As a kid, I perceived selling as something ugly, dirty, and totally not cool. Coincidentally, those are the same fine words society attributed to salesmen in the Soviet Union, the country where I was born. The USSR soon collapsed, leaving millions of people below the poverty line. I don’t know if my family was above or below this line, but I remember the day we celebrated my mom’s salary raise. It was raised to a whopping
hundred dollars a month.
We were pretty damn poor, which means parents can’t buy you stuff you want. They only buy you stuff you absolutely need. But...I really wanted a bicycle, roller blades, and a video game console, which were some of the things other kids had. The desire for the things that I wanted is probably what led me to doing something ugly, dirty, and totally not cool by Soviet standards. I became a salesman.
My first sales job was to sell red currants at the farmers market in my hometown of Minsk at the instruction of my grandma. My grandpa had grown a lot of currant bushes, using the berries to produce wine. I mean, let’s just call that fine liquid a “wine.” :)
The wine was used to get my grandpa tipsy too many days a week. Obviously, my grandma wasn’t cool about that. She decided we should start selling these berries instead of making grandpa’s fine wine out of them.
However, as I stated above, selling was not a respectable thing to do in the post-Soviet state of Belarus. No one in the family wanted to do it. And, somehow, the elders decided that I should be spending my time at the farmers market selling these damn berries. What a coincidence, right?!
My first weekend at the farmers market
was devastating. I was posted at one of the worst and least visible spots and was also afraid that I might encounter some of my friends. I was barely able to talk to people and was watching the clock waiting for the day to end. Still, in the end, the berries were sold. Perhaps people were just keen to buy from a cute 10-year-old kid rather than an old crotchety vendor. I evenly split the money with my grandma and bought myself a toy gun, naturally. You needed a gun if you were starting a business in ’90s in Belarus. I was proud, happy and excited.
Sales were doubling weekend after weekend and I expanded beyond just red currants. I began selling cherries, strawberries, mushrooms, potatoes, and other garden produce. I finally got to the point where I was making a commission selling produce grown by our neighbors. Some weekends brought in substantial amounts of money which helped my parents but also got me some fancy things, like a bicycle and a
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack.
As time passed, the business model was still successful, but I wasn’t -- I had gotten older and less cute. There were younger kids at the farmers market now and they were selling more than me. So I moved on, selling more serious stuff like Pogs, Nintendo cartridges, and used cell phones. Then it was web design services. And now, document automation software for salespeople.
These childhood experiences were by no means good sales training but taught one very important thing: selling doesn’t suck. In fact, it is really fun.