First published Forbes, June 28, 2018


Charles Duarte

Charles serves as VP of Business Development for Diamond Assets, promoting sustainability in maximizing residual value for Apple hardware.


For the first half of my professional life, I was a teacher. Being tasked with shaping the minds of kids was a tremendous responsibility and work that I loved. Five years ago, when given the opportunity to switch career paths to educational technology sales, I jumped at the opportunity because I felt I could impact the learning environment of many more kids.

When I was deciding whether or not to make this change, I found myself contemplating whether I possessed the right skills to succeed in sales. Based on student performance data, administrator reviews and peer feedback, I was told I was a very good teacher. With this in mind, I held high expectations for myself in my developing sales career.

What I found is that teaching is the perfect background for sales. Being an educator equipped me with skills I call on every day to effectively execute the sales process. It’s not surprising since successful sales executives tend to be very good at educating prospects.

There are many parallels between teaching and sales, and being a teacher has taught me some important lessons that make me more effective:

Lesson one: Everyone is unique and needs to be treated like individuals. Educators learn quickly that students come to the classroom with different backgrounds, experiences and needs. Treating all students the same is a sure path to failure. As a teacher, I regularly adapted my lesson plans to meet the needs of my classroom. This meant modifying content or developing new ways to teach so my students would understand the material. Likewise, prospects are at different stages of knowledge in the sales funnel and need to be educated not sold to. In fact, I’ve found that spending time helping prospects understand things with which they are unfamiliar gives me a greater chance of turning them into customers.

Lesson two: Keeping current is crucial. It seems as if things change in education daily — from state and district mandates to new teaching approaches to the latest pop culture craze that students are following. To be an effective teacher, it’s important to remain current in all these areas. The same is true in sales. Effective sales executives need to stay one step ahead of prospects, and this requires staying current on trends and keeping skills sharp. This means sales reps need to take time to stay educated and continually learn new skills.

Lesson three: Embrace change. Few things were more frustrating to me as a teacher than running into resistance from other teachers who didn’t want to change their methods, even if their methods were producing mediocre results. As a new second grade teacher, I implemented the use of iPod Touch devices (this was before the iPad was introduced) to help with reading comprehension. I had never used a mobile device in the classroom before and it was intimidating, but I knew that my students were curious about these devices and comfortable with them. Embracing that change resulted in benchmark reading scores that went through the roof. By mid-year, 78% of my students had already reached their yearly benchmark. Even so, there were teachers who didn’t like my approach and complained to the principal. Fortunately, the principal let the results speak for themselves. As sales professionals, we need to be ready to embrace new ways of doing things, especially if the old ways no longer work well.

Lesson four: You are part of a team. Teachers and sales executives alike often work within teams. In the classroom, a team is comprised of all the other educators at your grade level or department as well as other resource teachers. There’s a good deal of learning that takes places among grade level and department peers when teachers share what’s working and contribute their experiences and perspectives to help solve challenges. For this reason, principals often look to hire teachers with different backgrounds and experiences. The same is true in sales, where team members should be leveraged to contribute different experiences and skills to move a tough sale over the finish line.

Lesson five: You are responsible for your success. This may seem like a contradiction to lesson four, but it’s not. As a teacher, I considered a failing student to be my responsibility. I held myself accountable for the performance of each of my students and looked for ways to measure our progress and seek new solutions. If my classroom wasn’t succeeding at the right pace, I was held accountable. In the same way, sales executives must be responsible for their own success, both within the company and with their prospects. In sales, you are expected to produce results quickly; you don’t have the luxury of waiting to be told what to do and how to do it. You have to hit the ground running and have the self-discipline to work hard, especially in a field sales role that lacks the structure of an office. Being accountable also means adopting strategies that deliver results for the company and always doing what’s right for a prospect.

It’s said that we are the sum of our experiences. This is especially true when going through a career change. Fortunately, the profession of teaching develops skills that can be applied effectively to other careers, especially to sales.

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