Before I hopped aboard the entrepreneurial rollercoaster, I had a sales job early in my career, and it truly changed my life.
Funny thing is, I didn’t consider myself a sales person by any stretch of the imagination.
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Even today, I lean toward being an introvert, I love building web products late at night and outside of work I’m primarily interested in solitary pursuits. Yet, I look back at this entry level sales job as one of my most valuable work experiences.
Here’s why I recommend everyone has at least one sales job, at some point in their career:
Removes Dulls fear of talking to people
I still remember the first time I had to pick up a phone and cold call someone. It was my first day on the job, and I was working alone in a back room. I didn’t know the product, the customers, or my behind from a hole in the ground.
With shaky hands, I picked up the cheap phone receiver and tapped in the digits, as if they were the passcode to hell. “Please don’t answer, please don’t answer” I repeated under my breath like a mumbling lunatic.
To my surprise, I didn’t have a heart attack. The man on the other end didn’t even point out how incomprehensible I was. Nailed it!
Each time I picked up the phone, it got easier. I started to say actual words, and eventually form full sentences. After a while, it just became part of my routine. I even started to enjoy it.
Then I noticed something really weird.
Talking to people outside of work wasn’t a big deal. I realized that taking a genuine interest in people and asking them questions is an easy way to create relationships. Being assertive started to become second nature.
What happened? I realized people aren’t all that scary.
While I still don’t consider myself a sales person, I’m no longer afraid to talk to people. If I want to partner with a company, I’ll call up their CEO. If I think your dog is cute, I’ll ask what breed it is and give it a pat.
Sales makes you persistent
Cold calling is a numbers game. You get rejected. A lot.
I was hung up on. I was sworn at. I was told our price was too high. In other words, I was told “no” over and over again. Most of the time, I was close to giving up. But it didn’t matter, I had to keep calling – I needed the paycheck.
Every so often, I would get someone to a “yes”. Over time, I started hearing yes more frequently.
A thick layer of figurative skin grew over me and I learned to focus on the process instead of getting caught up on how many closes I got that day.
After thousands of calls – some good, most not – I got better. Not just at sales, but at getting back up after being kicked in the head. Repeatedly.
Grinding it out every day taught me patience and deep rooted persistence.
You learn the fundamentals of business
Sales is fundamental to the doing of business. If you aren’t selling something, it’s not a business. OK… maybe not if you’re a pre-revenue “Unicorn”, but that’s a whole other blog post.
To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end. ― Daniel H. Pink, To Sell Is Human
At its core, sales is an exchange of value. You’re trading something your customer wants, for something you want: cash, money, dough, scrilla or Bitcoin.
If you unwrap this, you’ll find there’s a lot in there.
Who is your customer, exactly? What are their preferences? Where do they tend to congregate? What problems do they need solutions to? What’s the best way to communicate with them?
Why does your product exist? No, really… why? Sales teaches you to get crystal clear on the value your product or service brings to your customer, in very specific terms, and then communicate that value.
What you want
What price is your customer willing to pay for the value you offer them? What price do you need to charge to be profitable, whether that’s today or in the future at scale? Will you charge a 1-time price, or a recurring fee? Will you lock them into a contract?
My first sales job taught me the basic building blocks of business.
Sales teaches you to be systematic and organized
Without a system, you won’t get very far in sales. It’s essential to stay organized.
At first, I scrolled through my employers primitive sales database calling people at random if their row in the spreadsheet showed any sign of having a higher likelihood of buying from me. It didn’t take long for this to become unworkable.
I eventually had the groundbreaking insight of calling people down the list in order, marking them off as I went.
From there, I learned some Excel basics and broke up the list into logical groupings. This allowed me to tailor my approach based on different factors.
Then I split the groups in half, and tried a different sales script on each. I tallied up the results, and continued on with the winner. I was A/B testing without knowing it!
Not before long, I was following a procedure that included incremental adjustments that gradually improved my results over time and kept me on track. Even without fancy software, I could easily pull up information on any customer, or look at my number of prospects, qualified leads and closes.
My system wasn’t sophisticated, but it kept me focused, taught me how to stay organized and systematically carry out my work.
Sales teaches you the fundamental building blocks of business, and builds character as well. You’ll take these lessons with you for the rest of your life.
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