What Salespeople Should Expect at a Start-up

start upsUnless you are lucky or have connections, chances are that after you graduate from college, you will probably not work at a mid-size or major corporation. Your first sales job will probably be at a start-up.

Why a start-up? Because start-ups are hungry – if not desperate – for salespeople. And depending on the industry or product line, you could earn a decent compensation package. But even if the compensation package is bad, you could gain experience, contacts and sales stats that you could leverage later for better opportunities.

Sure, you may have your eye on the big prize – a larger company. You have dreams of large paychecks, above average benefits, a 401K plan (with matching contributions from your employer), and maybe even a 2 or 3 week vacation your first year. But most sales managers at major companies would prefer hiring someone with more experience and skills than a college graduate.

Consider a start-up to be your training ground before your hit the big leagues.

But what can you expect while working at a start-up?

1). Expect to work your ass off

If you are seeking a 9 to 5 job, forget it. At a start-up, expect to work 50 to 60 hours per week. That’s a given. You will find quickly that those who try to work normal hours are not going to survive very long. And if your base salary is low, you better work long hours if you want to make up the difference in your commission or bonus package.

2). Expect high turnover and a lot of new hires

Depending on how successful your start-up becomes, expect a lot of turnover in the sales team and a lot of new hires along the way. Start-up owners constantly experiment with a different set sales managers and salespeople before they find the right mix.

3). Expect a lot of changes in your compensation package

If you are one of the lucky few to get hired in a sales position in the early stages of a start-up, you will probably find yourself striking gold in a lot of virgin sales territories or prospects – at least in the very beginning. Your sales territory will probably be enormous. Your biggest headache won’t be the number of prospects or leads you’re working on, but properly managing your time and setting priorities on which key prospects or leads to target first.

However, if your start-up is successful, you will probably see huge number of new faces coming onboard quickly. That means territories will be divided more often, and you may find yourself working in a more competitive sales environment. Don’t be surprised if your base salary changes (up or down). Don’t be surprised if your quotas change (up or down). Don’t be surprised if you commission or bonus structure changes (up or down).

In short, don’t be surprised if your compensation package goes on a rollercoaster ride until the hiring spree begins to slow down, and upper management has a better idea of how to project quotas and measure sales success.

4). Expect to wear a lot of hats

So, you think you’re being hired as a salesperson only. Wrong.

Depending on your background and skill sets, you may find yourself wearing a lot of hats in the beginning before you completely immerse yourself in sales.

You wrote for your school newspaper? You took some writing courses in college?

Congratulations – besides selling, you are now the new blogger.

You took some marketing courses in college? You read some business books?

Great – besides selling, you will also be the new marketing manager until they can either hire a permanent marketing manager, or outsource the work.

You took some online courses on how to code? You developed some websites for your friends in your spare time.

Fantastic – besides selling, you are now the new website designer.

Do you expect to get paid more for all extra skill sets? Not likely. Well, at least not for a while.

5).  Expect a lot of stress and anxiety

Long hours. Bad diet. Little or no social life. Little or no health or dental insurance.

All this adds up to a lot of stress and anxiety.

And that’s just for starters.

Don’t be surprised if the owner or managers are yelling at each other.

Don’t be surprised if your co-workers are screaming at each other.

Don’t be surprised if you’re yelling at someone.

The stress and anxiety level are also excessive because start-ups frequently change their products and services. That’s understandable. As start-ups begin doing business with clients, they will evaluate the pros and cons of their offers, and adjust along the way. In addition, they may change sales and marketing tactics.

It comes with the territory.

selling at a start-up6). Expect selling to be difficult

Selling is always tough – no matter where you work. But at a start-up, your challenges will be higher because of the following –

Working for a company with little name recognition in the market place.

Working with a crappy CRM that’s not very reliable or doesn’t have all the bells and whistles like Salesforce.com.

Working in an open environment where you have little or no privacy. (Please read my post on Open Space Offices – Good or Bad Idea?).  Yes, it’s true that many companies these days, including large corporations, are going with the open space trend. But at a start-up you probably are not going to have a lot of office space. As a result, the noise level will be louder, and you may have a difficult time concentrating. (For example, I once worked at a start-up where I always had someone facing me every day. Very nerve-racking).

Working with little or no experience IT support. If your laptop or phone suddenly doesn’t work, you may be pretty much screwed for a couple of days.

Working with little or no marketing help. Some start-ups may outsource their marketing assignments for a while, but you won’t have anyone on site to help you generate leads, and clearly develop your company’s brand.

7). Expect culture to sometimes turn into a cult

Some start-ups love to glamorize their culture with weekly company lunches, Friday happy hours, company mottoes, and mascots. But underneath that veneer of happiness and camaraderie could be a cult in the making.

(I once worked for a start-up where the motto was “play nice.” But it was anything but nice – a strange young woman kept giving me the evil eye and cold shoulder all the time. To this day I have no idea why she was angry at me. At the same company, a sales person screwed me over royalty when she left and transferred most of her good accounts to two of her friends. I ended up getting mostly terrible accounts from her. So much for “play nice.”)

Some start-up owners and sales managers love to play mind games, or insist on forced group happiness. By keeping you extremely busy, you may be blind-sided by acute favoritism or financial problems. Don’t be so overworked that you don’t see the truth in front of you.

Stay in regular touch with friends and family. Maintain some familiar routines.

Never lose sight of your true self.

8). Expect little job security

You may be the top salesperson at your company, but if the company fails, it’s game over for you.

Many start-ups are created on a wing and a pray….and on maxed out credit cards, loans from friends and relatives, and iffy investments. That’s not to say that the start-up you are working for doesn’t have a great product or service to offer.

If there’s not enough revenue coming in, you could be going out.

We all must start somewhere. Start-ups offer a great opportunity to develop your sales skills, make contacts and hopefully get a steady paycheck.

Just make sure you are going in with the right expectations.

For more advice on working at a start-up, please check out these links –

“5 Things You Should Know before Working at a Startup” by Rikki Rogers

“9 Reasons Why it Sucks Working for a Startup” by Dana Severson

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career

Should you follow the Money or the Manager?

Anyone who is interested in the Watergate scandal remembers the famous phase from the drama-documentary “All the President’s Men”. It’s that moment when Deep Throat advises Bob Woodward (played by Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (played by Dustin Hoffman) to “follow the money.”

But does that same advice apply to sales?

Follow the moneyWe all seen them – the employment ads promising 6 figure incomes, or uncapped commissions. We see dollar signs and decide to apply to those positions. Sometimes the job postings are accurate and sometimes they are dishonest.

But should you always follow the money?

Here is the dirty little secret in sales – compensation plans change all the time. Yes, technically speaking, compensation plans should usually change about once a year, when managers adjust quotas or commission percentages. But in the real world, that’s not always the case.

I’ve known situations where compensation plans change once a quarter, or even once a month. Like it or not, the manager (or most likely the owner) is controlling the purse strings. If he feels the salespeople are earning too much money, he will “adjust” the compensation package to ensure that you’re not earning too much money. I know one owner who feels that it’s important to keep salespeople “hungry” so that they don’t become too complacent.

Why? Because hiring and retaining employees – even salespeople – can be expensive. Owners must consider an array of expenses, including rent, leases, office supplies, utilities, etc.

So what should you do? Should you follow the money?

Or, should you instead follow the manager?

You see, here’s another dirty little secret in sales – good sales managers are hard to find.

And if you find a good sales manager, chances are, you will also find a fair compensation and benefits package, an equitable distribution of leads and prospects, and valuable coaching and advice.

Where do you find these good sales managers?

Word of mouth.

Networking

And sites with employer reviews like Glassdoor and Indeed.

So next time you go the job hunting, ignore the dollar signs. Instead, find a good sales manager. Because when you find a good sales manager, and you prove your worth to the company and sales team, trust me, the money will follow.

Because here’s my final dirty little secret in sales – good salespeople are hard to find.

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career

 

Phone Interview Tips for Salespeople

Most companies these days will ask you to do a phone interview prior to inviting you in for an in-person interview. This is done for several reasons. First, it saves everyone time by making sure you are going to be a good fit for the job. Second it’s a good way for the employer to hear you speak and interact over the phone (especially if you are applying for an inside sales position). And third, it allows the employer to weed out candidates who don’t do well over the phone, or who don’t have the qualifications to do the job.

When doing phone interviews, always make sure you have your resume, the job posting and any other supporting documents you need at your fingertips. While this may be a phone interview, you have to be just as prepared as if you were attending in person interview. And it goes without saying; always do some research on the company and the hiring manager.

Also, never assume that only one person is listening to your phone interview. While in most cases the HR person will do the first phone interview, sometimes the hiring manager will stay quiet and sit in the background listening to your conversation. Shortly after the interview, he may tell the HR person to give you thumbs up or down, and then move on to the next candidate.

And depending on the sales job you are applying for, sometimes you may be asked to do two phone interviews before being asked to meet someone in person. This could be the HR person and then one of the hiring managers. They may want to compare notes before asking you to come in.

Doing a sales phone interviewLeaving Voice Mail Message Test

In some cases, before you even speak to the HR person or Hiring Manager, you may be asked to call and leave a voice mail message. You can leave any voice mail message you like, but it’s usually sales related to what you are currently selling or have sold in the past. If you leave a good voice mail message or sound professional, you will move forward in the interviewing process.

While leaving a voice mail may be a requirement before you are interviewed, sometimes you may to ask to give a spur of the moment sales presentation over the phone. This happened to me a few years ago when I applied for an inside sales position at a durable medical equipment company. After going through a series of interviews, at the last-minute I was asked by the owner to call him from another office. I could make any sales presentation that I like. I was not prepared for this in advanced. And to add more pressure, most of the sales team was listening in and gave their critique after my presentation. Fortunately, I passed with flying colors and I was offered the job in a few days.

No Appointment Phone Interview

And finally, sometimes the sales manager may want to call you without an appointment. They do this for a couple of reasons.

First, they want to catch you off guard and see how you interact with a total stranger over the phone. Are you poise, confident, and speak well under pressure? Or are you flustered and irritated by the call? Can you answer questions about the job you are applying for without the job posting and notes in front of you? Can you answer questions about your employment history without your resume in front of you? Can you ask questions of the sales manager without your notes in front of you? You may think the sales manager is being rude by calling you without an appointment, but consider this a test – perhaps the first of several tests you will have to go through during the interview process.

Second, the sales manager may want to call you without an appointment because he’s busy. He has a job that must be quickly filled, and he doesn’t want to go through all the niceties and bureaucracy of hiring someone. If you sound half-way professional over the phone, and your resume is above average, he may want to get you in the door quickly. This is especially true for a high-turnover sales department, or a small company that can’t afford a sales position to be open for too long. If that’s the case, beware that you are not walking into a “churn and burn” sales department. Unless you are desperate for a job, take your time before considering accepting a job offer in a hectic and crazy sales environment.

Treat the phone interview just as seriously as an in-person interview. It could make the difference between landing your dream job or being unemployed.

For more advice on handling phone interview, please read –

“17 Phone Interview Tips to Guarantee a Follow-up,” by Larry Kim

“6 Steps to Nailing a Job Interview over the Phone,” by Judith A. Stock

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Is your Bumper Sticker killing your Job Hunt?

bumper stickerIt goes without saying that you have to be very careful what you post on the internet these days. This is especially true on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. While you can keep both those sites private, it’s still a good idea to Google yourself to see what comes up. Are there any embarrassing pictures of you being drunk at a party? Any controversial political comments you posted somewhere that you don’t want a potential employer to see? (And these days, given how hot the political climate is, anything you post is going to be viewed as controversial by someone).

In sales, you don’t want your sales manager and customers reading anything that could hurt your sales or your ability to find and keep a job.

But beyond social media, what about your car? That’s right, your car!

Several years ago, I went in for a job interview with a small publishing company in Greenbelt, MD. The interview went well. After the interview, the sales manager insisted on showing me to the door and walking out the building with me. While we were standing outside talking, he asked me where I parked and what kind of car I drove. I proudly pointed out my American made Mercury Sable (which was becoming a lemon with all he car repair bills I was paying for).

And then, he quickly leaned in and told me in a very low threatening voice that he doesn’t want to hire any gays in his department. If I were gay, he added, I better withdraw my employment application right now. And with that, he quickly smiled, shook my hand and walked away. I was stunned by what he said. I didn’t know if he was targeting me specifically (for the record, I’m not gay), or if this was a standard hiring practice that he incorporated in all his interviews.

But it also just occurred to me why he wanted to see my car. He wasn’t interested in my taste in vehicles. Instead, he wanted to see if a gay bumper sticker or other “offending” stickers on my car.

Was his behavior unethical? Yes.

Was his actions illegal? Probably.

Was he being sneaky? Of course.

bumper stickerYou see, if a hiring manager doesn’t like LGBTQ people, liberals, conservatives, Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, environmentalists, feminists, Trump or Clinton supporters, etc. you need to make sure you don’t show your potential employer the bumper stickers on your car. It could hurt your chances of landing that dream job.

Am I being paranoid? Maybe.

But given the current political environment, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of freedom of speech and the First Amendment. But when you are job hunting, sometimes you need to put your feelings and political or religious views aside, and focus on getting a paycheck.

(And is it just me, or am I seeing fewer bumper stickers on cars these days? I live in the Washington, D.C. area, and I’m not seeing as many bumper stickers as I use to. Maybe people are afraid of promoting their views, or they prefer to drive cleaner cars).

If you would like to remove your bumper sticker, here is a link from WikiHow –

WikiHow to Remove Bumper Stickers

However, there are ways you can temporarily cover up bumper stickers. Here is some advice below –

“Is there a way of Temporarily Camouflage My Bumper Sticker?” by Car Talk

As always, please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Note: If you like my post or other posts on my blog, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Top Photo credit: andres musta car combo via photopin (license)

How to Stay Employed in Sales

There are hundreds of books and blogs on how to stay employed or find a sales job.

I can save you a lot of time and summarize in two sentences what you should do –

Always be learning.

Always be networking.

Always be learning in salesOne of the biggest mistakes I made early in my sales career was not learning or networking enough.

I worked for a tax software and publishing company for more than 10 years. I loved my job. I thought I would be employed at the company forever. But then something happened – our company got sold down the river to a major competitor. Within three (3) years, the competitor screwed up our research software, dropped a good CD-ROM version and replaced it with a crappy one. We also went through a series of billing, shipping and production problems that caused a lot of cancellations.  They did more, but I’m giving you the broad strokes.

Frustrated and tired of dealing with angry customers, I quit my job.

At first, I was glad and relieved. Then it dawned on me – where do I work now?

Sure, I had a plan B, but I quickly realized that I didn’t network enough or learned enough about my sales craft to land the job that I wanted. After a series misfires and missteps, I finally landed a good job. But could I have found something sooner? Sure, if only I had networked and learned more.

Always be networkingWe all get into our comfort zone. We all get lured into thinking that we have a great job and nothing can happen to you. We all think we are on the perfect career track.  But just when you think you have the prefect job, somehow, someway, someone is going to come along and screw up your life.

Maybe it’s a merger or acquisition.

Maybe it’s a reorg. (Which is another way of saying your company is going to lay off high salaried employees or people who upper management doesn’t like).

Maybe it’s a new manager. (Who decides to give you the boot so he can hire his friends).

Maybe it’s a recession.

Whatever the reason, you have to be prepared.

The best way to be prepared is to always be learning and networking.

What do I mean?

Read books, articles and blog posts.

Watch videos on YouTube and other sites.

Become active on LinkedIn.

Attend networking events like Meet-up.

Join a local chapter of a sales organization like AA-ISP.

The more you learn and network, the better chance you have to staying employed or finding a better job.

Below are some links to helpful articles about networking –

“6 Ways to Network More Effectively” by Drew Hendricks

“How to Network Effectively at Events” by Eric Samson

And here are two links about popular sales books –

“The 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time” by Mike Renahan

“The 9 Best Books about Sales and Selling” by Lee Bob Black

Note: If you like my post, please read my book Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Should Salespeople use Glassdoor?

Should you use Glassdoor for job hunting?You are a recent college graduate and you’re trying to find your first sales job.

You got laid off from your last sales job, and you’re now scrambling to find new work.

You hate your job, so you’re now seeking a better sales position.

Where do you go for help? You could go to the usual suspects, e.g., friends, former co-workers, relatives, job recruiters, contacts, etc.

However, one source you may want to consider is Glassdoor.

What is Glassdoor?

For a job hunter, it could mean the difference of landing that dream job you always wanted and avoiding the job from hell.

According to its website, Glassdoor “holds a growing database of more than 8 million company reviews, CEO approval ratings, salary reports, interview reviews and questions, benefits reviews, office photos and more.”

What makes Glassdoor unique is that you get an insider’s view to find out more about a company’s culture and office politics. By looking through the glass door (get it?) you can read anonymous reviews posted by current and former employees. Among other things, reviewers can make recommendations on whether you should apply to a company, and offer star ratings like you see on Amazon or Netflix. Glassdoor also goes a step further and allows you to approve or disapprove of a CEO.

But you are not just reading reviews. You are also getting information on salaries for various positions. In many cases, you also have access to interview questions and hiring procedures, e.g., how many times were you interviewed, did you do phone and on site interviews, or both, what was your overall experience like, etc.

But can you trust the reviews?

When job hunting, you always have to read between the lines and trust your gut.

Here is how you can interpret reviews posted on Glassdoor –

1). The number of reviews posted –  If there are only handful of reviews, it’s going to be very difficult to understand the company’s culture or if you are a good fit or not. On the other hand, if you have let’s say  7 or more recent reviews, that could give you a some idea of what type of company you are applying to.

2). The timelines of the reviews – if you see an influx of very positive reviews posted within a short period of time mixed in with a lot of negative reviews, that’s usually a sign that the employer is asking his employees to post good reviews to counter the bad ones. In that case, you really have to read between the lines. I’ve actually worked at companies where employers asked people to post encouraging reviews in an effort to attract more and better job applicants. In other cases, outgoing employees were asked to post good reviews before they left. Is that fair? Well, it depends. If current employees are truly happy with their jobs and the company, they shouldn’t have any misgivings about posting upbeat reviews. But if they are unhappy and feel coercive, that could be a problem.

3). Employer Engagement – Believe it or not, employers can actually participate for free on Glassdoor. For example, they can respond to reviews, offer updates about the company, and obtain a demographic snapshot of visitors to narrow down recruiting efforts. (Glassdoor also offers fee-based packages for employers, including advertising and enhanced profiles).

I believe the more engaged an employer is with Glassdoor, the more likely they are taking the reviews seriously and they want to improve their company. Most companies do want to hire the best people they can. If they suddenly see an onslaught of damaging comments, they know that could discourage good job candidates for applying to their company.

writing reviews on Glassdoor4). Age of reviews – I believe that the older the reviews, the less helpful they are going to be for job hunters. Why? With the passage of time, company cultures, policies and politics change. Sure, maybe 4 years ago there was high turnover in the sales department, but now under new management, the exits have now gone down to a trickle. While the occasional negative review may pop up, if you are reading mostly optimistic comments, that’s a good sign the sales department or company is in good shape.

5). Motive of the reviewers – maybe it’s me, but I believe the more people write negative reviews than positive ones. Sometimes destructive reviews are written by disgruntled former employees who have an ax to grind. Maybe they were fired or laid off, and writing negative posts is their way of “getting back at the man.”

However, what may seem bad to one employee may be good to another one. For example, I’ve read reviews where some employees complained about a company’s new open space office policy. (Please see my post on “Open Space Offices – Good or Bad Idea?”) They hate the arrangement because of the noise and lack of privacy. However, some employees may not care because for them an open space office provides a more collaborative and transparent environment. I read reviews where some employees have complained about using security cards to enter each floor of a building. But other employees like the arrangement, because in a post 9/11 world, they want extra protection from terrorists or gun slinging mentally ill people.

6). Length of the reviews – short reviews are really hard to interpret. Simply reading a review that says in effect “the place sucks, don’t work here” with few examples isn’t very helpful. The longer reviews that offer deeper insight and try to balance the pros and cons of a workplace can provide a more accurate picture for you. Also, long reviews are written by people who really care about their jobs and want to see real change. They are hoping their employers notice their comments and will adapt.

I actually know firsthand of employers who have changed their policies and hiring practices because of reviews posted on Glassdoor. For example, one employer was shocked to find that job applicants were upset by the amateurish ways interviews were being conducted. During an interview, the hiring manager would be openly reading the job candidate’s Facebook profile and asking ridiculous questions. The company quickly posted that the practices had changed. They even published the phone number of the HR department and encouraged anyone to call if they had any questions.

However, not all companies get the message. For example, one Washington, D.C. based company is consistently criticized in Glassdoor for canceling and then rescheduling job interviews at the last-minute. I guess the HR director isn’t reading Glassdoor that often to change the bad practice or doesn’t care.

7). Consistency – with some reviews, you may see a pattern of good or bad comments. For example, if you keep reading about high turnover in the sales department, or a lack of direction from upper management throughout several reviews, then that’s a sign the company isn’t making progress. For example, several people at one company complained that the owners were socially awkward and inept, and thus were hard to work with.  On the other hand, several people at another company commented on the owner’s open door policy, and his willingness to listen to advice.

On a personal note, I’ve used Glassdoor when applying for new jobs. I have found some of the reviews to be completely accurate, while others fell off the mark.

Glassdoor, like any job hunting tool, is a guide. While Glassdoor can give you a peek of what is going on behind a company’s closed doors, in the end, you still have to do some things the old fashion way – going on interviews, attending networking events, finding contacts within a company, working with recruiters, and doing basic research on Google.

For more information about Glassdoor and job hunting, please read the following articles –

“14 Little-Known Tricks to help you Land your Dream Job using Glassdoor,” by Julie Bort

“How Glassdoor’s Reviews Help you Find your Dream Job,” by Sarah K. White

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.