Jan 18

” I Don’t Want to Do Sales”

Over the years, I have come across senior military leaders in transition unsure about which career path to pursue next; the one certainty many seem to share is an almost visceral aversion to “doing sales or business development.”

Everyone can appreciate the stereotypes of the used car salesman or other “aggressive” vendors we have encountered who seem determined to push their product or service no matter how many times we express our disinterest. Or perhaps, you remember being approached by former military colleagues who have “gone over to the the dark side.”

…almost every job at the senior level will require you to sell something…

As you transition, you will soon recognize that almost every job at the senior level will require you to sell something; it’s just a matter of how you become comfortable with that reality. What has always worked best for me is to believe in the product and…


The first product/service you will have to sell is YOU.

  • Why should someone hire you over someone else with a comparable skill set and equivalent experience in the military?
  • Why is your “product” or “service” worth top-billing?
  • Do not look at this as “selling your soul.” Your first job in transition is to believe, deep in your gut, that you are the best “product” on the market.

Your first job in transition is to believe, deep in your gut, that you are the best “product” on the market. 


Private Sector: As others have previously shared, no matter what your position in the private sector, your firm will expect you to be fully familiar with its products and services, be able to speak to those with everyone you meet, and be concerned about how the sale of those products and services affect the company’s (and your) bottom line. If sales are down, you may find yourself out of a job.

Many transitioning senior leaders will be pursued by companies for roles in business development; their goal is to find individuals willing and able to tap into established contacts and able to build and grow new relationships that, at the end of the day, month or year, will lead to continued or new business for the company. It’s the key to corporate survival.

Nonprofit Sector: Selling is equally vital in the nonprofit sector. If an organization is unable to persuade its stakeholders – i.e. its donors, its clients, the media and the general public – about the value and importance of its mission and the services it provides, it will soon shut its doors.

Government: Leadership positions within local, state and federal governments require the ability to effectively sell a new project, department or direction in order to secure the resources needed to make the new goal a reality.

Academia: Even in this field, administrators or professors may be called upon to support the university’s fundraising/development efforts or to advocate on behalf of additional resources for a given department. Being able to make an effective “sales pitch” can yield very positive outcomes.

Don’t Get Hung Up on the Terms “Sales” or “Business Development”

There are many excellent books and other resources available to help you gain greater comfort with “selling.” I am willing to bet that selling is a skill you already have; you just didn’t think about it in that way. Don’t get hung up on the word and the images of the used car salesman; selling can be a powerful skill that can be used effectively in many different careers to make a profit or to sell an important mission, concept or project. And you have already nurtured and cultivated countless relationships in your military career to further a mission; business development is a very similar process — the new mission is just selling the product, service or company.

If you are still wavering, try to remember:

  • In selling, the customer hasn’t said “no” until you hear the word “no” and even then, it doesn’t always mean “no.”
  • Even a definitive “no” is not a rejection of you; don’t take it personally. Try to find out who ultimately wins that company’s/individual’s business and study the components of that success story to strengthen your case next time around.
  • When you persuade someone about an idea, a mission or a new direction, you are selling. Build on the skills you undoubtedly already have, and the next sale you make is likely just around the corner.

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What books or resources have you used to strengthen your selling skills? What strategies or techniques worked best for you to become more comfortable with the concept of selling?


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