Views & News

Create Your Sales Career Path: Conversation with Joyce Johnson

Joyce Johnson is an author, speaker, sales champion, business coach, and Founder of the Why Sales Network.  In 2020, Joyce founded the Why Sales Network to inform, educate and engage college graduates and companies, bring them together for great job resources and training around the sales profession.

Joyce joined me to talk about her sales career path a few weeks ago and our whole conversation is in the video above.    Here are some highlights from that conversation about how she made important decision and key lessons she's learned during her career.  

Where did you go to college and what did you study?

I went to college at Prairie View A&M University, a historical black college university, north of Houston. I started to study journalism and communications because I enjoyed high school journalism and had been the editor of my high school paper. I also applied for a job in the sports information department. Well since high school, I had been writing articles on sports; I'd been standing on the sidelines at the football games, taking pictures, and then I would write an article. So I knew sports. But I got the job because basically, I typed faster than the guys who applied. 

What was your first job after you graduated? 

After college, I moved to Houston and I was selling shoes at a department store, where I earned good commission.  I knew that I liked sales because I was getting commissions for selling shoes. But I wanted a more professional job, so I took a job selling alarm systems. But it was the kind of job that makes people afraid of sales because it was a commission-only job. And I had to make some money I had gotten from family for graduation and go to the training in Dallas, and invest in myself. The company promised me that when I got back to Houston, someone would work with me and that would help train me. And that training didn't happen. And so I said, "That's okay, I can do this, I can do this." And I was outselling every day. But I didn't have that support, and that extra training that I needed, so I ultimately quit.  

What work did you do next? 

Next, I went and worked for the unemployment commission. And I quickly learned that that was not where I wanted to be. And then I decided, "well, I've been in sports. Let me see if I can get into one of the sports organizations in Houston." The first one that I was able to apply for was the Houston Rockets. Now, when I went to apply, I thought it was going to be a sales job. I still always think that sales is the best way to get into an organization. I wanted a marketing job, but I knew if I started in sales, I could open the doors. So when I went to take the sales job, it was actually a contractor job, not a direct employee job. But I still took it because I figured that it would eventually get me there. But we were selling season ticket packages. And so one day they did exactly do just that. A manager came in and said, "We need someone to go to the arena. The team is going to do a promo. They're out of town, but they're going to do a promo and they need people to go to the arena." and I was like, "Yes, here I go. This is it!"  I raised my hand like, "I'm your girl. Yes, I'll be there. What time do you need me to be there? I'll be there. And so I went over to work at the arena. It was an amazing night! And so I'm there and the GM comes in, and here comes that typing again. And they said we need someone to type quickly and know these software programs. As I say all the time, raise your hand. So I raised my hand and short story that led to me getting a job within the organization. And that put me on a career path that really was my sales profession. I didn't know that that day. But I later figured it out. 

What was your next transition? 

I left the Houston Rockets and I continued selling when I moved to California. One day I thought, "Okay, I'm not earning the money I want to earn. What do I need to do?"   I said, "I need to either sell computers - technology - or I need to go into telecommunications," which was hot at that time where I was living in Sunnyvale, California.


How did you decide which industry to pursue?

 I looked at the job ads, and I saw where the jobs were. I read articles and magazines. In college, I remembered learning to pick up a USA Today, pick up a Time Magazine and see what's going on in the world. And that's what I did. I remember going to the bookstore, and buying about five magazines, and beginning to read and research. That's what I did. And then I thought, "Let me figure out what's going on in the world. What does the world need right now? And what skill set do I have to offer where I can fill the gap?"  Based on this research, I decided to pursue telecommunication sales.

How did you pivot into telecommunications? 

I kept calling the hiring managers calling them and emailing them. But they didn't hire me because I didn't have telecom experience. And I remember talking to Reed Peterson, a guy at MCI. And he said, "Well, Joyce, I already have someone to hire for the San Jose job."

I said, "So what other opportunities do you have? Because I'll relocate. You know, I just relocated here from Texas, right?" 

Reed said, "Well, I have something in the San Francisco office."

And I said, "Well, I'll take it."

He said, "It's going to be a commute for you."

I said, "You let me worry about that." 

And Reed said, "You're one of the most tenacious people I've ever met in my life." 
And so yes, I got the job in telecom sales. I didn't get it right away. But I kept following up and selling myself to the guy.  I built a relationship with Reed and a few others and I kept calling them, telling them why I would be a good salesperson, and what I would do, and communicating my work ethic.  So Reed hired me and took a chance on me in the San Francisco office. 

I was the first one on the team to close a deal in that space that they were opening. I closed the largest deal in that space. And then I wasn't afraid to go after the big fish and clients. And, I closed a deal, before I really even understood the product.

Why did you write your book Top 10 Sales Tips for College Graduates?

Well, I want professionals to understand when you get your first job, you need a plan. Employers are sick and tired of employees just showing up that first day with their social security card and ID! As a new employee, you need to have a plan.  And I want candidates to understand how to navigate before they get the job, and  I want them to understand what the expectations are.  And when you come to work as a new hire, you need to have a plan. You need to be able to engage your resources and begin to meet the goals of your employer and your manager.

What are some of your key career lessons?

orange bullet.JPGYou must know who you are to be able to communicate. You have to understand your skillset. And that's why you just can't go into the interview thinking you're going in for an interview. When people ask you about yourself and who you are and your experiences, you really need to understand and be able to communicate those. You need to understand the value that you bring. 

orange bullet.JPGBefore you go into interviews, write down your strengths.  Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. I'm a big advocate of assessments and personal assessments and I've been taking them for years. I want to understand what the assessment about me is so that I can go sell my strengths.

orange bullet.JPGHave a plan to create value before you show up on your first day on a job.
orange bullet.JPGPrioritize open and honest communication, no matter what. I haven't always had an easy time, as a woman and as a person of color - in Texas and oil and gas and in a man's world. And I've learned that first you need to tell someone and then you show them. 


Follow or connect with Joyce Johnson on LinkedIN .

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Published on 11/12/2020