Try sales – ‘tis nobler than you thought (our weekly column from various Irish newspapers)

Career development has many parallels with the world of sales.

So it is important to first of all check your perception of sales. Does the word make your skin crawl or fill you with warmth, or does it sit somewhere in between?

To many, sales is a dirty word. They equate it with deceptive people, who can’t look you in the eye, pushing unwanted items on people who haven’t the wit to resist the advance. “When I hear sales,” a client once told me, “I think of an insurance man coming to the door and my mother having to fight hard to get rid of him. That’s why I wouldn’t want anything to do with sales.”

But things start to happen – for individuals and for businesses – when somebody, somewhere, makes a sale. It is the engine of business: without sales, there is stagnation and, before too long, the enterprise will run aground.

The person referenced two paragraphs up turned out to be a great salesperson. But, to this day, she wouldn’t dare call it sales. She sees what she does as ‘looking after customers properly’ and ‘making sure they get what they want.’

In other words, she is a salesperson by a different name – but, ultimately, she’s still a salesperson.

I think it is important for people to reframe their understanding of sales. Many years ago, I read something by the late, lamented Zig Ziglar (more anon) that helped me to see sales a different light.

Zig argued that in a real sales transaction, both parties walked away happy. I had my new pair of trousers, you had the 50 bucks for them. But, Zig continued, if there is to be an imbalance in terms of which party is happier than the other, it should be in favour of the buyer.

Why? Because in six months time, the buyer should still have the trousers, and still be knocking a good twist out of them, while the seller is unlikely to still have the 50 bucks.

Zig saw sales as a noble profession. He saw it as the attempt to genuinely meet the needs of customers. One of his key axioms was: “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

There are two conclusions I’d like you to reflect on today:

  • Employers find sales jobs very hard to fill. I read a statistic some time ago that a huge number – perhaps up to 60 per cent if I recall correctly – of sales jobs in the UK remain unfilled. It might be a career worth considering;
  • You must learn how to ‘sell yourself’ in you’re trying to advance your career. You must become comfortable talking and writing about your strengths. You must tell employers how those strengths can help them – remember, “you can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” In a career transaction, you’re the seller, and the employer is the buyer. We have put together an information pack that will help you in this regard, just email with ‘selling myself’ in the subject line.

Anyway, Zig died last November. He was 86.  His podcasts, YouTube videos and books are worth checking out. His son Tom carries on the family tradition and you can read more on

Sli Nua Careers offer CV preparation, interview training and mock interview services at their offices in Galway, Limerick, Dublin, and Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. More on