7 things I learnt from working in sales
Being fresh and new to sales is terrifying and thrilling, all at the same time. The prospect of making great money, having autonomy, being out of the office all day and meeting great people certainly has its appeal.
But there’s another side to sales, one that isn’t all big commissions and expensive lunches.
That’s the part of sales that means hard work and getting knocked down from time to time, and while I look back on my time in sales as one of the best periods of my working life so far, I’m the first to admit it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
Here’s what I know now, but didn’t know when I was just a pimply-faced 20-year old with an ill-fitting, green microfiber suit and huge smile:
1. Big commissions get paid for big effort
The huge 5 or 6 figure commission payments don’t come in your first year. Or your second year (unless you’re selling something that pays unusually well).
Big commission cheques get paid to sales people that do the hard yards, calling 10 to 20 new prospects every day, having 10 – 15 meetings or more per week. If you ever want to see 4, 5 or even 6 zeros on your pay slip, you need to be putting in the effort.
2. The big deals don’t come to you (you have to find them)
This carries on from point 1. If you’re not on the phone, knocking on doors or booking appointment after appointment, you’ll never come across the relationships that then build into big deals. Getting an inbound phone call for a deal that pays $50,000 commission is a rarity. You’ve got about the same chance as being hit by lightning. So, get out there and pound the pavements; find those client relationships that you can build into something great.
3. Every problem is YOUR problem
This one was the hardest to learn:
“the installers stuffed up”
“the delivery won’t be here on time”
“the director can’t sign your deal this afternoon - she’s not in the office”
“the connection is down”
When you’re the interface between the client and the business you work for, and you’re the one who knows everyone and has influence, you’re the one who’ll get called by the client when something isn’t right. You’re also the one who’ll have to drop everything, be humble and sort things out.
I’ve had calls on Sunday afternoons while at the park with my kids or Monday nights at dinnertime and I’ve had to make phone calls to the right people to get problems sorted out. You’re the one with the big salary, the flexible schedule and the big comms payments, so you’re also the one who needs to play diplomat and get things fixed when stuff goes wrong. Be brave, honest, and fix problems quickly.
4. Your client is the most important person in your (working) life
Sure, family does come first. Absolutely. But when you’re at work and work pays the commission, your clients are the most important people you speak to. Not your boss, and not your co-workers.
I’m not saying you need to suck up to your clients and worship them like they’re Greek gods (they’d probably tell you to get lost). But I am saying that you need to be responsive. You need to do what you’ve said you’ll do. You’ll need to ask the hard questions and make big requests of your own boss or people at your company to make things happen.
If a client doesn’t feel like you’re on their team, they aren’t going to give you the big deals to quote on either. Hard work and unwavering support of your client’s genuine needs are what will build an unbreakable client relationship that will pay handsomely over time.
5. If you’re afraid of people, get over yourself (or get a new job)
It’s ok to be an introvert and work in sales, as long as you’re willing to get over yourself each and every day. I often had days when I’d get to the office and hope the phone didn’t ring and that no one would bother me. I know that’s crazy but some days I really felt like the ultimate introvert, not the fun-loving, deal-making extrovert I am the rest of the time.
The difference is, on the days when I didn’t want to call people, I’d do this...
I'd firstly call a mate for a quick chat. And then call a client I know well, to see how things are going. And you know what? By the time I’d done that, I was ready to call anyone.
It was unorthodox, but I found that if I could break the ice with a phone call to a ‘friendly’ first, I could take on any challenge by phone, including cold-calling for leads.
As the famous saying goes… “feel the fear, and do it anyway.”
6. No one cares about how much you sold last quarter
There’s nothing more humbling (or deflating, depending on how you look at it), than getting in to work for the first Monday 8am sales meeting after the end of a cracking sales quarter to know that:
(a) Your sales from last quarter are from last quarter. No one cares now, this is ‘this quarter’.
(b) And that you’re back at ZERO again.
The only way to make these fresh starts easier is to have a huge pipeline of deals you’re working on (see points 1 & 2). It also ensures that you’re not facing point 7 while in the same meeting…
7. Nothing hurts more than losing
Yep. The numbers don’t lie: you either hit your target or you didn’t. That’s it.
And if you didn’t, then it’s a sucky time to be sitting amongst your peers in an 8am sales meeting at the start of a new quarter.
What’s worse? I’ll tell you – it’s the previous Friday morning when you didn’t have an “I’M GOING TO LUNCH” sign above your desk like all the other sales people who’d hit target for the quarter. And you knew that you weren’t going to be able to close any more deals before the day is out.
Yes, I missed lunch (a couple of times). It’s sucks, hard.
If this is you, then you need to do 2 things:
(a) You need to give yourself a good talking to about what went wrong and why. It’s a good idea to do this over the weekend so that you’re not making crummy excuses in Monday’s sales meeting.
(b) You need to get a plan for getting yourself back on track. It’s called ‘activity’. Own the phone. Be out of the office at meetings. Start earlier, stay later, do whatever you need to do to get your pipeline absolutely pumping again.
BONUS TIP: Do shit today.
Don’t put stuff off until tomorrow.
Every single day you don’t get a quote out to a client or don’t make 20 phone calls for the day is a day you’ll never get back and a future where you won’t get to enjoy the spoils of having worked hard.
If you really want to succeed in sales, then take it from someone who’s had huge wins and catastrophic losses, do shit today.
Sales is an absolute cracker of a career to have. You’ll never get to meet so many interesting people, nor have so many crazy/fun/scary/invigorating experiences in any other job. Just take it from me that if you’re starting out in sales, focus on the important things, do the hard work and everything else will take care of itself.
Oh, and you’ll one day be a seasoned salesperson too.
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