9 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started in Sales

Things I wish I knew

To say I was “green” when I started in sales is a huge understatement.

Straight out of college, I answered a classified ad for a position selling phones door-to-door.  My only condition for taking the job was whether or not the company paid for training. I was that broke. I couldn’t go through a week of training without making money.

As an introvert, my first day on the job — and many days after — was a nightmare. Many people in my training class couldn’t handle it and dropped out. Despite the fact that I broke into a sweat every time I knocked on a door, I survived. But when I look back on those days, I realize just how much I didn’t know about sales. Here are nine things I wish someone would’ve told me my first week on the job.

1. Start practicing. Immediately.

Start getting comfortable speaking to strangers by volunteering to work in an organization, speaking at luncheons, or helping a non-profit. And do it ASAP.

Any role that involves striking up conversations and being friendly with people you don’t know is great practice for talking with prospects.

2. Don’t go to college.

Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but then again, maybe not. If I would’ve been told that a career in sales didn’t need a college education, I could have saved money a lot of money.

If I could go back, I would not have placed myself in a four-year college education. I paid a lot of money to skip class and spend the weekends at fraternity parties. Using that time to gain sales experience could’ve been just as valuable, or even more so.

3. You must have an audience. And B2B sales has one built-in.

Seeing how many people didn’t make it to the second week at that job was an eye-opener. It didn’t make sense to me why we were knocking on doors at night.

I decided there had to be a better way to make sales, so I changed up my tactics. I started visiting businesses during the day (where prospects were always on the job) rather than knocking on their door at home. And I started seeing results.  

The same idea applies to B2B sales. The people you need to connect with to make your pitch are in their offices, day after day. They’re much easier to get ahold of than consumers, and when you walk into a business your audience is there waiting for you.

Also, don’t let the “No Solicitation” signs scare you away. Most of the time a manager posts the sign, not the person who will greet you when you enter a store. Take the opportunity to start up a conversation, and find out which vendors they currently have relationships with. In most cases, those signs don’t mean anything. Just walk right in and start talking.

4. You don’t have to have a great pitch, but you do need a great delivery.

Over many years of selling, I’ve discovered the words you say aren’t nearly as important as how you say them. Think about the experience from the customer’s perspective. Launching into, “Hey, I’m going to save you a ton of money on your phone service,” gets an entirely different reaction than approaching the customer based on delivery.

You want to establish yourself as the person’s friend, not foe. Will they see you coming and hide in the bathroom? Or will they see you coming and think, “Great! Let’s have another interesting chat!” Friends enter the office and build rapport by using a person’s name and starting small talk. Foes come in with a stack of flyers that scream, “I’m on here for myself and to sell something.”

Focusing on delivery doesn’t mean you don’t ever give your pitch or hand out a brochure. It just means being sensitive to the person you’re dealing with. Craft a careful, engaging approach, and then deliver the pitch when it’s most appropriate.

5. Play up your weaknesses.

I used my introverted nature to my advantage long after I got over feeling uncomfortable talking to strangers. Many people don’t respond well to the aggressive nature of an outspoken salesperson, but are willing to connect with someone more introverted. If I was cold calling at a manufacturing facility, for example, people responded to my quiet, unaggressive manner.

Turn your weaknesses into strengths. Find what it is that sets you apart and use it to your advantage.

6. Talk to the right people.

Another important aspect of pitch and delivery is knowing who needs to hear it. Making your sales pitch to the receptionist won’t get you very far.

Work your connections and the face time you have with front-office staff to get names or business cards of the decision makers. Then you can be sure to give your pitch to the right person, not the gatekeeper.

7. Avoid networking events.

Contrary to what most people will tell you, networking events generally don’t help salespeople connect with buyers. Most of the time, you’ll be connecting with other salespeople looking to do exactly what you’re doing.

Unless you’re at a conference with a bunch of business owners that would buy your product, these events are usually a waste of time.

8. Be prepared to face rejection.

Rejection doesn’t mean you’re not a good salesperson, it’s just part of the job. The important thing is learning how to use rejection. Channel it to fuel your energy and empower your next connection with a prospect. And don’t forget…

9. Always exit a situation gracefully and skillfully.

Even when you have a door slammed in your face, you still need to leave the right impression. Be prepared with a statement of objection acknowledgment.

If you’re selling phones and your prospect is quick to say they already have a phone service, be prepared with “I understand. If you’re ever unhappy with the person you bought your phone from, I’d like to be the guy you buy from next. Here’s my card.”

Your exit statement is especially important when someone is rude or unpleasant. You wouldn’t believe how many of those people eventually called and did business with me after I responded to them with kindness.