Author Daniel Pink believes that in today’s economy, we all sell. Whether we’re working to persuade, influence, or convince others, Pink says, “Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”
Some have chosen sales as their profession. You might have gotten a degree in selling, or maybe you've always wanted the unlimited earning potential and ability to be your own boss.
But what if you didn’t choose a career in sales? What if it just kind of happened? When I ask salespeople how they got started in the field, the most common reply is, “Well, it was kind of an accident.”
When I ask them to explain, these salespeople often tell me, “The full-time salesperson my company hired quit and I started filling in,” or “My Dad thought I’d be good at sales,” or even, “I liked account management and my company offered me a raise to help with business development.”
What started as temporary might have quickly turned into five months or more in the business. So, what now? How do you turn an accidental profession -- that you happen to be good at -- into a job you love? Here are a few of my tips.
How to Turn Your Sales Job Into a Career You Love
1) Educate Yourself
Understand modern sales is a profession that takes time, effort, and research to master. Begin your own education by taking sales courses from your local community college or university. Add to your resume with trainings or certifications, like HubSpot’s Inbound Sales Certification. And read unceasingly.
A quick Google search will turn up many reading lists geared toward salespeople. Pick one, work your way through it, and learn from some of the brightest minds in sales.
Also, get to know other salespeople in your field. Take top performers out to coffee, and find a mentor who can give you regular career advice.
2) Know What’s Important
Become familiar with common vocabulary (abbreviations, acronyms, etc …) in your industry. Then, learn about the busy season, know where to keep track of industry updates, and, most importantly, understand who you’re selling to.
Persona training should have been part of your onboarding process, but it’s worthwhile take that a step further.
Ask someone on the marketing team to take you on a deep dive of your customer personas. You’ll build goodwill with your friendly neighborhood marketers and learn about your ideal customer from a different point of view.
By digging into your customer’s journey, you’ll begin to understand the sales process from their perspective.
Once you understand the customer, get to know your competitors. Read about their product/service, sign up for free demos, and find out what their customers like and don’t like about them.
3) Meet with Top Reps
Identify top reps in your industry or team. No one can be “the best” in sales all the time. But you’ll identify salespeople who consistently perform well. Invite them to coffee and ask questions like, “How do you structure your day, month, and year?” Or “How do you grow your career?”
Spend time learning what they do differently, and translate those lessons into steps to further your own career.
And don’t just meet with one or two top reps during your first six weeks on the job. Advice you receive during your first month on the job will have completely different meaning when you’re six months in.
The more time you spend in your position the more context you’ll have, which changes how you understand and implement advice.
4) Be Patient
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” he famously says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. I believe it takes three-to-five years to master a job in sales -- between 5,800 and 9,600 hours.
With that in mind, don’t expect to outsell your coworkers or make The President’s Club your first quarter. Keep your head down, learn as much as you can, and fill company gaps before anyone else does.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of, “I’m not as good as _____,” but that’s a slippery slope to self-doubt and distraction. Set realistic expectations around your success and how long it will take to achieve it.
And avoid jumping to a new job too soon. If you’ve been at a company less than two years, you’re likely still learning and growing.
Remain at your job for at least two years, and learn as much about the territories, quotas, and sales cycles of that company as you can before moving on.
5) Work with Your Manager on Ramp
If your company doesn’t already have a ramp program, work with your manager to understand expectations within your first 30, 60, and 90 days on the job. I often see “accidental salespeople” get flustered when they’re not at the top of the charts immediately.
Stop judging yourself against experienced salespeople when you’re just getting started.
I worked with a new salesperson who didn’t close any deals her first quarter. But because her boss was aware of her ramp plan and positive progress, he wasn’t worried. When she finally closed business the next quarter, she told me, “Dan, I put so much pressure on myself that I just could succeed last quarter.”
Communicate with your manager, and make sure you’re on the same page about your ramp goals and progress.
6) Set Goals
Goals should go beyond your quota. As I’ve said before, your quota is a goal someone else sets for you, which makes it their goal.
Start with goals like, “I want to have a strong understanding of our buyer personas by the end of Q1,” or “I want to make 25 calls a day this month,” and reward yourself when you meet those goals.
Holding yourself accountable not working? Ask your manager to take you to lunch if you meet your goal. They’ll admire your willingness to push a little harder.
7) Conduct a Yearly Gut Check
Career Change for Salespeople
Do you repeatedly struggle to meet your quota? Does achieving your monthly or quarterly goal give you anxiety? Are you regularly unfulfilled by the work you do? If you answered “Yes” to any of these, it might be time to consider a job outside the sales profession.
Every year, take a few moments to review the previous 12 months and ask yourself, “Is my career in sales meeting my expectations?” No career will make you happy every day, but you should feel regularly fulfilled by the work you do.
Eventually, you should find success as well. Some people love interacting with others but have trouble meeting quota or experience too much anxiety. If that sounds familiar, a career in sales might not be for you.
Above all, soak it in. A career in sales should be fun, exciting, lucrative, stimulating, and rewarding.
Whether you’ve wanted a career in sales since you were a kid or stumbled into it on your way to another career, make the most of it and never stop enjoying yourself.
Originally published Jan 26, 2018 8:30:00 AM, updated January 26 2018