A Secret Cloaked By Stereotype: Sales Is A Great Career
Career Story by Alison Billroth-MacLurg, PhD, Scientific Sales Representative for STEMCELL Technologies
A career in sales has been one of the best choices I could have ever made for myself or my growing family, but oftentimes is overshadowed by a grimy stereotype that hinders people from applying. Whether it was while buying your next car or during an important experiment in the lab, we have all met that bad salesperson that enforces the stereotype: interrupting your day, putting their needs first, acting on enforced assumptions all with big green dollar signs in their irises. This stereotype was laced in warnings when I left six postdoc offers for the job: “it’s a waste of a PhD”, “money isn’t everything” or “I just don’t want you to regret your decision.” In reality, after the better part of 6 years in academia, I was not excited about any of the postdoc projects landed and felt pushed into a career opportunity because it was the acceptable status quo. Had I taken a postdoc position, I would have worked long hours for little pay with a professional investigator that was expecting passionate curiosity and unquestioned dedication to the project I could not promise. This would have left me limited time and resources to live a balanced life, and I would have regretted it.
In the interest of this career story, freshen your caffeinated beverage, put the stereotype on the shelf next to the papers you have been meaning to read, and focus on a new concept: Scientific Sales is secretly a fantastic career. Here are a few of the reasons why:
Flexibility. I am the first to admit that some days I take remote meetings while on a walk with my dog or at the gym, and 2-3 days of the week are spent with my coworkers: a lazy labrador, cozy URMC sweatpants and a warm cup of tea. While the scale of flexibility varies from job to job, most sales positions allow for the individual to set their own schedule, as long as goals and training levels are met. To not abuse this luxury, extremely strong organization, dedication and time management skills need to be demonstrated, but the reward of schedule flexibility can be tremendous. Imagine taking a mental break by dusting off those running shoes, or completing that quick personal errand without guilt or fear of retribution. This flexibility can however be addictive: once the freedom of setting your daily schedule is part of your routine, it is hard to go to any desk job that requires time and location expectations. Additionally, you can overwork yourself as no one is telling you it’s five o’clock. I often use my dogs wet nose on my lap as a barometer to take a break or call it a day.
Job Security. Ever heard of the phrase “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”? Successful sales professionals have one of the most secure jobs in the business world because no one wants to cut a person making money for the company. Terminating sales positions would mean cutting incoming revenue, which is not a good plan for a business looking to remain viable and competitive. Not to mention, the opportunities are endless for upward mobility such as consulting, medical science liaison or management positions, all the while increasing your own market value. Since starting this position, I am contacted by recruiters monthly on LinkedIn about new positions, and my market value only increases with experience the longer I stay at my current position. This is because every business that sells a product or service needs effective sales people, and if you can effectively speak the rare language of science with ease, you are even more coveted. The majority of my conversations with customers requires a vast knowledge of immunology and technical support in order to develop solutions to problems and maintain great customer relationships. Additionally, those three letters at the name suffix, PhD, provides a veil of unspoken trust and enforces a shared point of view and mutual respect that we all were once Piled Higher and Deeper in the challenges of academia.
Compensation. After counting my pennies throughout my PhD, missing vacations, weddings and dental appointments, I regret to inform you that money does make life a bit easier. Employers are willing to do what it takes to get their sales team motivated to improve sales, increasing business revenues and company success. This corporate motivation usually comes in the form of a high five- to six figure income, in addition to health benefits that include dental and vision. There’s also a retirement plan and in the case of my company, STEMCELL Technologies, a bi-annual retreat to Whistler, BC. In addition to the yearly salary, most positions have a bonus structure based on the sales performance, which, if quotas and activity expectations are exceeded, can lead to unlimited income potential. With this change, I have been able to manage my finances so that I can save for the things that make life a little sweeter, like visiting family, taking vacations, building a home or even raising a family of my own.
Seeing Results. Personally, one of the most debilitating parts of academia was not always seeing my long hours and hard work reflected in the scientific results. I found that I craved positive reinforcement to keep me pushing through all the negative outcomes, and academic science is not a natural mental cheerleader. In sales, a person’s success is measured in revenue numbers and growth of the territory, thus, in sales I have physical numbers that reflect my hard work and career success I can use to remind myself I am good at my job. In addition, the emotional rewards after closing a large deal are addictive and tremendously positive- resulting in a thicker wallet, job security for your support and admin staff, and a satisfied customer. In all honesty, knowing that your hard work beat out a competitor and helped your customer save a project spiraling down to research purgatory is often more rewarding then any bonus income earned.
With that said, sales is not for everyone. A good sales professional has to be self-motivated with a great organized work ethic. A good sales professional must not be shy to meet new people, maintain eye contact and display excellent communication that exudes just the right amount of confidence to show product knowledge while still listening to their intuition, the customer’s needs and the customer’s unspoken interpersonal cues. A good sales rep must not be bothered by days full of interactions with people sandwiched by independent office days where your co-worker is your dog.
I love my job, but please choose the right job for yourself. Listen to your intuition and find a job that champions the skills you already have and develops your weaknesses into strengths. I invite all interested parties to ignore the sales stereotype and join me in helping people find solutions to their research problems and enjoy a little more work/life balance. Your pet will thank you for it. Join me Friday May 11 from noon - 1:00 pm to learn more the job. I'll be in the Center for Experiential Learning in Room 2-7520/2-7534.
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