Career With Joe: An Engineer Who Became A Sales Manager.

Once a month, Freshly Pressed hunt down rising professionals, all game-changers in their industry, and ask them how they got to where they are in their careers. Beyond “It is God o!”, we want to learn about their skills, systems, and story.

Engineering as a prestigious course of study and the prospects it holds did not deter Joe Aito from chasing the money to become a salesperson. Now he is not just your average joe combing the streets, he has risen through the ranks and files to become a successful sales manager within 8years. He took us through his journey in this chat, emphasizing the need to choose valuable social connections over skills.

Freshly Pressed: What do you do?

I sell. My work revolves around four key activities: developing sales strategies, managing sales teams, measuring performance, and engaging stakeholders. I’ve worked for PZ Cussons, Unilever Nigeria, Pernod Ricard as a sales manager across a range of global brands like Imperial leather for personal care, Lux and Morning fresh for homecare, Knorr and Royco for food, and more recently, Jameson Irish Whiskey for Spirits.

FP: How did you begin your career?

2014, I was done with NYSC by March and was casting my net everywhere. Perhaps the biggest driver was the fact that my close friends were getting good jobs around that time. I worked crazy at preparing for interviews. I had to. I remember having 3 different memorized answers to the popular interview questions. By July, I had three offers; join the KPMG tax team, join the PZ Cussons sales team, or join Golden Penny as a total preventive maintenance engineer. I followed the money. I sometimes look back and wonder how different my life would have gone had I chosen KPMG. Ironically, I never cared for the engineering job not even after spending 5 years in an engineering classroom.

FP: How relevant is your undergraduate major to your work?

The lines linking a sales job and engineering training aren’t straight. While engineering helped develop my maths and logic skills, it didn’t help enough with my people skills. Engineering made me too direct in communication, a skill that isn’t very much appreciated in entry-level sales management.

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FP: How does your job affect your general lifestyle?

It forces me to talk to people more, and go out more often than I naturally would. These are good things. The not-so-good one is that I unconsciously exhibit textbook selling and negotiating behaviour in personal relationships. The embarrassing one is that I ask to know the available promotions or discounts when I’m out with my wife…lol.

FP: How did you become interested in this field?

Like I said, I followed the money. I was enticed by a sizable housing allowance, car with monthly fueling, relocation allowance of about a million, and other perks. I had struggled for about a year to earn from my passion for writing stories and teaching children chess, but I was not able to pull that off. 

FP: What kind of education, training, or background does your job require?

It’s pretty easy and open getting in but growing requires an ability to learn fast and be adaptable to climb up the ladder. If you are good with percentages and can have a conversation about what a percentage difference means, then you can get in.

Skills of a salesperson

FP: What skills, abilities, and personal attributes are essential to success in your job/this field?

You need to both be analytical and be a people person. Most of my colleagues are good with people and then learn to be analytical. My case was the reverse. So, data analysis (Excel and Powerpoint mostly) + Stakeholder engagement (Meetings with sales teams, trade partners, line managers)

FP: What kinds of accomplishments tend to be valued and rewarded in this field?

Being able to get your trade partners associated with you to align to a business goal. The bigger the goal aligned to, the more rewarding it is. Often, it isn’t only monetary gains that trade partners want. Being able to uncover those unsaid needs and match them with a business goal, will be a game changer. It is important to note that political salespeople rise up the ranks really fast. People adept at office politicking. I want to believe it’s the same in all fields. Being confident, vocal, and show-offy pay well.

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FP: What current issues and trends in the field should we know about?

There is a payment bubble in the Nigerian consumer goods marketplace and when it bursts, the losers will be the companies that sell on credit. There is an astonishing level of bad debt across the industry and traders are merely pushing the debt around their suppliers, paying Paul with Peter’s money. Tripartite agreements (between bank, distributor & producer) help curb to some extent, but it only protects the producers.

Often, it isn’t only monetary gains that trade partners want. Being able to uncover those unsaid needs and match them with a business goal, will be a game changer. It is important to note that political salespeople rise up the ranks really fast. People adept at office politicking. I want to believe it’s the same in all fields. Being confident, vocal, and show-offy pay well.

There are massively untapped insurance opportunities in the consumer goods industry. An example is a fact that over 90% of open market traders do not have any form of insurance even though there are yearly fires in markets across the country.) Much as digital sales are growing, the open market still accounts for over 60% of all sales revenue across homecare, personal care, food, wines & spirit. This number is lower for the home appliance sub-industry.

Fin-tech startups have started entering the Nigerian consumer goods space, facilitating payments and debt management. I have consulted with a few, and I am confident that in the coming years, over 500,000 Nigerian retailers will have access to better credit. I also have setafield, my own startup, that has helped over 20,000 unbanked traders gain access to working capital.

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Even with the Nigerian problem of bad power supply, and unreliable internet connectivity, there are some innovations around order aggregation, data collection, and goods delivery. 3 years ago, I developed FETA, a shelf-execution tracking application that helps consumer goods companies measure share-of-shelf, distribution, and product presence across multiple outlets in multiple locations. As with most innovations in this space, it is finding a way to work around the Nigerian problem.

People skills are invaluable

FP: What’s something you wish you knew earlier in your career/life?

An evening out drinking beer with the right people has more potential for career and personal growth than a month staying indoors, learning new skills. Very few people know how to pull off both. If one ever has to choose one, choose people.

FP: What do you like most about your work?

Analyzing data and using it to take action. As I am sure is clear by now, I am not as strong as I would love to be with people. This is the irony of my sales journey. But data will tell you what lies deepest in the customer’s heart. It will tell you truths even the customers do not know yet. I have had so many awards but most have been centered around improving distribution. The data reveals. It uncovers where the gaps are and I swoop in to cover them. I may be the best in the world at this.

FP: If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? If not, what would you change?

I would have chosen the same path. 100%. There would always be the temptation of teaching chess or writing stories, but there may be nothing in this world as exhilarating as smashing targets and making good money while at it. 


Joe Osemegbe Aito is a Sales Developer/Manager. Founder, Setafield, and the Developer, FETA. He lives in Gloucestershire, UK with his family.


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