I got into sales immediately after college. Leaving the graduation stage with my music degree, my feelings of joy and accomplishment quickly turned to fear. What now? As an aspiring opera singer, you don’t just land the roles. It’s a long and expensive road to the stage: auditions, coachings, lessons, travel, and more. In order to pursue my operatic dreams, I needed a job. Why not sales? What I didn’t know at the time was that my first sales job would actually turn into an unexpected and fulfilling career.  

My first sales role was as an inside sales team member at FOH, Inc. Eight years later, I’m now the Associate Director of Sales and Customer Service and the head of that very department. One of the best parts is that I still get to perform opera professionally. It’s made me realize that being an artist has actually enhanced my work as a leader in both sales and service.

In a recent interview, Leslie Hale, CEO of RLJ Lodging Trust and the first African-American woman to run a publicly traded real estate investment trust, said that “when you create an environment where people can bring their whole self, you can truly maximize the value of that talent.” It’s true. I am a better leader because of my artistic background, and a better artist because of my sales background. There are many parallels between being a fantastic salesperson and being in the arts. Here’s what I’ve found to be true in my career.

Intense preparation is needed in opera. When I go to perform, I'm probably the most nervous when I'm not prepared. And it’s the same thing if I’m unprepared for a sales meeting or call. When you're an opera singer, you're used to preparing. It’s not just learning the music. Opera singers, in particular, take on so much because you're learning a role and balancing rhythm, pitch, high notes, storyline, and language. That same sort of preparation rigor is what makes you successful in sales: always researching and learning, knowing the customer, and engaging with them in powerful ways.

Opera plots are notoriously elaborate. From vampires and mermaids to mistaken identities and love triangles, opera has it all. Because of that, I feel like nothing is ever too implausible for me to take on when it comes to sales.

My team knows one of my biggest pet peeves is hearing “I’ve never done that before.” Yes, there are millions of things we all haven’t done before. So take the attitude that you need to tackle that sales problem or the deal that won’t close because nothing is ever too impossible if you’re strategic and brave about it.

Being an artist has allowed me to connect with people from a completely different perspective. Early in my sales career, I had this deep-down fear that I would never be taken seriously as a salesperson or a sales leader because I was also a singer. Maybe I would be considered not serious or too “quirky.”

It’s fantastic, though, when you realize that we're all very different people, no matter the industry or personal pursuits. Being a singer has allowed me to connect with customers in a way that wouldn’t have happened from a purely sales perspective. Ultimately, people buy from people. When customers know more about who you are and what makes you different, the door is open to discover their talents and interests and to build new, long-lasting relationships.

There's nothing more disheartening than auditioning and not getting the role. It can definitely feel a little bit personal when you’ve put yourself and your voice out there — and you’re rejected. As any performer can attest, though, you have to get used to it as there are a lot of noes. And it’s absolutely the same for sales reps.

You have to think about what the “no” really means. No can mean “No, this is not the right time.” It can also mean “No, that’s not quite the right solution.” You can either take that no and fall apart or use it to fuel your success. I believe everything happens for a reason. The point of a no isn’t failure. In sales, it’s a catalyst to learn from and to use it to succeed, whether it’s with that current customer or in future opportunities.

Admittedly, working in sales was never part of my college master plan. Every day, though, I get to work in my own “Sales Opera.” One with a talented, diverse, and incredible cast of team members, in which I get to craft creative solutions, navigate the plot twists and turns that come with managing a team, and feel great pride and satisfaction as the curtain closes on a sales quarter well done.

When customers know more about who you are and what makes you different, the door is open to build new, long-lasting relationships.”

Kunya Rowley | Associate Director of Sales and Customer Service, FOH
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