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Sales 101: How to Build Your Sales Career from Square One

Thinking about a career in Business?  Ever wondered if you have what it takes to be in Sales?  Wondering if that business idea you have could translate into a successful company?  Here at schools.com, we not only provide you with the information you need about online and campus degree programs; we also give you behind-the-scenes access to a wide variety of careers.  If you don't have the time to do an internship where you learn the ins and outs of an industry, the next best thing is to read about the professional journeys of successful people whom you would like to emulate.

I sat down with Kevin Cooley, an accomplished Sales Executive, who prior to starting a life insurance brokerage company ran a $425M sales segment for a Fortune 50 company.  Kevin has 25 + years of sales management experience. Learn more about his professional journey below. 

1.  You are now the President of Life Asset Consultants, Inc., after working as a Regional Sales executive for Dell Computer for eight years.  Can you paint a picture of your professional journey for readers?

I grew up in the Western New York area (Buffalo, New York) and attended the University of Buffalo.  I majored in Sociology, with concentrations in English and Business.  After graduating, I decided to move to South Africa to expand my personal and professional horizons.  This overseas move turned out to be a risk that reaped tremendous rewards, both personally and professionally.

I had several business mentors along the way; however, one individual in particular stands out--Marshall Ward, the COO of Heublein - Kentucky Fried Chicken, in Johannesburg, South Africa. When I was a "rookie" in the business world, he invested in me and taught me how to run a business. Living and working internationally gave me with great insight and a deep appreciation for other cultures.  By getting my hands dirty and really being a sponge, I gradually learned the subtle nuances of running a successful business operation in a very diverse market and business environment.

2.  When hiring new employees, how attractive is a post-graduate degree in business to you?  Do you think a candidate with an online master's degree in international business would be more appealing than a candidate with a bachelor's degree in international business?

Post-graduate degrees are of high value. Any individual with knowledge of the international marketplace is highly attractive in today's global market. In my day to day business interactions, I deal with many US based companies; however, I often work directly with companies like Credit Suisse, Barclays and Goldman Sachs. The secondary market for life insurance policies - Life Settlement is an international market with significant players ranging from hedge funds to widely respected investment banks.

3.  If you could make the time, would you choose to earn a post-graduate degree online?  Do you think it would help you?  If so, what would be your area of study?

Regarding the topic of online education, I am certainly a big fan.  I am a very active user of this modern learning portal.  While working as a Regional Sales Manager for Dell,  I used online education to effectively manage a widely diverse geographic sales team.  I currently use online education to broaden my skillset; more specifically, I have enrolled in online classes to earn new license eligibility for multiple states and markets.   To take my business to an even higher level, I would be interested in earning an online MBA in marketing and/or a graduate degree in technology optimization, as both online degrees would be a significant value.  Being able to earn these degrees from the convenience of my own home office is very appealing, as my schedule does not allow for the traditional classroom post-graduate degree experience.  I anticipate that earning my online MBA in Marketing would give me the tools to create web-based marketing campaigns to reach high quality prospects.

4.  What kind of personality do you have to have to be successful in business?  What kind of personality do you have to have to be successful in sales?

There are several personality traits needed for success in business, as well as in sales. Key personality traits are: honesty, superior work ethic, intelligence, communication skills--both written and verbal--and a "do whatever it takes" attitude. Your prospects and customers will do business with "problem solvers", meaning individuals who bring value to them. Sales people who listen to their customers' problems and business issues and address these issues with solutions are successful. Above all, the most important personality trait is "likeability." People buy from people they like, know and trust. In short, customers want people they can count on on to deliver consistently.

5.  How has the current recession affected you professionally? Do you think earning an online MBA could help job-seekers gain an edge in a competitive market?

No doubt the current economic climate has been a challenge for every business person. Education is of high value. Combining superior education, with a solid work ethic and a team player mentality will help ensure an individual's personal and business success.

6.  How can entry-level sales associates make their mark?  How do you differentiate yourself from the crowd-especially during a time when job security is so difficult to find?

Everyone has to start "somewhere" in sales. Good sales people are successful at every level with any product. Their intelligence, work ethic and competitive nature typically ensure this. You differentiate yourself in sales with a superior work ethic, education/intelligence and an assertive, but pleasant, everyday approach to your prospect/customer base.

Job security in the sales world is tied to performance. There is no tenure; nothing guarantees your job security except your ability to perform and deliver assigned targets and objectives. Good sales people are highly paid and rarely have to look for a job. Companies find them based on customer or professional referral.

Selling is a "belly to belly" sport. Spend quality time in front of your prospects and customers. They will be more anxious to buy from you than you are to sell to them. It all starts with a RELATIONSHIP. If you develop a business relationship based on respect, value add and mutual trust, you can have a very lucrative sales career.

Connect with Kevin Cooley on LinkedIn.