Editor’s note: Each blog post in this “Career Pathways in L&D” series shares a learning leader’s story and ends with his or her tips and advice for training professionals.

A long, long time ago, I was a radio DJ, reading the news. I could read them live and wait for somebody to give me feedback, but that was not enough for me. I recorded in advance and then went home to listen to them myself, to critique myself and then ask for feedback from others.

After six years of teaching teenagers (and enjoying it), I didn’t feel recognized, whether I did a good or a bad job. One day, I was reading a newspaper and looking into the publicity section (enjoying the different approaches to different products and how they were publicized), and one specific announcement caught my attention: “We are looking for a sales rep for the pharma industry at your location…”

I didn’t know exactly what it was, although some doctors had told me that pharmaceutical sales was a good job. I thought it would be interesting, and I applied.

I became a sales rep at the company one month later, and I stayed there for eight years. As the most successful sales rep in the company, I was invited to move from my home city to Lisbon, changing my entire life. I took the challenge and became a brand manager for the company’s antibiotics affiliate. After one year, a new challenge arose: I was invited to become a sales trainer for that business. I took the challenge again and traveled to the United States, staying there months at a time. I became certified in several different areas, including social styles, negotiation, selling skills and adult learning.

Over almost four years, I became a successful trainer, implementing the company’s different training programs as well as developing some workshops to address specific topics. Being a sales and marketing partner, I demonstrated value to all of the involved departments and people. My company also became known for the type of development that it was providing its sales force.

But new challenges were on the way. I became a district sales manager with my own team. I developed territories through business and people using a simple skill: coaching. I learned that people are not always coachable. I learned that people are good at applying learned skills, but they are not always excellent. I learned that excellent salespeople want more support for their decisions than too much coaching on their skills. We, sales managers, need to become experts on how to deliver coaching without the other person realizing it. I understood that it is a complex and expert selling moment. We need to “sell” at our best. I also learned that we have a lot of negotiation moments, including understanding the interests behind our sales reps’ positions. At the end, sales managers need to bring home the business that we are responsible for, although we are not doing it directly. Getting results through people was an important skill I developed during this journey.

I went through different training programs, mainly around coaching and leadership, at different levels. Business training was part of my development. Then, I become national sales manager, a new challenge with new players and a new therapeutic area (oncology) that I was responsible for developing, and then a senior marketing manager for this area. I stayed in oncology several years, finishing my marketing curriculum training (I fell in love with developing brands), and, again, I became one of Eli Lilly’s most successful marketers. I earned a certification in marketing and sales management from a Portuguese university. I enjoyed the course, since I could discuss, develop and apply all my learning in training, sales and marketing.

One last challenge in my company was still to come. I was invited to become the global capabilities trainer for key account management, and I took the challenge. I designed a curriculum map to help key account managers develop to the desired competency level. I hired global training companies to deliver the training courses needed to achieve that level. And, I become certified in those training programs and deliver them myself globally in different languages.

Then, I decided to take on a new challenge myself. The partnership with my company finished, and I started my own training business. At this time I, earned the CPTM (Certified Professional in Training Management™) certification and became the only European trainer with this certification, which brought me a lot of differentiation. That’s when one of the companies where I was consulting invited me to become the business unit director for one of its affiliates and, later, to become the senior global sales training manager.

Here I am, now, enjoying a busy life, seeing people grow and achieve competencies to better customer satisfaction. Looking back to my long journey, I realize that leadership, flexibility and customer satisfaction are what drive me. Thinking and acting like different types of customers, I am able to help them and keep them satisfied.

And I am satisfied myself. Being a risk-taker pays off. We can’t be afraid of challenges. We need to proactively look for them.

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