How This Engineer / Designer Went From Fearing & Avoiding Sales to becoming a sales & Marketing Pro

Many moons ago, I launched a design business, a home decor & textiles collection to be specific. When I started it, I had a very successful career in IT & Management consulting, but I was longing to do something else. Partly because hubby and I were expecting our first child, and partly because the IT industry and working with large banks and corporate companies didn’t excite me anymore. I mean, it had been really good for many years, but I was ready for something new.

I wanted to work within my passion, which has always been interior design.

And I wanted to be my own boss (honestly I had no clue what it really meant).

And I was, as my former colleague said “young and naive enough to believe it could work” (Thanks H-P!)

So I went into the design industry and loved it…

My former design brand at an international tradeshow

Until this thing happened: I actually had to start selling my products. And I had to do that, a lot.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I did know being in business meant selling, and I had been in sales roles before. But, what I hadn’t sold was MY OWN CRAFT… my own designs. And what felt at the time: myself, my soul.

That was new to me.

And I didn’t like it one bit.

Also, I didn’t quite understand why I had such emotions about it. (nor did anyone who knew me because, for them, I was a natural-born saleswoman. And while it’s true, I didn’t understand it then)

Sales felt wrong and ugly

There’s something that happens to many creators when we start selling our “soul”. It becomes personal, there’s a ton of fear connected to both rejection AND success (which was also a new feeling and something I did not expect, but I’ll share about that later).

Sales, at least the way it was being taught, felt ugly. It felt like it was somehow wrong, and that kept me hiding behind my products. I made the same mistakes as so many creatives and business owners:

I thought that as long as my products were amazing, the sale would come by accident. (it didn’t).

But, as an engineer, I got solutions

One of my solutions was to hire a team of salespeople. I figured that if I just remove myself from the sales role, and only, or “only”, focus on the other stuff, then all be good.

Wrong.

I grew a 7-person sales team in multiple countries within a few years, and while it worked well, it still didn’t remove me from sales, or give me the confidence to sell.

I remember a tradeshow where I told my team that I’ll be there to build the booth and make sure everything works fine, and then come back after the show…

Of course, it didn’t work. I had a tiny business and it wasn’t ready for the creator / CEO to M.I.A. during the important brand representation events.

Then things changed

I had booked a joined booth at an international tradeshow with 9 other designers from Sweden, and the organizer had promised there would be sales personnel at the booth. I traveled to Germany to make sure everything was looking perfect, and also to help out our German salesperson to get the sales going. And I decide to stay for a day before heading back home to my family.

Booth staffing fiasco…

The persons who were, as I understood at least, there to represent the concept and brands, were basically youngsters with way more focus on their iPhones than on the visitors and potential clients. So I felt a natural need to work the booth, talk about our concepts, the brands, who we are, serve cookies and coffee, and generally, help the buyers and media get the information and feel good about the experience.

My booth pals were watching me run around and gutentag every single visitor that day. I sold my products and frankly, their products too. After that day, a few of them told me: “you’re so good at selling, can you please stay for the rest of the show? We will jointly buy you a new flight and pay for your accommodation”.

I thanked them (in shock), and told them I needed to go home to my babies.

… that made me start liking sales

On the flight back home, I made a life and business-defining decision. In fact three of them:

  • once I truly understood what selling was about, I excelled and loved it
  • I would become a sales pro and teach every creator who is willing to learn how to excel in sales, and feel good about it!
  • And to fill the pipe, I’d need to become a marketing pro too…

Albeit sales & marketing are two different disciplines with their own characteristics and key measurements, for me… they go hand in hand. Marketing is what fuels the sales pipeline, and sales makes money. And, most CRM systems today cover both sales and marketing.

One doesn’t work without the other.

In many industries, traditional sales is becoming more obsolete due to self-serve tools and customers’ desire to buy without assistance. This doesn’t apply to all businesses or industries, but many. But a proper & systematic marketing is still needed to bring the customers to the checkout. And, in order to make sales, businesses need to have skills in conversion rate optimization, which means: yeah… sales.

So, instead of trying to speed up braincells in figuring out what is the role of marketing vs sales, let’s just build signature customer acquisition systems and grow revenue!

And that’s how my next business, Avenue, was born!

Best, Tiina

On that topic, read also: How to design your signature sales process