Research, empathy, problem solving: these are tools of a successful salesperson. The “sales pitch” is more of a conversation than a lecture, and learning how to bounce back from “no” is key to a successful, lucrative career.
These were a few of the insights shared by College of Business alumni working as sales professionals at “Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable,” a panel presented on Feb. 5 by the FIU Alumni Association as part of Panther Alumni Week, which brings college alumni back to campus to share their experiences with students.
Five panelists with sales careers in diverse industries, including software, medical devices, real estate, beauty and technology, shared personal stories of moving out of their comfort zones, including how they got started in sales, met challenges and used rejection as a motivational tool. Their goal: encourage students to think about professional selling as a potential career path.
Barbara Pestana-Cartaya ’02, director of U.S. Sales and Marketing at Neostrata, a division of Johnson & Johnson, never envisioned herself in the sales field. She was working at the Miami office of Eastman Kodak as a receptionist and customer service representative when a job for a professional sales person opened up.
“I thought, ‘I’m really good with customers, the distributors in Latin America,’" she said. “I just knocked on the door of the hiring director and said, ‘I think I can sell and I want that position.’ And the rest is history.”
JC Gomez ’04, MBA ’13, senior project manager at Wellington Construction Group, was the kid who sold everyone else’s chocolates for the school fundraiser.
“I was never scared to talk to strangers,” he said. “I sold boxes and boxes and boxes.”
After a career in the U.S. Army, he found he couldn’t sit still in a desk job and welcomed the mobility of sales. That field seemed tailor-made for Gomez. Rejection was never a problem for him.
“The only thing certain is that you’ll fail. Who cares?” he said. “You learn from it and you get back up.” Today, he focuses on building and maintaining his business network, with much of his referral base coming from within that network.
Edgar de la Calle ’04, therapeutic consultant at NeuroPace, now works with implantable devices similar to a pacemaker for the brain, a highly technical field that brings him into detailed technical conversations with brain surgeons. He’s a long way from his first sales job, selling cell phones at Navarro. He developed a philosophy early on, starting with that job, where no one seemed to want what he had to sell: “Every time I got shot down, I started trying harder and harder.”
Starting a conversation
Gregory Acevedo ’01, sales executive at Cloud Deployment Solutions, Alight Solutions, who also serves as an FIU Business adjunct, said he focuses much of the sales conversation on the prospect, asking: What are your pain points? What does success look like?
“It throws them for a loop,” he said. “I know a meeting went well when the prospect talked more than we did.”
Stephanie Serrano Costa Ramos MS ’19, engineering manager at Orange Technologies, noted her background as an engineer was extremely helpful in her field.
“In sales, you have to know your products and identify the customer’s needs. You not only sell, but you should also teach the client why your product is worthy,” she said. “In most cases in technical sales, you have to have a background in the industry, equipment and processes that will help you ask the right questions to identify customer needs.”
To start a new business relationship, she shared this advice: “Do not approach directly with a sales pitch. First, study the person and their industry. Find the right person and search for something in common.”
Pestana-Cartaya agreed. “You have to ask the right questions,” she said. “It may feel like prying, but you don’t really know how to sell something until you understand what your customers need.”
The new “cold call” – social media
With more consumers rejecting calls from numbers they don’t recognize, cold calling has dropped as a sales generation tactic—but it hasn’t completely disappeared. Panelists discussed “warm calling,” following up on leads generated through social media outreach, an increasingly popular tactic for raising initial interest.
“It’s not about why they should buy your service,” Acevedo said. “The frame of mind in cold outreach is why they should grant you more time.”
Rafael Soltero Venegas, co-director of FIU’s Global Sales Lab and an instructor at FIU Business, who moderated the panel, noted that today’s FIU Business students have access to training opportunities that many earlier graduates had to get on the job. FIU’s Global Sales Program, housed in the Global Sales Lab, now includes a Certificate in Sales and CRM and a Minor in Professional Sales, two competitions, Panther Sales Tournament in Fall and the Global Bilingual Sales Competition in spring, and the Sales Society, a student organization.