This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse and is republished here with permission.

After eight years in three different sales organizations, I wouldn't consider myself a sales rookie anymore. But I was once, and I made my share of mistakes.

As I discovered, this wasn't such a bad thing. The single most important tip I can give a sales representative just starting out is to not be afraid to fail and try new things. Get out there.

But to shorten the ramp up process and help others avoid some of the slip-ups I made, I've compiled a list of 10 tips for rookie sales reps. 

1) Don't be afraid to fail.

People who are not afraid to fail act. People who act move matters to a close. And people who close sell. 

If you are afraid, you will avoid picking up the phone. People who are scared react. People who react do not generally close enough business to meet their quota. Before long, you will find yourself on a development plan which will make you even more scared to make the call. I refer to this as the vicious circle of reactivity.

So do not be afraid. Use good judgment and move forward. It is always better to explain to your manager why you acted rather than why you did not.

In addition, you will learn from mistakes, but not from activities you didn't have the courage to pull the trigger on. If you don't agree with me, maybe you agree with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Next time you feel afraid, watch this.

2) Get in the field.

After you overcome your fear of failure, get out there. As much as possible. It's up to you how many people you contact and how often.

Even if your closing rate lags behind your colleagues', simply getting out there can make up the difference and will over time increase your average success rate. Consider some simple arithmetics:

Junior sales rep:

  • Closing rate: 0.01%
  • People contacted per day: 100
  • Deals closed per month: 30

Senior sales rep who has gotten lax about prospecting:

  • Closing rate: 5%
  • People contacted a day: 15
  • Deals closed a month: 22 - 23

Even if you double the closing rate of the senior sales representative to 10% -- which I would find impressive -- they would still only come out just slightly ahead of the junior salesperson. 

Also, stick with the processes provided by your employer. If your company does not have processes in place, take it upon yourself to inject structure into your prospecting and closing practices. Document your procedures and pass along your thoughts to your manager. It's likely that he or she will appreciate it. If not, look for a different team or company to work for.

3) Play in the right direction.

To use a baseball metaphor, it doesn't make sense to stand in the batting box the wrong way just to bat the pitch into the receiver's face with all your might. After one inning you will have no teammates left and will most likely be traded to a different team.

Target buyers that are a good fit for your company and product and get out on their playing field as often as you can. If you sell soccer balls, it is no use to pitch your products at a football stadium. Sure, you will make a sale here and there, but you'd have much more success at your local soccer club (where lots of juniors kick the ball onto the highway to never be seen again). They'll be needing a lot of soccer balls.

4) Understand the basic economics of sales.

If you follow the three tips above, you will build a pipeline, close deals, and make your quota. And as long as you hit your number, you're golden. Sales leaders concern themselves with how much revenue comes in at specific times, but you don't have to worry about that.

This rationale has a certain merit to it, and if you want to stay a sales rep for the majority or entirety of your career, you can keep this way of thinking. But if you want to one day become a sales manager -- and many rookie salespeople harbor this aspiration -- you should bear the following graphic in mind:

Let's say this chart represents the value of your house, starting at $100,000 and ending at $200,000. Which curve would you prefer: the red or the blue? Assuming you are not an adrenaline junkie who gets a kick out of losing $20,000 within six months and regaining $40,000 of value by the end of the year, you'd choose the red line.

The less accurate your sales forecast and those of your fellow reps, the more the company's stock price or the cashflow of your boss will resemble the blue line. A sales manager's job is to smoothen this curve out so that everybody with an interest in the company's financials can sleep better at night.

So it's worthwhile to take a vested interest in how and when revenue comes in, and supplying an accurate forecast. This attitude could be important to your professional development.

5) Understand the rules of buyer hierarchy.

The first person you talk to likely doesn't have the authority to decide on a purchase. So even if you are talking to the person who appears to be the highest-ranking stakeholder in the company, ask who else will take part in the decision.

6) Take a speed reading course.

A speed reading course was the single best professional investment I ever made. The bump in efficiency you gain from such a course will make you wish you took one before you went to college. It will help you prospect faster, become an expert faster, write better articles, and express yourself more clearly.

7) Understand that the client is the CEO of your company.

As a junior sales rep, I stuck to the process too much and was overly cautious about my actions -- always mindful of how the organization might react. Knowing what I know now, I would've been more daring.

Now, I am not telling you to disobey your management. But bear in mind that if there are no customers, there is no CEO, no VP, no second-line manager, no first-line manager, no sales team, and no job for you. Therefore, when you call a customer, you're really calling your CEO.

However, this doesn't mean that you should execute on every one of your buyer's wishes without question. Instead, lead the prospect to the best possible solution you can offer them. Most of the time, this entails disagreement on some points, and filling in knowledge gaps. Remember my first tip, and embrace this exchange rather than being an order taker.

8) Ask a lot of questions.

If in doubt, check it out. Ask the questions you want to be answered, especially the ones for which your prospect is reluctant to provide information. Get the answers you're looking for even if they put your deal in peril.

If you don't ask the requisite questions, I've found that it will come back around to haunt you later. This can manifest in loss of reputation, credibility, or trust. And do not brush these secondary sales KPIs aside. Remember that there will always be more than one quota-crushing salesperson being considered for a promotion, and metrics such as customer satisfaction and retention could make all the difference.

9) Know when it is time for action.

Once you feel you have all the necessary information to present a proposal to the client, do it.

Do not succumb to fear or invent stall tactics to avoid popping the purchase question to the client. It will be hard the first few times around and will remain hard for deals that represent the difference between meeting quota and falling behind. But power through. Recognize when it's time to close, and go for it.

10) Act more than think.

Never again in your career will mistakes be overlooked as much as in these early years when you have the least responsibility. So get the most out of your first years as a sales rep. Be bold, try new things, and fail forward.

Are you a junior sales rep struggling with a particular problem? Comment on this post or reach out to me directly.

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Originally published Jan 12, 2015 7:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

Topics:

Sales Career Growth