by Paul Owen, shortlisted in 2018 The Business Book Awards for his book, Secret Skill: Hidden Career, published by Rethink Press. The Business Book Awards 2019 is now open for entries.


Recruiting great salespeople is one of the biggest challenges we all face as we grow our companies. One of the main reasons for this is that too many people are turned off by sales at the beginning of their careers by the stereotypes we see. Society tends to look down on sales people saying that many are dishonest or unethical. That is true in some cases, but there are the dishonest and unethical people in every walk of life.

Having trained tech sales teams in the UK, Ireland and across mainland Europe and having recruited sales teams for clients in the worlds of property, tech, media and finance, I have been around sales teams for nearly 20 years and have worked hard for the last 10 years to introduce more people into the world of sales. I have spoken about sales at dozens of schools, colleges and universities to thousands of young people and I believe that there are 3 myths that, in particular, turn them off sales as both a career and, even more importantly, as a skill that is needed in nearly every job available.

So, what are the myths?

Sales Myth 1: Sales is about talking at people all the time

When I run communication programmes with students, I first ask them to sell something to the person sitting next to them. In 60 seconds, they must convince the buyer that this is the greatest chair/desk/bag in the world and is worth every penny of their money. I start the clock and watch them sell away!

Here’s what usually happens.

The seller talks and talks, running out of content between 20 and 35 seconds. Then, they repeat what they’ve already said or demonstrate their ability to convey the exact same meaning using different words. As for the potential buyers, they process very little of what the seller actually says. Largely, it becomes ‘Blah, blah, blah …’

Talking at people is not the right way to sell because it’s not the way we like to buy things. We don’t like people we don’t know telling us that a product or service will change our lives.

Selling – done properly – is helping people make good buying decisions. We do that by asking great questions and understanding needs. Only then might we sell something that matches the needs identified. Talking all the time? No! Listening, then matching.

Sales Myth 2: Nobody likes being sold to because everybody hates salespeople

We love being sold to. I promise, we really do. We just don’t like being sold to in the way I described above. We don’t like being lectured, closed in sixty seconds by an assumptive, over-confident pitch during which we have no input. But it’s different if we trust the person selling; if they’re professional, credible, likeable; if they take time to understand us first and only sell us something relevant and interesting that solves problems we have.

Great salespeople make buyers feel the way great doctors do. They build trust. They take time to understand people. They make recommendations based on information learnt about their potential customer, and they offer solutions to a problem. When we’re helped and reassured by someone with knowledge, understanding and credibility, we are thankful when they enable us to make a good decision. That’s why I say we love being sold to.

Sales Myth 3: Sales is a low-level job with no career prospects
For almost any job, sales skills are imperative. For some of the best business roles available, a background in sales is the most fertile breeding ground for a successful business future.

Where did Alan Sugar start the career that saw him build his company, Amstrad, from nothing to a market valuation at its peak of £150 million? What about James Caan, who also built his recruitment companies into multi-million-pound operations before selling them for £170 million? Or even Sara Blakely who, at 37, became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.

They spent their early years honing their future business minds through the art of sales. Through the art of finding then engaging an audience in relevant, compelling conversations that moved them to pay money in return for products and services. That’s sales and that is business.

There are countless examples to prove that sales is not a low-level job with no career prospects. On the contrary, it’s the foundation of all business and one of the best places to start a business career.

The damaging myths convince too many people that sales is not for them. If we can make more people aware of the truth, we will significantly increase both the size and the quality of the sales talent pool available to us all.

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