Inside: Lessons learned from my short career in sales, cold-calling, Kevin Garnett, and some serious luck.
I’m a firm believer in creating yourself instead of finding yourself. Every step we make in our careers is an intentional one and we have the power to shape our life trajectory.
But sometimes, often actually, there are circumstances that are out of our control.
And sometimes you fall ass-backward into fortune.
Such is the case with my brief career in sales that brought me so much more than I would have expected.
Call Me Sporty Spice
We’ve covered how my career dream of being a food decorator was so harshly dashed and I’ve never forgiven my parents for providing sound and reasonable advice. So after that debacle, I found myself in the position of needing to find a new dream. That’s how I stumbled into sports marketing.
Did I do a lot of research into what sports marketing entailed?
Did I know one person who went to college for it and I decided that since I liked sports and making posters for Homecoming dances that I should do that too?
It wasn’t horrible logic really. And it was a real job this time so my parents supported the dream.
I went to Boston College, studied marketing, cried through finance, made philosophy professors question my critical thinking skills, and interned with the Athletics Department. My role here was “make sure kids don’t fall out of the bounce house at the alumni tailgate party.”
4 years. 0 injuries. 3 resume bullet points. Crushed it.
A Girl Walks Into a Career in Sales
Then my first job out of college was at the Boston Celtics.
Dude, how cool is that?
I was 22 and somehow found myself employed by one of those most storied franchises in sports history.
As is known to happen in the world of sports though, the mighty had taken a tumble over the past couple of decades and the Celtics were actually the worst team in the NBA when I started there in 2007. Season tickets weren’t exactly selling themselves so the C’s needed some eager beavers to get on the horn and fill those seats.
I became one of those eager beavers and learned the fine art of cold calling.
If you were at the TD Garden for a Celtics game anytime in the 2006-2007 season and your last name was near the middle of the alphabet you very likely got a phone call from me in June 2007 asking about your experience at the game and if I could interest you in a Mini Pack of tickets.
Thanks for being so pleasant on the phone, by the way! I remember everyone I spoke with being super lovely, and because I’m the proud daughter of a successful salesman, I had excel files full of notes about all of my potential clients. Favorite players, kids’ names, birthdays, Broadway shows they were interested in seeing, blood type…
To this day I know more about Linda from Andover than I do about some of my closest friends.
I’ve Got This, Pops
My salary was very significantly supplemented by ticket sales commission, like lots of sales jobs.
Given that the team was really bad, like reallllllly bad, I should have been super worried about this. But I wasn’t, because I had a budget! A budget that I proudly showed my dad after he gave me some serious side-eye when I said I had plenty of income to rent an apartment, eat, and cover all my expenses like a real grown-up.
According to my budget, after rent, groceries, loan repayment, and train fare I would have a total of $3.50 extra a month. IF I sold at least two season ticket packages a month… So I was totally fine.
Meanwhile, my dad was begrudgingly moving boxes out of my childhood bedroom anticipating my speedy return.
Enter Kevin, Stage Left
Since I’m stupid competitive I made it through my call lists in record time, and even managed to make some sales in the early part of that summer. A couple of months in and I was hanging in there, by a very precarious Ramen filled thread, but I was hanging in there.
But then one day in late July I show up to work and there was a buzz in the air.
“Did you hear we might get Kevin Garnett?” “No seriously, I think Kevin Garnett is coming to the Celtics…” “We have a staff meeting in 10 minutes… do you really think we are getting Kevin Garnett?”
We were totally getting Kevin Garnett…
For those unfamiliar with Kevin Garnett, he’s very good at basketball. Like Beyonce level good at basketball. This was a big deal.
As a staff, we officially found out about a day before it was public information, which gave us a day to call our potential clients and say “Um, I can’t tell you anything. But if you were thinking about buying tickets, maybe do it now. K? Oh also, how’s Timmy’s tennis elbow? Did you make it to see Wicked?”
Tickets, Tickets, Who Wants Some Tickets
Fast forward into the next 24 hours and everyone and their mom was calling to buy Celtics tickets.
We all got into work at the crack of dawn and phones were already ringing off the hook. People were feeling the Celtics magic coming back in full force and they wanted to come along for the ride, much to my father’s relief.
At one point Ray Allen, another insanely important recent addition to the team, walked through the office to witness the craziness that was the ticket sales department. He stopped by my desk as I was completing a sale and my jaw dropped to the floor. My University of Connecticut fan-girling heart just about exploded but I manged to adult and get another fan into their seats for the season before writing about it in my diary.
The Big Takeaways
Did I become a multi-millionaire that summer from my season ticket sales commission?
Did I launch myself into a career in sales or in the sports industry?
My contract with the team ended in February and I took my talents to South Beach/ higher education. My next job was with Harvard Business School where I have been ever since, first in Executive Education and now in Career & Professional Development.
All those cold calls I made for the Celtics had helped me learn that I’m good at building relationships and that getting on the phone with strangers isn’t all that scary, and can even be fun. It gave me a different view of sales, customer service, and marketing. I have taken all these lessons with me throughout my career and they come into play 13 years later owning my own business.
Oh, and that Corolla!
So while my stay with the Celtics was less than a year, and I didn’t build a career in sales or sports I took away some pretty important skills and lessons.
I think this goes to show that you don’t need to have it all figured out at 18, or 22, or 32. You just need to keep moving, try things, put yourself out there, and figure out what you are good at and what you love.
And it certainly doesn’t hurt if in learning those lessons you find yourself at the NBA championship courtesy of your former co-workers.
And if you can earn just enough money to keep your apartment, and eat, and put a down payment on a little green Corolla.
Thanks for the Corolla, Kev. You’re the best.