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5 things I wish I knew before getting into sales

Are you starting a career in sales? Congratulations! Sales is a great place to learn invaluable skills like presenting, negotiating, reading the room, and cultivating deep product knowledge. Also, 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs started in sales**, so you’re in great company! 

I didn’t start my own career in sales, so I had a lot of bad habits to discard and plenty of room to improve on good ones. I made it a point to observe the salespeople around me. I learned some great lessons on what to do and sometimes what not to do. Below are some of the most valuable lessons I gathered, and hopefully they will help you just as much as they helped me. These could be the difference between a missed and crushed quota.


The tl;dr - 

  1. Stay organized
  2. It's weird if you don't negotiate
  3. "No" is just the beginning
  4. Invest in learning
  5. Don't let perfect get in the way of good enough


1. Stay organized

Some are blessed with the fondness for beautifully formatted spreadsheets and have a deep love for diligent note taking and color coding. Others, like myself, are about as organized as a group of kindergarteners on finger painting day. So it’s more of a daily practice than a perfected skill.

Between the pitching, networking, and traveling, staying organized can seem inconsequential by comparison, but those activities are only supercharged by a well-kept client list.

For example, as an account manager in media sales, I needed to know how clients’ spends were pacing at any given moment. Sales leaders frequently ask for updates, and having those numbers ready saves you from having to drop what you’re doing to gather the data.

Staying organized as a salesperson is paramount to success. It builds trust with your team and sets an example for the other sellers in your company while shining a light on the things that require the most of your attention, even if they aren’t the sexiest.

Carve out time to get your metrics straight at the beginning of each week to see performance improve and stress dissipate.


2. Invest in bettering yourself

To sell more every year, get better every year. Don’t wait for your organization to invest in you. Invest in yourself first. And that doesn’t necessarily mean spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a professional coach. You can find a mentor. Or do what I do and read everything! There are hundreds of books to read, audio CD’s to listen to, and seminars to attend. Be proactive in seeking out learning opportunities and take advantage of networking opportunities looking for all types of people who can help you improve.


3. Learn to negotiate

It’s hard to ask for things. Whether it’s a better job offer, a raise, or a price break, asking drives a lot of people into a deep cave of fear. Even a simple favor from friends is tremendously difficult for me to get over, and my friends are the BEST. Most salespeople have a “can-do” attitude but are crippled when it comes to negotiation.

Invest in a negotiation seminar or read books on how to go about it in a scientific way, so as to take emotion out of the exercise. I personally love Influence by Robert B. Cialdini, because it parses through the psychology of asking, but there is a multitude of content out there on negotiating to fit your personality and style.

You’re not throwing anyone off-guard by negotiating. Every buyer in the business expects it. Do your job, and do it with gusto!


4. “No” is just the beginning

“The worst someone can say is ‘No.’” It’s a platitude, but it’s true. What if someone says no? If you’re in the negotiation part of the transaction, then you shepherded your buyer to Buy. They want to get the deal done, too, and you’ve provided enough value at this point to make it through a few more sentences of discourse.

I was banging down doors and dazzling prospects with my pitches up until the Pricing Talk because I was scared of "no." Media sales are based on committing to a certain dollar amount of content - I have left money on the table from asking for too little an investment, in order to hedge my bets for the win. (Pro tip: If nobody is balking at the first number you throw out, you went too low.)

In the words of Cher Horowitz, “no” is just a jumping off point to START negotiations.


5. Don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough

I love a perfectly-edited piece of content, even if that content is an email. Grammatical errors hurt my heart. I have agonized over a few sentences in Gmail which I wasn’t even sure would be read. The point is, when you’re selling, you have to move things out of the door. Pulling your hair out over the right word or how to use a semicolon won’t help you close the deal. Your integrity, energy, and product knowledge will. Make sure what you’re sending is sensical, but this isn’t the great American novel. This is your quota.

These lessons may seem simple, but make all the difference when selling.


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Buck is a former account manager and account executive. She has sold at Twitter and Linqia, an influencer marketing startup and is now the Head of Growth at Bravado.

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