Learn to Sell

Mastering the art of selling will put any entrepreneur in good stead.

By Robert Carroll

Years ago, I told my father I wanted to be a CEO when I grew up. Of what kind of company, it didn’t matter. No doubt feeling very proud of his son’s ambition, my dad nevertheless took the opportunity (as he often does) to share some advice: “Get a job in sales. That’s where you’ll learn the skills to be a CEO,” he said.

At the time, the correlation between sales and being CEO wasn’t clear. After all, doesn’t a CEO have a VP of sales?

When I graduated from high school I decided to serve a two-year mission for my church in South America. I thought it would be a magnificent journey of service and spirituality, but it also turned out to be an intensive course in face-to-face sales. I spent my days selling my religion to strangers in Santiago, Chile. And I loved it.

After my mission I went to college. I thought student government would be fun, so throughout my college career I took the lead on several student body government campaigns (including my own). I was surprised to learn that politics was the art of selling ideas.

My professional work since then has stretched across the banking, tech, and venture capital industries. None of my job titles even hinted at sales. Yet day after day, I have needed to develop and utilize selling techniques in order to do good work.

In his book To Sell is Human, Daniel H.Pink looks at the art of selling in a “broader sense –persuading, influencing, and convincing others.” While only some work in actual sales roles, the business landscape is shifting towards a model where everyone is selling.

This is especially true for startup companies, where the same person might be doing marketing, people management, sales, and design all at the same time. This breadth of skills is absolutely crucial for entrepreneurs, and becoming the status quo everywhere else. Pink calls it “elasticity,” and warns that we now live in a world that punishes “fixed skills and prizes elastic ones.”

It’s time to take a look at yourself to see if you have invested enough time and energy to become a proficient seller. It very well may be the most important skill you need for a successful career. I’m not a CEO (yet), but I’ll be following my dad’s advice in order to become one someday.