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This regional sales manager shares the challenges he faces working in the plastics industry, as well as the importance of having a long-term outlook in this profession. He also shares the most bizarre things that have happened to him on the job, and tells jobseekers what they can expect to make in a career like his.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: My current job title is “Regional Sales Manager” for a consumables company servicing the plastics industry. I have been at the same company for well over 9 years now and have been a sales professional my entire career. Prior to this current position, I worked in the Telecom and Satellite Communications market. If I had to choose three adjectives to describe myself they would likely be perseverance, persistent and loyal.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am a Caucasian male in his early 40s who has both American and Canadian citizenship. I have never experienced discrimination, but I have witnessed it in my career.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: Most individuals assume that a salesperson’s sole responsibility is to convince customers to buy something they otherwise wouldn’t buy. I guess most people see salespeople in the vein of the “used car salesman”. However, the reality is far different. I look upon sales as an opportunity to showcase my strong business acumen. Granted, I must get customers to purchase product, but I can accomplish this without resorting to unsavory tactics. I take a long-term approach to sales and focus my efforts towards securing multiple repeat orders, instead of just a single order predicated on misleading the customer. The sales profession is a noble one and is considered by many to be a recession proof career, and I tend to agree with that.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: I can’t rate my job satisfaction any higher than 7 out of 10. Sales can be an extremely rewarding profession when salespeople have the opportunity at unlimited personal and professional development. When the economy stalls, or the company encounters a slow business cycle, it can often be difficult to continually speak to customers who refuse to buy. I try to maintain a positive outlook, but with the economy the way it is, my salary has stagnated somewhat and it makes it difficult. Still, I am happy to be employed and loyal to my current employer. Once the economy rebounds, my salary will surely increase as well.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: I was made for sales. I like being in a position to convince others that what I have to offer will benefit them. It’s a challenging career and one where you often have to be a different person to different people. I like having to change my approaches and techniques to accommodate a changing market and economic landscape. Sales forces you to deal with uncertainty while always being cognizant of what lies ahead, and what your long-term future holds. This is definitely something I was made to do.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: I am not just a salesperson. Part of the reason I went into sales is because it afforded me the opportunity to work in business development. I take the responsibility of increasing my company’s market share very seriously. I enjoy working as a team and that exposure has empowered me to start sales and marketing consulting outside of my current responsibilities. It’s important to note that salespeople can move into multiple disciplines.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: My career started in consulting. I worked in manufacturing consulting, working with customers who needed to increase their production throughput. However, as I progressed in my job, I often found that I was more interested in the face to face interaction than I was the actual number crunching. I began to appreciate the face time portion of the job, far more so than the time I spent going over production schedules. I would never change anything about how I came to find sales as my profession.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: If there was ever one rule that all salespeople must abide by, it has to be the importance of keeping a long-term vision of where you want to take your career and how you want to progress with your customer. I don’t approach sales with the mindset of maximizing gross profit on just one transaction. Instead, I focus on growing gross profit through series of repeat sales. I learned this lesson by trying to push customers too hard to make decisions they clearly were not interested in making. That mistake cost me customer relationships, relationships that cost my company gross profit and market share.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: In school it often seems as if team members must work around multiple personal schedules and timelines. However, in the working world, everyone must work with the same schedule, with the same timeline and with the same objectives. While many may see sales as a solitary position, it really does boil down to working within a team and for the greater good. I am responsible not only for my own income, but for those I work with and those I work for.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: Aside from the numerous times I’ve been stranded at airports, I would have to say that the strangest thing that every happened to me occurred when I went to sign a large contract with a customer and their doors were closed when I arrived. I spoke with them the Friday before the trip, confirmed that everything was good to go and left on Sunday. By Monday, the company’s doors had closed and I never heard from them or anyone who worked for them, again. It was by far the strangest thing that has ever happened in my entire career.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: I get up each morning knowing I have an employer that appreciates my efforts and a customer base that I have come to enjoy selling to. My customers are repeat customers and we always work towards improving our relationship as vendor and customer. I am proudest when I am able to meet my objectives and budget. It means I have met what the company has expected of me and have been able to deliver what was asked.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: Admittedly, it is often frustrating to deal with difficult customers. I once had a customer who was so angry, so despondent and so hard to deal with, that I almost quit on the spot. Not everyone can work in sales and it is a difficult profession. However, as difficult as it sometimes is, it is also an incredibly rewarding career. It has its highs and lows, but overall, I truly enjoy being a salesperson.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: Sales can be stressful. However, I have come to appreciate the stress. With it comes a lot of responsibility, responsibility that I take very seriously. To alleviate my stress, I make it a point to run 5 kilometers a day at lunch. Exercising while at work is essential, but it is often difficult to exercise while on the road. To compensate, I try and work out as often as possible at the hotel or before retiring for the night.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: Currently I make between $75,000.00 and $85,000.00 a year. My salary has fluctuated within this range for the past several years due to the slowdown of the economy. This salary may seem high, but it always depends upon where you work and live. However, by and large, I am very happy with my current salary, profit sharing and benefits. This is especially true given how hard it is to succeed these days.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I take 3 weeks vacation a year and unfortunately, it is never enough. I have always found that you must take at least two consecutive weeks off in order to truly enjoy your vacation. I need the first week to settle down and alleviate the stress and the second to relax and forget about work. Unfortunately, three weeks isn’t enough but I must admit, no amount of vacation is enough.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: I have a University degree in Economics from Concordia University in Canada. I think the best education is to get a Graduates degree in Commerce, Business or Economics. Sales is never simply trying to get customers to buy something they don’t want to buy. I consider myself a business development professional. As such, I believe I needed to have a University degree in order to succeed.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: If I had to give one friend advice concerning sales, it would have to be to remain vigilant in difficult times and grounded in good times. It is never as good as you think it is and never as bad as it seems. Keep your eyes on the long-term prize ahead of you.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: I hope to be a vice-president of sales and marketing. If I am unable to accomplish this, then I will open my own sales consulting firm.