Why everyone should know how to sell

JOHN YANG: The days of employees working with one company for their entire career are long gone. In today's economy, most workers bounce around a lot.

That's true for Carlos Watson, now the CEO of a digital media company.

Tonight, he shares his Humble Opinion on the importance of one skill you need wherever you go.

CARLOS WATSON, OZY Media: There's a big push in schools right now to get American kids to learn how to code. The thinking is that good jobs are hard to find, robots may soon take away many blue-collar jobs, at least the ones that haven't already gone overseas, and that learning how to program computers or even create apps is the perfect idea to protect against this tide.

Now, look, while I agree that coding should be a central focus in education over the next decade, I don't think that alone is going to work without an equal emphasis on teaching the skills that are truly needed to turn the best ideas into money. I'm talking about sales.

The most innovative software can amount to little more than a good idea if a coder fails to convince investors to back it. This is even before getting customers to try it and then getting them to buy it.

Despite the critical nature of sales, it's still treated like a dirty word. You know, in fact, when I suggest that people learn how to sell, most people kind of crinkle their noses or quietly look askance, replying: Sales is about tricking people. It's dishonest.

Now, to tell you the truth, once upon a time, I agreed with them. But, today, I realize that sales skills are critical, and, in fact, are only going to become even more so as our work force becomes more fluid and, frankly, more unstable.

In this new economy, we're consultants, service providers, you name it. We have got side hustles. We have got second jobs. Whatever you want to call them, each requires sales in order to flourish.

Now, when I started my first business, it was an education company. I didn't want to sell. But a mentor gave me some really great advice that propelled our flailing start-up into a multimillion-dollar business. He said, Carlos, the only thing that matters is if can you sell. If you expect your good idea to sell itself, you are believing in a fairy tale.

After that, I began requiring every staff member to take sales courses, and I mean everyone, from education counselors to members of the finance team, because the truth of the matter is that every job has a sales component.

Recruiting top talent? Guess what? You better be able to explain why your company is the best. You want to get a reluctant student to properly prepare for the SAT exam? Well, you're going to persuade her with a story that connects college to a career and to a broader success.

Look, many students are just settling in for the start of school, and I am sure that if you're a math or a computer science teacher, you have got a number of terrific lessons planned.

But I also hope that, in addition to all that greatness, there might be at least a little bit of consideration on helping students attain the sales skills that I think are going to be critical to their success.

JOHN YANG: Carlos Watson is also the host of a new program on PBS.

Third Rail with OZY premieres tonight at 8:30 Eastern right here on most PBS stations.

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