3 Things I learned from my first sales job

Do you remember the first time? You made a cold call, that is! In this article, I go back in time to where it all started. Come with me.

I did it. The Global VP of Sales at Salesforce did it. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you did it too. You picked up that phone, dialled that number and made your pitch to a stranger. How did it go?

One of the great things about sales is that pretty much everyone starts at the bottom of the ladder. I know I did. The old cliché is that it’s character building, and I guess it was. However, during my first sales job, I learned some things that I still draw on today.

Why am I telling you this? In May 2019, I was privileged to appear on Jeremey Donavan’s podcast, Hey Salespeople. Jeremey is SalesLoft’s VP of Sales Strategy and self-proclaimed sales nerd, so as you can imagine, we had a great time chewing the fat. Jeremey encouraged me to talk about my early experiences in sales and what I learned.

Smile and dial

‘My first job was at O-bit Telecom. It was a traditional telecom reseller. It was very much an SDR role. Cold calling.’

‘I met my manager. He gave me a print out with all the phone numbers. He gave me a piece of paper with the pitch written out on it. Then he pointed at the phone and told me to get dialling!’

‘I remember the fear, the literal anxiety that I felt. I can access that feeling now. I was so overwhelmed and so nervous that the very first time someone actually answered and said, ‘Hello’, I hung up the phone!’

So what did I learn during that time? Here are 3 lessons from my first cold calls.

1 — The more you do it, the better you get

After my first false start and a few repeats of it over the first few weeks, I gradually improved. I started to build up the muscle memory and began to feel comfortable with the volume of calls I had to make. I could make easy conversation and utilise the triggers that can influence someone to spend time with you.

I began to look at the cold call as an opportunity rather than something you just had to get through. It’s the same sense of curiosity I still have today. Every call, every conversation is a chance to connect, learn and help.

2 — Don’t pitch on the first call

Part of the problem with cold calling from a script is that the script is usually ineffective. It’s too long and too corporate. It spends too much time with unnecessary introductions when what it needs to do is get to the point, fast. The script doesn’t leave room to ask questions or handle objections. It gives the prospect an easy out, to say, ‘No. Thank you’ and end the call.

As I got to grips with the value of the proposition I was selling, I could deliver the pitch in a more relevant, interesting way. However, as I progressed through my sales career, I realise that the first call shouldn’t be about selling, it should be about getting your prospect excited.

On that first call, you should be pitching yourself, asking for someone’s attention. If they’re willing to give you that on your first call, make time for a second call where you have the opportunity to pitch, explain, ask questions and understand their needs.

3 — Sales is about human connections

My most successful cold calls in those early days were when I made an impact on the prospect in those precious first few seconds. I made them feel something.

When you talk with enthusiasm and passion, ask questions and be genuine in your interest, you build rapport. It’s a human connection.

The great thing about sales is that even now, when we have every piece of software under the sun to help us sell, it’s still about making that person-to-person connection. Hundreds of SDRs across the globe are making cold calls right now. The best ones are making a connection, not just reeling off features and benefits.

Over to you

I went on to work for some of the best companies in the world, such as LinkedIn and Ometria, but every day, I think back to those days smiling and dialling. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a necessary part of my journey. I couldn’t have become a VP of Sales or a Founder without that experience.

What do you think? How did your first cold calls go? What did you learn in your early days that you still do today?

Here’s another link to the full podcast. Make sure you give it a listen!

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