For a sales professional, starting in a new position can feel intimidating. A new role in a company with fresh tasks can often come accompanied with stress and an expectation to start performing fast. If looked positively, a new job is an opportunity to give a great impression and show your value as a priceless new member of a well-functioning team.
Taking control of your entry into a new role and starting to be productive quickly is a huge value-add to your employer. Here we will explore the topic in more detail and give some insight into getting organized with your work.
A few topics that this article covers are:
First days in a new role
- How to manage your employer's expectations?
- What are some of the main skills that employers value when you start?
- What to focus on during your first days?
- How to start being truly productive?
Consecutive months in the new position
- What are some important things to keep in mind during the next months?
- What are some of the metrics and measurables that you should keep an eye on?
- How to exactly know if you have done well?
And much more...
From interview to insights
In order to give the best possible insight into the topic, this article features an interview with Miikka Aalto, an experienced sales professional with a background from multiple organizations that range from smaller companies all the way to Fortune 500 corps.
Having a solid track-record and references to beat, Miikka is the right person to reflect on his valuable experience and support us with our thinking.
Managing the expectations
Miikka, sometimes companies set high expectations on your performance, how have you managed the expectations so far?
It depends a lot on the company and the role that you will be starting in. If it is a new role that was created recently, it might be that the expectations are far less clear.
It also depends a lot on how others within the same organization have done sales so far and thus the expectations of your performance can be benchmarked accordingly.
In general, I would say that the best indicator is the company size. If the sales organization is large, the targets and goals can be strictly defined well in advance as compared to smaller companies.
I have joined roles that had been newly created, and in these positions the companies have been more open and flexible with the required results and goals, as all the responsibilities for these roles had not yet been "written in stone". Sales organizations are still run by numbers, so the goals, in these cases, were somewhat set together with the management team and thereafter worked towards effectively.
Before joining a new company, I recommend you to ask about their strategy and how they strive to achieve the goals with your help. Ask about the scope of your responsibilities and use it to project what is truly expected of you.
Do you adhere to the ways that a company is used to working already, or do you bring your own ways to work? What is the mix?
It is definitely a mix of both. Every organization has their own way of doing the basic things (CRM, forecasting, knowledge sharing etc.), but you should definitely bring in your own experience and expertise to the more hands-on aspects such as making the calls, seeking out new opportunities and actually bringing in the new business.
You will most probably always have a chance to bring some of your own personality into the mix and over time implement the ways that you are most comfortable working with. That is what in the end will enable you to bring the best results.
How quickly did your previous companies let you know about your targets, did they perhaps let you define your goals yourself?
If you join a larger sales organization, the goals and targets are presented to you instantly.
When I joined a large professional sales org in a large multinational corporation for example, I was instantly presented with goals of generating new pipeline, the number of opportunities (cases) that needed to be found and the actual dollar value of my annual target.
I have to say though that I most enjoyed starting in roles where I was first introduced to cases that were already underway and asked to ensure the successful progress of those ones first. At the same time, as a secondary goal, I could start to increasingly look for new business that gradually introduced new learnings and an increase in responsibilities.
As a rule of thumb, larger organizations present the goals and targets quicker. Smaller companies not so often. It is a great first impression and well respected though if you are able to bring some new results fast.
In a small organization, set your own small goals, spend an hour or two of your day on getting new business and maybe leverage your present contacts to grab the potential of the low hanging fruit first.
How quickly have your employers started putting pressure on you so far? Does it influence your working style?
Indeed there is usually some sort of a defined timeframe regarding when the company expects you to be on top of your game and start bringing results. At some point, you cannot keep saying anymore that this is still about the learning process.
A good rule of thumb, depending on the role, of course, is that about within 4-6 months the pressure starts to increase. Here the harsh reality of the sales career kicks in... Results are needed.
The sales organization as a revenue center is responsible for bringing in the money, and thus revenue generation needs to happen, otherwise, the reason of your existence can be put under question.
First days when starting in a new position
How do you start in a new role, what is your mindset and what do you tend to do first when you start?
During the first days, the main thing to do is to learn. Learn a lot and learn fast. You need to know what you are selling. Gain a basic, ground-level understanding of your product. Gain an ability to present your product to your customers as fast as possible.
In case there is a complex product portfolio and lots of products that you are potentially responsible for, such as in my previous role at a large software company, for example, try to choose the best selling products and focus on those ones first.
Take one or two products that are simpler and tend to sell well. Start working with them first. As a sales professional, it is very valuable that you are quickly able to give an overview of the product and start providing small but valuable insights to your customers. Keep in mind that you don't want to sound like a talking machine, but rather strive to become a valuable subject matter expert while remembering to listen.
If for whatever reason new learnings don't stick, everyone should be able to take notes. Take notes and ask questions, ask lots of questions. They say that there are no stupid questions, just stupid people. - Miikka Aalto
Focus on getting small wins that will boost your confidence. Small wins are extremely important when starting out. Be open to learn and have a learner's attitude. Trying to seem like too much of an expert from the get-go will only lead to a rigid mindset and make you vulnerable while halting your true learning potential.
As the last thing to mention, remember to be honest. If you don't know something, be open about it. Tell your customer that you will figure it out and come back with an answer. Being honest builds trust and your customers will understand that you are new. This is better than trying to come up with a wrong answer and ruining the relationship early on.
How quickly have you usually started talking with customers after starting in a new position?
The quick answer is that it takes only a couple of days. It depends on how quickly you grasp the products. It looks good when you start fast and take ownership of your approach early on. Even learning on your own time can be a good idea in order to have that lightning start.
You learn faster when you start talking with your customers. Customers will ask questions that you'll have to figure out making you learn even quicker.
What do you tend to do in order to start being truly productive with your work?
Early on, I've noticed that you always have to stay organized when doing things towards something.
I very extensively use a to-do list approach where I jot down almost every detail of what I have to do. Sometimes I even set a date by which I have to complete the things that I've planned.
I also use my calendar to time-block and remember the parts of the day when I'm supposed to focus on something in particular.
Being productive means to me that I know what to do when to do it and have it written down for myself. I keep doing that continuously and remain disciplined with this approach in order to avoid slowing down as time goes by.
A weekly calendar lets you see where you still have time and makes you think about what to do in order to stay productive.
What do you think are the main skills that employers value when starting in a new sales role?
First one is definitely your ability to be proactive. Taking matters in your own hands and actually doing what you are hired to do is very valued when you start in a new role.
Second is learning. Sales professionals can be sometimes considered dumb and self-centered when actually we have to keep learning a lot and do it fast.
When you combine your skills of learning and being proactive from the get-go you form a powerful mix that can carry you a long way while truly making you valuable to the company that hired you.
Do you think it is important to be a team player in sales, has your work included lots of cooperation with others?
Being a team player in sales is just as important as in any other role. It may depend on your exact job description but nobody can do all of the things that are needed within an organization alone.
You have to constantly cooperate with various experts, be it sales consultants, engineers or others. You have to be able to trust these people. It is always better to keep building your internal network as it is extremely valuable in the long run.
The following months
What are the three most important things to keep in mind for consecutive months after starting in a new role?
It is important to keep the pace that you started with and not slow down. If you work hard in the first months and it brings you good results, it doesn't make sense to wind down.
Of course, the workload and responsibilities will keep growing but that is a good thing. Then again if you start having too much on your plate at the same time, the organization should have a mindset that is open to hiring more people for sharing the result-oriented workload. This is a positive problem.
So the consecutive months are all about doing the same things that you did in the beginning while becoming more independent and self-reliant within the organization. Strive to become autonomous, resourceful and continue to learn.
What are some of the metrics or measurables that you should keep an eye on as months go on?
As a sales professional, it is important for you to know what is expected of you. It should be crystal clear. Based on what is expected of you, you then should start to make your own additional goals that you are able to meet and exceed.
As you inquire about some of the sales-related goals in your organization, start looking after your performance based on those. If the company tells that it would be nice if you could find one valid opportunity per week, I would start aiming for 2-3 of those in the same timeframe.
In summary, when the company gives you their expectations, you should then add a couple of your own ones and aim to exceed them thereafter. If you manage to find 2 valid deal possibilities on Monday, why would you then not continue working the same way for the rest of the week also?
Sometimes things go well, sometimes not so well. It is important to be able to continue no matter the situation. Always work towards exceeding your goals.
How do you know that those first months in a new position have gone well, or not so well?
It is indeed very important to understand if things have gone well because it makes your work very much easier over time. If you don't have a good feeling about what you do, the work tends to become harder.
The best indicator about whether things have gone well is that you feel comfortable about asking your superiors to do a performance review and evaluate together how the work has been going so far.
When you are honest about sitting down and discussing things with your manager, and asking for feedback regarding your work, you will feel reassured and show that you are interested to keep continuously learning and improving.
Don't be content on wondering if you have done well or not, but rather be proactive in this regard. It is very good to know where you stand and your organization should be happy to provide you with some compact feedback every now and then.
So why are you in sales?
I enjoy working in sales because there are rarely two days that look the same. The roles that I've worked in so far have been varied and filled with different challenges. It is refreshing if you think about it as sort of helping out your customers and supporting them with their efforts.
Nothing feels as good as when you see the actual results of your work and what you've achieved. In addition to helping your customers, you are also helping your own company and have the potential to earn a better living in the form of commissions or other incentive mechanisms.
Sales is a career decision that everyone has to take themselves. It is hard to recommend joining sales to someone whom you don't know very well. It's not always smooth sailing as while having the potential to earn a lot, sometimes it can be difficult to even make the bare minimum. Lots of things depend on the person itself.
If you are effective and disciplined, you learn fast and enjoy working with people, as well as have the right mentality or attitude, sales can be a good money maker for you.
There is always some risk within sales but the chance for a greater payoff is also out there. If you have a hobby or passion for something, working in that field within sales can be extremely rewarding. I highly recommend you to consider it.
Thank you for reading the first interview based article in the Lost Book of Sales blog.
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