When I quit my sales job to teach English in Thailand, my former employer was incredibly gracious and told me to keep in touch, in case our paths crossed again. Not knowing where this Thailand adventure would take me, I was constantly drawing comparisons between my job as an English as a Foreign Language teacher, and a sales consultant, just in case I found myself back in that interviewee chair one day. And guess what? The two jobs have more skills in common than you would ever imagine. Here are the lessons I learned in sales that I re-learned in the classroom:
Sales (And Teaching) Is All About Relationships. No one is going to buy a product from a person, company, or brand they don’t respect or trust. In the same way, students are not going to give the time of day to a teacher they don’t respect or trust. To build these two vital things in sales and teaching, setting boundaries and establishing expectations are major key. Your sales clients need to know how your business operates – what they can expect from your services, and what you expect from them in return. For example, if you are not willing to be a phone call away outside of certain working hours, you need your client to know this up front, so they know what type of customer service to expect from you. Similarly, you need your students to know straight away that you are their teacher, and that you expect certain behavior from them in the classroom. Being crystal clear about these expectations will prevent any future debacles with your clients/students. With sales clients, be transparent about protocols and policies. In the classroom, establish routines and systems of rewards and penalties.
In Order to Sell a Product, Your Clients Need to See Why They NEED It. When I was in sales, I sold wine to liquor stores. You would think that would be easy, right? Wrong. See, there are thousands of wines on the market, so making my clients see that they needed to buy MY wine, over their thousands of other options, was the challenge. Let’s say I had a fancy boutique wine shop in some swanky area as one of my clients. They might not think they need a cheap bottle of pink Moscato. But you know what? They DO need that cheap bottle of pink Moscato, because even though most of their customers are rich wine snobs, literally millions of people turn 21 every day, dive into the nearest liquor store, and buy whatever their 21-year-old paychecks can buy them. So, all liquor stores in America need that bottle of cheap pink Moscato because they need to have an option for every type of customer, at every price range. They do not want to lose a sale because they didn’t have an affordable option. Similarly, some kids are not convinced that they need to learn English. Maybe they already speak two languages and feel that they don’t need a third. Maybe they have no desire to travel outside their hometowns. Regardless, giving students examples of situations where English would be useful will show them that everyone could benefit from learning English. This could be something as simple as showing English-speaking TV shows or music videos, showing pictures of cool English-speaking places they could travel to one day, or exposing them to exciting career opportunities that require speaking English. And honestly, maybe some students’ ‘need’ for English isn’t so much a need for the language, but perhaps they could come to ‘need’ your class as a respite from their other academics or an opportunity to stand out among their peers. The point is, just like sales clients, students are motivated by different things. Our jobs as sales consultants or teachers are to identify those motivations and tap into them.
Planning and Preparation Will Make or Break You. A sales pitch done sans preparation or research, will rarely lead to closing a sale. Identically, lessons done without a lesson plan will rarely lead to learning. Having well-developed foresight was the first thing I learned in sales training and in the TEFL module on lesson planning. In sales, we learn to anticipate all the reasons a client might say “no,” to our sales proposal. If we can anticipate rejections, we can plan how to counter them, ultimately leading to a successful sale. Teaching, ESPECIALLY teaching English as a Foreign Language, is all about foresight. Before executing a lesson, we teachers must ask ourselves: What about this lesson/concept will my students find confusing? How can I clear that up in advance? What will I do if we run out of time? What will I do if the students complete the activity too quickly? How will I assess my students to ensure they actually absorbed the lesson? Is my assessment fair? We need to over-analyze our lesson plans, tackling the holes and grey areas BEFORE getting into the classroom. It’s no wonder that, “Plan your work, and work your plan,” is a phrase I have heard over and over again in both sales and teaching.
While I don’t think I’m quite ready for the teach abroad adventures to end, I’m confident that my experiences are adding value to my employability. I think that would be my advice to anyone who is considering making a career change. That is, the skills you acquire from one job can be applicable to a wide variety of other jobs…. It is up to YOU to know how to apply these skills to a new role.