Silver Linings Playbook: Where You Start Your Sales Career is Not Where You Finish:
Early Career Advice from a CEO Who Started His Career Cold Calling
The first installment
Mark Howley did not start his career as the CEO/Owner of Pacific Bag, Inc. leading a team that services over 5,000 clients in more than 50 countries. His early twenties were personally rocky. His mother died of cancer and he realized alcohol and drugs were going to ruin him. He cleaned up and remains clean and sober today. Then, he started anew at the bottom rung in the sales world -- telemarketing.
Mark worked his way up through each sales position, including positions in regional sales, sales manager, product management and vice president. Each position required extensive travel in the US, Asia, and Europe. Along the way, he learned about time management, training, and motivating salespeople. The education he gained from the different sales positions paid off when he and his management team financed the purchase of Pacific Bag with a mix of bank loans, mezzanine lenders, and investors.
He knows from personal experience, young professionals considering a sales career frequently think that a gregarious and energetic personality will open doors and create success. It is true, these traits help, but they are not imperative. People from all walks of life succeed because they realize sales success is more about learning the trade, patience, and persistence than personality. Don’t be intimidated, instead give sales a try, but you must be patient, teachable and a hard worker!
Think about this, sales people are the only ones who generate revenue! All the other disciplines manage or coordinate efforts after revenue is received. It takes years to learn accounting, operations, financial analysis, IT etc., and sales is no different, except we bring in the money. The key ingredient!
Shortcuts are useless when it comes to learning corporate sales. The early years of a sales career are critical because it takes practice, study, and patience. Good things happen if you put the time into it. The learning curve needs to be understood realistically and managed with awareness that an enduring and enjoyable long term successful career takes time and practice.
It would take many pages to cover all the things to learn about sales. In this first installment, I cover four time-tested and proven keys for a young sales professional to identify their silver lining in sales. You must lay the foundation for long-term sales success through: product position, practice, persistence, and organization. Remember, to succeed you need to be patient and play the long game.
1. Product/position: The knowledge of product and market position of your product is imperative. Most corporate training involves a cursory review of products and features, but basic training is barely enough to get started. Successful young sales people go further; they dig for knowledge and create their own curiosity. Every successful product is fascinating when you learn its road to success and measure it against competitive forces. The good young salespeople reach beyond the sales group and ask questions to managers in departments like the technical, operational or design to learn more about the product. Managers love inquisitive people, and they are a great source of information about the benefits, features, market position, and most importantly the optimal prospects.
2. Practice: Approaching prospects is scary, especially today. Buyers are savvy, and prospects are very impatient. They know what they want, they researched it, and they don’t want hokey pitches. The efficient sales pitch is a crucial and powerful tool because it establishes credibility. As an example, you must develop a one minute golden advertisement for the telephone and impromptu discussions. It is the door opener! This requires a good written “script” and a lot of practice to get comfortable. Don’t kid yourself, it’s hard to get comfortable. Experienced salespeople practice and their words flow naturally without a moment’s pause. Employer training is rarely adequate. If you want to be successful take initiative outside the office or in the car. Read books, listen to instructional videos and audios, and learn the best practices of successful colleagues in action.
3. Persistence: The best sales professionals are very persistent and frequently walk a fine line between persistence and bothersome. The bothersome sales professional is a pest. On the other hand, the deliberate professional has a system that succeeds. It usually takes six quality discussions or meetings to build an environment for the closing opportunity. Most sales people don’t have a plan, and if they do, they don’t stick with it. Listen to the customer, take notes, and formulate a good reason for the next productive call. It takes time and effort, and the results are worth it.
4. Organization: Prospect lists are long, email requests pile-up, and internal company meetings suck up precious time. Add to that, all the prospects and customers want fast answers. The road to sales success includes meticulous organization. The great salespeople copy a proven organizational system and use it. They are efficient and fantastic at prioritizing, and therefore surprises are kept to a minimum. Many young salespeople think they can do it from memory or on their own – wrong! Learn a proven process and stick with it.
The early stages of a sales career can set the tone for the trajectory of a rewarding sales career -- or not. Find opportunity in every situation to learn and develop your skills. You will become confident and comfortable with your own unique personality and customer interactions as you learn the business. It’s terrible to squander early career opportunities in a series of job hops and career stagnation. Good luck!