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Lessons learned from a job in sales

This summer I learned the value of creating a lasting and positive impression on people in my own amateur social experiment.

What was it, you ask? Well, I was a sales representative this summer, selling a product to people in their homes.

Wait, wait! Hold the stones and pickaxes for a few moments longer.

I know many people don’t like salesmen, and have some negative preconceptions about them. Perhaps the reader had a bad experience at one time. I’ve heard a few horror stories.

Before this summer, my own notion of a “salesperson” had been a slick, sly, manipulative moneygrubber who twists and sugarcoats the honest truth into a sales pitch, and whose only interest is streamlining our wallets.

However, after applying for the job and finding out what it entailed, instead of washing my hands of the idea, I was intrigued.

How grand would it be to have a first-hand, intimate perspective on how people live, how they interact, and how they judge strangers in such an extreme situation, when that stranger happens to be someone who is selling something?

Most of all, as a natural introvert, I wanted to improve my people skills. After all, sales might be one of the most personable and charismatic careers in the job world, and I thought it may be able to teach me some things.

And it did.

Believe it or not, I didn’t learn any sales pitches or how to manipulate people, and didn’t have to worry about trying to convince my customers to buy a laughable product, since the product I’m selling is actually genuinely excellent.

However, one of the pointers I learned that has proved the most helpful in other aspects of my life is the importance of making a great, lasting impression every day, and how to do it.

There are three keys to making great first impressions. Smile, Handshake, and Eye Contact.

They seem obvious, right? However, they’re a little more difficult to do.

Imagine you’re having a bad day. You forget your mother’s birthday, you miss a quiz in one of your classes you skipped, your kitten dies and you have a paper due tomorrow that you haven’t started yet.

Still want to smile at that professor?

You still have to if you want to make a good impression. Most people don’t assume you’ve had a bad day, they assume that you’re just a cross and unfriendly person.

First, make your smile sincere, realistic and genuine. If you don’t smile, it’s a mirror, and people won’t smile at you.

When I first started my presentations, I wondered why I never seemed to have unpleasant people. Most everyone was wonderful and kind, whether they bought from me or not.

I think a lot of that was that I sincerely liked meeting my customers and I let my face show it. Not many people can be unpleasant to someone who genuinely smiles at them, even if they were suspicious and apprehensive at first of the “big, bad salesperson.”

Second, a firm handshake means everything in showing your confidence.

In “sizing people up,” people make snap-shot judgments in initial contact.

A wimpy, weak handshake gives the impression of a distracted, insecure person.

A strong handshake shows a self-assurance and courteousness rare in many people.

The handshake isn’t something one would use on campus very much, if ever. However, it leaves a lasting impression on a new professor, employer, or in any professional situation.

Third, the package is made complete with direct, friendly eye contact. Without eye contact, a good smile and handshake are cast to the wind.

Maintaining good eye contact is difficult to do. Avoiding meeting someone’s eyes leaves a shifty and insecure impression, but obviously a hard, constant glare is just as bad. Yikes.

And, in order to make good eye contact, you have to get over your own insecurities.

I wanted to share these pointers with everyone, because I noticed an evident change in the way I was perceived last year, before my selling experience, and this year, after selling.

I am more confident in meeting new people, and know how to build rapport with most people, which is incredibly important in making new friends. Beyond that, I’m also comfortable and competent on the phone, which used to be an unnerving ordeal.

Many times, we tend to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. It has always been hard for me to approach new people and make good impressions.

We can control the way we are perceived, however — and, in doing so, change the way we perceive ourselves.

E-mail comments to Jessica at [email protected].

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