“Life of a Salesman” (The case for a career in sales)

By: Tom Phelps, @phelpsgs

Ask any group of children what they want to be when they grow up and many will call out policeman while others will say fireman and a few may even say they want to become a princess. One thing you will not hear is a child stating they want to be a salesman when they become an adult.            

In a similar vein, wander into any sport management class at a university level and ask the students what they want to do in sports when they graduate. There will be a few broadcasters even a couple of prospective sports agents but the majority will say they want to work in marketing. Once again, nobody will pick the goal of a position in sales.            

This strikes a familiar cord with the author who is a veteran of over twenty years in sales BUT it was not always that way. The original dream was to enjoy a career in sports, not a career in sports sales.           

My first foray in sports was a low level baseball internship, which consisted of full menu of telemarketing/operations/public relations and even promoting. It was originally public relations that excited my passion at first but it was the telemarketing skills that led to the next job within the walls of the National Basketball Association (NBA). It was at the NBA that it was noticed the whole public relations department consisted of a two person staff that was woefully underpaid.

The lesson learned was that there are thousands of people who would like a career in public relations and it is not best way to get a foot in the door and also keep it there in the world of sports. With a career in public relations not as appealing as it once appeared, I was able to dabble in game operations with the NBA thought working in the world of stadium operations might be the way to go.

After working for a year as the Director of Operations for a minor league baseball team, the twenty-hour physically intensive workdays in one hundred degree heat was enough to convince myself that it was time to go another route in the world of sports. Finally, it all circled back to sales, starting with a position a part of a popular minor league hockey team.

The bottom line was to maintain a job with a sports team, the sports team needed to generate revenue. It was at this point that I dove full time into the world of sales. Now it is time to go into detail about the positives for a career in sales.

Salary – Salespeople are going to be some of the highest paid people in the organization because they will get a piece of all the revenue they bring in for the team.

As an example, when I worked for an NBA team, there were sales representatives that held the same position for years. While it looked like their career had stagnated, these sales reps drove luxury cars and one even owned several race horses. They had found an area were they were paid very well. If you work in public relations, operations or marketing, your salary is static because you are not bringing in any extra revenue to the organization.

Independence – Working in sales gives you the freedom to be outside of the office for meetings and networking.  If you are producing, the powers that be will never ask why you were not in the office first thing in the morning or were not there until the end of the day.

The bottom line is that revenue is being produced for the company. Other positions in sports will not allow you time out of the office.

Freedom to be Creative – Working in sales allows you to have fun in your position and to bring smiles to patrons’ faces. I will always remember the deal I struck with Purina to have “Meow Mix” night at a minor league baseball game featuring dozens of versions of the signature cat mix song. Sales is a position that allows you to color outside the lines and not get your hand slapped for it.

Job Security – This is the most important aspect in sales. If you can sell, you can bring in revenue. If you are bringing in money to an organization they will want you around and will go out of their way to retain you. A case in point, the author has been able to dictate terms with the hours worked, physical limitations and even living and commuting conditions with different organizations when seeking a position.

While people may still consider sales a five letter word, it is very important to remember what you are selling is fun. It is not insurance, copiers pre-paid legal work; most people in the world enjoy sports or at the least enjoy things that are entertaining.

My advice to people looking to enter the world of sports is to not be one of the hundreds of people looking for public relations or marketing positions but to go to the route of sales, which is what really drives a franchise.           

It has been twenty plus years since I decided sales was the best course of action for a career in sports. Was being a salesman the dream? No. Is being a salesman a dream come true? No. But, for me being able to work for my hometown and all time favorite team and to be able to stand on the sideline during nationally televised games and to be well compensated for it, it has become a dream come true. 

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