Everything Is Sales

by Peter Cotton, founder and president of Best Sales Talent, LLC

All Professions Involve Selling – One Way or Another


“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Mark Twain

When I was about 14, I remember my Dad driving me to school early one morning.  Out of nowhere he asked me if I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Never having given it a lot of thought, I had no real idea.  Finishing all of my education, becoming an adult and making a living was a long, long way off.   Or so it seemed.

I remember that question today as vividly as if it were asked of me this morning.  Odd how some things stand out in your memory.  I don’t remember the entire conversation I had with my Dad, but I am sure it also included a lecture about my needing to study hard and get good grades so that I could get a good job one day.  The most important point of that conversation, that I do recall very clearly, was when he said: “You should consider sales as a career.”

I rejected it immediately.

Stereotype Used Car Salesman

I was revolted.  The only understanding of a salesman I had was the negative stereotype depicted on television — that of a sleazy, used-car salesman, complete with a stub of a cigar hanging out of his mouth wearing flashy clothes and jewelry.

My Dad had virtually one job all his life.  He went to work for his father then took over the company at a very young age.  I never thought of him as being a salesman, since I never saw him sell.  I just knew he went to an office every day and sometimes met with customers. A few times he dragged me along with my mother to see his most important customers for dinner.  But in my mind he was just my Dad.  Not a salesman.

“Everything is sales,” my Dad went on to tell me.  “Teachers sell students on the importance of learning.  Doctors sell patients on taking care of themselves and on taking the medications they prescribe.  Lawyers have to sell a jury on the guilt of the accused, or the innocence of their client.  The gas station attendant sells you an oil change or new tires.  The waitress sells you on having dessert.  The clothing salesman sells you a tie and shirt to go with your new suit. I have to sell customers on buying my products. Everyone sells one way or another,” he said.

Considering my age at the time, there was no way for me to truly understand his message.  Besides, I had fantasies of being a photographer, traveling the world for National Geographic, or being an archeologist, or a poet, or a race car driver.  My idea of a future career changed almost as often as I changed my clothes.  There was no way I was going to listen to my Dad when I was 14!

Fast forward.

When I entered junior high school, my Dad helped me get a part time job as a stock boy at a men’s custom clothier, where he bought his suits.  I kept the job through high school and college and became a sales person selling shirts, ties and accessories.  The owner was a consummate salesman.  He completely changed my opinion of what a good salesman looks like and acts like.

I graduated from college. I convinced a man, who at the time was not looking for salesmen, to hire me.  I guess I sold him on me.  So my first career position was as a salesman for a Fortune 500 company.  The sales manager was a great salesman and had a wonderful attitude about selling and life in general.  Once again my opinion of what a salesman is changed.  I was trained in professional selling and my perspective on selling was changed yet again.  I became the top salesman at the age of 23 and was promoted to be a sales manager at the age of 25.  I was trained in sales management.  Once again, my understanding and perception of selling changed.

I met my soon-to-be wife (who was a sales representative for another Fortune 500 company).  In a matter of a few short months the two of us quit our respective sales jobs, got married, moved from the Midwest to Rhode Island, were trained on how to sell recruiting services to candidates and executives who hired them.  We started a recruiting firm together in 1977.  We specialized in search, recruitment and placement of sales, sales management and marketing talent.

In addition to my recruiting profession, I co-authored a book for the American Management Association titled: How To Be An Effective Sales Manager.  I have been retained to train sales forces and sales managers, and I coach and mentor sales people and sales managers.

In the more than 4 decades since I began my business, I have recruited and placed sales and marketing professionals all over the USA with Fortune 500 companies, as well as small local firms.  You could fill a good sized ballroom with the hundreds of people I have placed.  Many of them got promoted to be sales managers and then hired sales people through my services.

Every day I am selling.  I sell candidates on a better career opportunity.  I sell employer clients on my services, or I sell them on the benefits of hiring a candidate I referred.

It’s ironic that the thing I found most revolting at the age of 14 became my profession.  A profession that I have been working at for more than 45 years.  A profession that makes me rich with the many business relationships I have formed.  A profession that is personally rewarding.   A profession that has given me and my family a wonderful life.

One thing I know – and have learned countless times over the years – is that my Dad was right.

Everything is sales.

Oh…one more thing.  For the 37+ years I lived and worked in Rhode Island, I was proud to display my profession on my car license plate, too. I think my father was pleased to know I followed his advice.

Sales License Plate

Need new or additional sales, sales management or marketing talent?

Contact Best Sales Talent at 401-737-3200.