Paul Owen, MD of True Sales, dispels misconceptions about working in sales, and how teaching sales-related skills in schools can benefit young people in their careers and lives
It took Paul Owen 32 years to find the career that was right for him. Living on a friend’s sofa, with £27,000 of debt spread across nine credit cards, the future seemed fairly bleak. But landing a role in sales changed everything.
Four years later, Paul's annual income hit six figures for the first time. Now, he is a passionate advocate for sales as a career, challenging misconceptions around what sales is and questioning why we don’t prepare our young people with sales skills before they enter the workplace.
Having spent the last 23 years working in sales, including over a decade working as a sales trainer and business coach, Paul is calling on schools to prepare young people for the working world by teaching them how to sell. Here, he shares his insights into the value of sales to young people and to the economy as a whole.
Unlocking economic potential through sales education
Let’s consider the context. The UK economy is struggling. It’s projected to grow at the slowest rate of the G7 over the coming year, at just 0.6 per cent. Clearly, we need to lay the foundations for future prosperity.
It’s hard to say precisely how many people in the UK work in sales, as the government doesn’t monitor the number of sales roles in the way that they do in America or the EU. However, in his excellent book To Sell Is Human, Dan Pink estimates there to be about three million salespeople working here. That’s 3 million people whose education didn’t prepare them for the roles they are in—roles that are essential to a healthy, thriving economy.
Clearly, sales education in schools could do much to rectify this, preparing future generations to support economic growth. But that’s far from the only benefit, as we can see when we start to challenge the misconceptions around sales.
Breaking misconceptions: The true nature of sales
The reluctance to introduce sales into the education system stems from a widespread misunderstanding of its essence. Societal perceptions often cast sales as coercive, pushing individuals to acquire items that they neither want nor need.
"Sales, when done properly, helps people make good buying decisions"
Contrary to this portrayal, sales, when done properly, helps people make good buying decisions. To do that, salespeople must find out the truth about a client’s needs. At its heart, then, sales is a mission: the search for truth.
The mission of sales: Unveiling the truth
The search for truth involves the salesperson helping an individual to work out what they need through clear, open dialogue. It may be that the salesperson can help the buyer with a product or service that meets that need. If they can, great! If not, so be it. Either way, the salesperson uses active listening and clear communication to help the individual achieve a better understanding of what it is they need.
Successful sales professionals invest time and effort in understanding clients and their needs. By uncovering the truth, they can provide valuable advice to their clients, enabling them to make sound decisions.
Sales education and workforce needs
Communication is at the heart of this ethical approach to sales—that’s where the education element comes in. Communication is something we can learn to be better at from a young age. Being able to clearly communicate, and to understand the true two-way nature of dialogue, is empowering, yet so many children grow up without realising this.
"Being able to clearly communicate can empower young people"
It’s a huge wasted opportunity, not just for the business world, but for all those young people. After all, the ability to communicate better doesn’t just benefit people in their professional lives but in their personal relationships, too. Better communication can support happier relationships. It can also help youngsters feel more socially confident, which is another bonus as we navigate the choppy waters of the post-lockdown era in our schools and wider society.
Tough times for businesses
Despite the substantial role sales plays in business functions, there is a notable scarcity of well-trained sales professionals in the UK job market due to the lack of education around sales in schools—and even in most university business courses. It’s remarkable that thousands graduate in business each year without a single lesson on sales. This means that businesses across every sector can face challenges in recruiting, retaining and developing effective sales teams. We need to address this by preparing individuals for the demands of the workforce.
It's also important to remember that sales skills aren’t only for people who sell for a living. Even non-sales professionals spend an average of 40 per cent of their working life engaged in sales-related activities in the workplace. By incorporating sales, the education system can equip individuals with essential soft and communication skills, bridging the gap between academic knowledge and practical workplace requirements.
It's time to take action. Integrating sales training into our education system can help build personal and economic resilience. We need a paradigm shift in educational priorities; one that can bolster confidence, reduce social anxiety and foster effective communication for the benefit of our young people and our economic strength.
Banner photo: Teaching young people about sales can improve their communication skills (credit: Alexander Suhorucov (Pexels))
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