with college students and many of the salespeople who knock on my door are young folks, I like to think of it as research.
The summer internship season is fast approaching and there will be a ton of sales and marketing internships and summer jobs available. When I worked placing interns with major media companies, there were always an overwhelming number of requests for sales interns. The positions that I filled ranged from selling internet or cable services door-to-door to supporting sales teams negotiating multimillion dollar advertising contracts for major television networks.
As a ardent advocate of students doing at least four internships in college, I think at least one of those internships should be in sales, no matter your major. The transferable skills you can gain in selling products or services are super valuable across most careers no matter your professional goals.
The transferable skills you can gain in selling products or services are super valuable across most careers no matter your professional goals.
I was a public relations major who completed eight internships between undergrad and grad school. Two of the eight internships I did were in sales. Senior year I took my one and only business elective (an advertising course). I learned more about sales and business in those two internships than additional business courses would have taught me.
Take a look at the 2017 Top 50 Internships ranked by vault.com there are multiple companies that deal with financial and retail sales. Sales positions will always be around. You don’t have to always be a business, sales or marketing major to land an internship in those areas. Companies value liberals arts background as well technical backgrounds, if you can get the job done.
Transferable Skills You Can Learn in Sales
So why exactly do I open the door when I know all they want to do is sell me something? Just yesterday, I had a young college student knock on my door to try and get me to book an appointment to get a quote for new windows on my house. Much like when I interview candidates for internships or jobs, I was observing to see if he was making good eye contact, displayed confidence, was knowledgeable, seemed genuinely interested in the product he was selling and if he seemed to be making stuff up.
A good sales person makes eye contact, displays confidence, demonstrates knowledge, is genuine, can problem solve, and can think quickly on their feet. To be successful in sales you need to be creative, organized, be able to handle rejection, be persistent, have great public speaking and presentation skills, have solid writing skills, and have better than average research skills to find leads and understand your competitors offerings. According to a survey of hiring managers by payscale.com:
- 39% of managers found their recently matriculated hires to be lacking in public speaking skills
- 44% of managers surveyed said new grads lacked writing skills
- 36% reported lower-than-needed interpersonal and teamwork skills
- 56% indicated that new grads fail to pay attention to detail
- 25% felt new grads lacked grit
Those hard and soft skills that employers are looking for are not all going to come from the classroom. After 8-12 weeks in a sales role, most interns will walk away with enhanced skills in all of these areas and more.
The young man at my door was very confident in his sales pitch and did the all the things he’d been taught to say to overcome my objections, without being pushy. He did a really good job. I didn’t book the appointment because I’m not in the market for windows. I did however ask him to wait for a minute while I went and got a a copy of my book, The Internship Manual: A Step-by-Step-Guide to Getting the Internship of Your Dreams to give to him for free.
I Sucked at My First Sales Internship
My very first internship freshman year was in group sales for a professional AAA baseball team. I am a sports junkie and at the time my goal was to work for a major sports franchise in any area. I was not very successful in the sales aspect of that first internship. I only sold two groups of tickets, one of which was to my church. Looking for leads, cold calling… it was a lot of work but it taught me to work through rejection and be persistent. It was often frustrating, but earning a commission on those two group sales was a pretty good feeling.
My second sales internship was my senior year when I participated in the Enterprise Rent A Car Management Internship program. I wasn’t cold calling or door knocking, but working in sales and marketing I learned about upselling, offering additional products or services and maintaining relationships with local companies in an effort to keep and increase sales. Like I said, sales happens in many different ways. I spent 8 months with ERAC at three different locations. I enjoyed my time and recommend it to students who want to gain some solid business, sales and marketing experience.
Over the course of my professional career, I’ve worked in sales of products or services with varying levels of success. Even in my positions that weren’t directly sales related, I’ve often had to call on my sales skills when creating new relationships, presenting new ideas in meetings, and developing new business opportunities. Even in networking situations, solid sales training could help you become comfortable talking to complete strangers and learn to develop a quick but impressive elevator pitch.
Do Your Research First
Some companies will attempt to lure broke and unsuspecting college students with promises of big money in just a few weeks. However, don’t just jump at the first company that promises you can earn $50,000 over the summer. Do your research and learn about the company and if it is a good fit for you. Google is your friend to find out what others have to say and also check with your university career services office.
In another occurrence a few weeks ago, I had two young men attempt to sell me on a new energy provider. They told me that they “managers of all the area energy company providers”. Really dude? It was a very short conversation because I clearly knew they were lying. Make sure the company is legit and reputable. If you don’t believe in or even like the product or service yourself, then you won’t be successful anyways. Working in sales does not mean lying for a living.
At the end of it all, you don’t want to waste your summer working for a company that doesn’t really care if you succeed or not. A good company is going to provide real training and invest in your success while teaching you good sales strategy. Sales can be a tough place to succeed. I’m not trying to get you to change major or career goals, but merely want you to expand your horizons and accept different challenges that will help you become better at whatever career you decide to pursue.
Download my free Internship Manual toolkit for a roadmap to finding the right internship.