Although we have already wrapped up our popular Story of Selling in August month, with the focus being on the incredibly powerful stories of some of the world’s most inspirational women in the sales profession, my team persuaded me to share my story with you too, and I am excited to not only create this extra Story of Selling addition to the series but to also be able to share my personal journey.
I think often we view our journey as ‘just my life’ and don’t really realise the value and inspiration that it may serve to others, and when my team suggested that I share my journey as well, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to but on the off chance that this will be of some encouragement or interest to you, here goes…
I was born and raised in Port Elizabeth and I am fortunate to come from a long line of entrepreneurs. One of my earliest memories was of helping my grandfather in his shop, which I continued to do until I left high school – talk about learning as you grow!
Both my mother and father were in the sales industry as well and this, together with the first-hand experience I had by my grandfather’s side, was possibly the biggest factor that led me to be so entrepreneurial myself.
My family situation, however, meant that the option of attending university and college was not available to me, and I had to head out into the big wide world at the age of 18 to forge my own path and shape my own future – but, looking back I would not have it any other way.
When I started in sales the world was a vastly different place from the one we find ourselves in now. In those days almost everybody smoked, and this was at their desks! The only thing you could do with your mobile phone was to make a phone call, send a text or play that rather cool game, ‘Snake’.
Now, I have over 20 years of B2B sales experience under my belt, I have travelled to 11 countries on five continents and I have pitched at the highest levels globally from London to Chicago. I have been around the block as they say, and some of the toughest experiences certainly taught me the most important lessons.
Sales is a challenging industry – it is raw and gritty. It’s risky and fraught with opportunities for failure but, it is also exciting, you need to be tough and you need to be tenacious, every month you earn your supper and you have to be willing to endure famine if you hope to enjoy the feast. It is not for everyone, that is for sure.
I got my first big break at the age of 19 while waitressing. I was offered an opportunity to apply for a position in the office automation sales industry by one of my patrons who was the sales manager at there at the time. After what felt like a gruelling interview process, I was successful, and I started my very first job in direct selling. My first salary was R2 000 not including fuel, I still have the payslips to prove it. But I need not have feared as I moved rapidly from direct selling to account management, and in my early 20’s I was already earmarked by the company’s senior managers for a sales management position.
A few years later I was offered the role of Sales and Marketing Manager heading up media advertising sales for Kingfisher FM, and it was here that I accidentally stumbled into the world of broadcasting – and absolutely loved it from day one, and have ever since.
In my first 18 months at Kingfisher FM, our team took the radio station from being fully donor-funded to a 100% advertising-funded – and in that time I also featured as a co-host on the breakfast show. After being headhunted in Port Elizabeth by Alon Raiz from Raizcorp, I moved to Johannesburg in 2011 and spent about a year with them mentoring over 60 companies in their portfolio, but I always knew that I was destined for business, and I left the safety-net of full-time employment in 2012 when I founded my speaking business, Shelley Walters Inc and followed that by the birth of The Sales Counsel in 2016.
The Sales Counsel is a boutique sales enablement consultancy that also provides customised sales solutions to help businesses close more deals and make more money. Where we are not experts, we draw on our expert subject matter experts – our “counsellors” if you will.
The Sales Counsel was born out of my desire to bring to the market a series of interventions that allowed the salespeople to experience success while maintaining their authenticity. I wanted to give them access to a new way of selling, one that is purpose-driven, effective and noble.
Sales enablement is the part of the organisation that sits between business ops, learning and development and the sales department, and our sole purpose is to enable and assist salespeople with whatever they need to get the job done – from tools, presentations to messaging and, well, anything really!
I know first-hand that a career in sales, especially in South Africa, can offer so many opportunities for anyone, who, like me, did not have access to tertiary education and the networks and connections that many do have access to.
In sales, if you are passionate, motivated and a quick learner you can build an incredible career. This profession has given me wonderful opportunities, fostered some fabulous relationships and the satisfaction that can only come from work that has meaning.
P.S. Don’t take my word for it – did you know that 60% of American CEO’s had their start in sales, including Warren Buffet who sold policies when he was out of school, and look at the empire he has built for himself!