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

What to look for in Your New Sales Job

new sales employeeOK, you got hired. You are now working for a new company in a sales position. Maybe it’s your first sales job, or your third one. Regardless of how many sales jobs you have had or how long you have been working in sales, what should you look for when you start out in a new sales position? During your first couple of weeks, you should begin to figure out if you made the right decision, or if you should start sending out your resume again.

1). A Clear Agenda

Has your sales manager presented you with a written clear agenda for the next couple of weeks? The agenda should include what you should learn, e.g., a new CRM, product lines, company policies and procedures? Has he mapped out specific days or times for you in the agenda? Or, is your sales manager working off the seat of his pants and just winging it? If the answer is the latter, then you may have a problem. Try to request something in writing so that you have a good understanding of your job, especially your goals for the next couple of weeks – if not longer.

2). Your Co-workers

Are your colleagues friendly or are some giving you the evil eye? Are they treating you as a follow professional, or are they bringing out the long knives to stab you in the back? Don’t just listen to what they say – watch the body language. Are they giving you eye contact or avoiding you when you speak? Are they giving you the cold shoulder? Are they quickly answering your questions before they jump on the phone?

3). Compensation Package

While you may have been given the broad strokes during your interview about what your total compensation will be, or expected to be, now that you are hired, do you have a written compensation package? If it’s down in writing, is it easy to understand or do you need to be a mathematician to figure it out? If you have trouble understanding your compensation package, speak up early or you may regret it later when you are not being paid as much as you thought.

office space4). Office Space

Are you working in an area that allows you to sell, or are constantly being interrupted and distracted? While open offices or spaces appear to be the common norm these days, you still need to concentrate and properly function to hit your numbers. (Please see my post on Open Space Offices – Good or Bad Idea?)

5). Support

Are you getting support from your co-workers and administrative staff? Or is everyone giving you the brush off or the bums rush?

6). Your Sales Manager

Is he accessible during your first couple of weeks, or is his office door constantly closed. Is he taking the time to coach you and meet with you on a regular basis during those first couple of critical weeks? Has he taken you out to lunch as a friendly gesture to get to know you better? Has he introduced you to the rest of the sales team and other key employees? Does he care if you succeed or are you just a meal ticket to him?

7). Mentor

Has your sales manager appointed a senior sales person – a mentor – to be available to help you? Let’s face it, sales managers can be very busy at times, so it’s always helpful to have someone else around to work with you to smooth out the rough edges until you are solidly on your feet. (Please see my post on In Sales, Should you use a Mentor?)

8) Morale

Are people excited and eager to come to work, or are they constantly gossiping and bitching about their jobs or the company? If it’s the latter, don’t get drawn into all the drama. I’m old school – drama should belong in the theater not in the workplace. If you find yourself dealing with too many drama queens and kings, avoid them like the plague. Instead, stay focused, hunker down and work. Sooner or later, people will get the message that you are a serious player who wants to make money.

9). Marketing

Is the marketing department helping the sales team by providing good leads and prospects? Are they working to enhance your company’s brand name and recognition? Are they finding good trade shows to attend? Or, is your marketing department completely clueless and hostile towards the sales department? (Please see my post on Can Sales and Marketing Get Along?)

10). The Owner

Depending on the size of your company, you may rarely see or meet the owner. But if you are working for a small to mid-size company, the owner should have either interviewed you himself while you were applying for the position, or taken the time to introduce himself after you have come on board. If the owner is a total ghost, that may not be a completely bad thing, but when it comes time for a promotion or raise, how is the owner supposed to reward you if he doesn’t know you exist?

For more advice on how to start your new sales job, please check out these links –

“11 Tips for Starting a New Sales Role,” by Chris Gillespie
“2 Techniques to Get Up to Speed Fast In a New Sales Job,” by Emma Brudner

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

Photo credit for middle picture: chrisjagers Steelcase Frame I Desks with Leap Chairs via photopin (license)

 

Who is your Biggest Competitor?

When you start a new sales position, one of your first tasks is to determine who your competitors are in your niche industry.

Depending on where you are working, your employer may already have a list of key competitors, along with descriptions, and a cheat sheet of the key differences between your products and services vs. your competition.

That’s all good news.

But some salespeople are missing the point – your biggest competitor isn’t other companies.

Your biggest competitor is time.

That’s right – time.

Think about it. It takes time to make sales calls. It takes time to do research. It takes time managementtime to enter your notes in your CRM. It takes time to leave several messages before your reach your prospect. It takes time to send and respond to emails every day. It takes time to attend sales meetings. Hell, it takes time to commute to work!

Time, then, is your biggest competitor.

How you manage your time can make a difference between achieving your goals or just getting by.

Here are 10 tips for time management

1). Focus on your top prospects first. However, don’t spend all your time on your big prospects, because depending on the industry you are in, your sales cycle could be long. So it’s a good idea to mix it up – maybe devote 70% of our time on your larger accounts, and 30% on the smaller ones that you hope to close quickly.

2). Set time aside for administrative work – Too often, salespeople get caught up on administrative work, and they neglect doing what they were hired to do – which is to sell. Unless it’s urgent, I find it’s better to set aside one hour in the late afternoon to handle administrative work.

3). Research – unless it’s a large account, don’t spend too much time on researching your prospects. It’s very easy to get caught reading too many websites and LinkedIn profile pages. I usually spend no more than three (3) minutes doing research, and then copying/pasting my findings in my CRM for future reference.

coffee breaks4). Snacks – rather than wasting time constantly going to the vending machine or your building’s sandwich shop, I find it’s better to bring snacks to work and put them in my desk. The same is true with water. Rather than run back and forth to the water cooler, I keep a plastic water bottle at my desk. I also bring in a coffee canister from home to save money and time at my local coffee shop. (Plus, I prefer drinking strong coffee).

5). Stay off the internet – it’s easy to get lost online these days, especially if your company gives you a lot of freedom to go on the internet. I always set time aside during lunch or in the late afternoon to go online to read the news. Even then, I keep my reading at a minimum and just skim the headlines.

6). Watch the small talk – it’s so easy to engage in conversations at work. But in sales, you simply don’t have the time. Sure, you don’t want to be rude. And sometimes we all need to release tension by talking about diets, movies, celebrities, etc. But you have to work to make money. Through my body language, I try to convey that I’m busy or don’t want to be disturbed when working.  I know that can be tough to do in an open office environment. Just try to avoid eye contact and focus on your monitor.

7). Organize your email – If you’re like me, you probably come in each morning with a slew of emails to read and respond to.  With Outlook, I’ve created several folders and put my emails into each one. It’s saves me a lot of time later when I have to retrieve an important email. Also, unless it’s urgent, I try not responding to emails until later in the day when I’m doing my administrative work.

8). Keep your Smartphone out of sight – I purposely put my Smartphone out of sight during the day. I only check my personal emails while commuting to work on the Metro, during my lunch hour, and while commuting back home. That’s it.

9). Email templates – rather than keep writing the same emails over and over again, I have a file of email templates that I use. However, I will sometimes modify and personalize my emails before sending them out. Also, I usually keep a file of attachments (articles and brochures) that I send out, and I will refresh my attachments with new material every couple of weeks.

10). Schedule calls – whenever possible, I always try to schedule my calls and online tours. Yes, sometimes people will cancel your phone calls at the last-minute, or become complete “no shows,” but in the long run scheduling calls beats making repeated calls or sending out tons of emails.

I hope you like my suggestions.

Here are links to other articles on time management for salespeople –

“Eight Time Management Hacks for Sales Reps,” by Andrew Quinn
“6 Effective Time Management Techniques for Success in Sales,” by Jenny Poore

Here are some books on time management that could help  you –

11 Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople, 11th Anniversary Edition: Gain the Competitive Edge and Make Every Second Count, by Career Press

Time Traps: Proven Strategies for Swamped Salespeople, by Thomas Nelson

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

Is Gia hurting your Sales Department?

When you hear someone say Gia, what immediately comes to your mind?

Is it Gia Carangi, the famous fashion model from the 1970s and early 1980s?

Is it Gia Carides, an Australian actress, known for her portrayals in Strictly Ballroom and Brilliant Lies?

Is it the Gemological Institute of America (GIA)?

Is it the Gaming Intelligence Agency (GIA)?

Is Greed hurting your sales department?If someone describes your sales department as a Gia, run, don’t walk, as quickly as you can before your sales career ends up in the dumpster.

What does the acronym GIA mean?

G- Greed

I – Incompetence

A – Arrogance

So is GIA hurting your sales department?

Let’s take a look –

Greed – is greed harming your abilities to meet or exceed your sales quota because your sales manager is hogging most of the good accounts? Does your sales manager have an insatiable appetite for taking most of the good inbound leads and leaving you with mostly table scrapes? Is your sales manager so selfish with his time, that he offers you little or no coaching to help you?

Incompetence – is your marketing department doing a lousy job providing you with good qualified leads or prospects? Is your marketing department doing a terrible job gathering intelligence on your competitors? Is your marketing department unable to provide a good snapshot of the best prospects you should be targeting? Is your marketing department so incompetent that they couldn’t find high-quality trade shows for you to attend if you pinned them on a map?

Arrogance – is your sales manager or the owner so arrogant that they don’t want to consider your ideas or suggestions? Is upper management so arrogant that they ignore your proposal for getting a better compensation package? Is your company so arrogant that they don’t gather feedback or suggestions from their customers?

You might be able to handle one of the three predicaments above and survive. For example, while your sales manager may be stingy, if your marketing department is doing an excellent job, you may have enough leads and prospects to earn a good income. But if you have to deal with all three problems, it’s time to find a new job.

So is your sale department suffering from GIA?

Please let me know.

Note: If you like this post, please read 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 Survive a Merger or Acquisition

It’s Monday morning.  With your Starbucks coffee in hand, you arrive to work ready to start the week off right.

But before you settle down at your desk or cubicle, you notice the worried faces of your co-workers. As you read your email, you find out why – there is a mandatory meeting in the conference room at 9:30 a.m. sharp. Everyone must attend.

Now you’re anxious too.

As you and your colleagues begin entering the conference room, you notice your owner standing next to two men in suits. You never saw them before.

The owner is smiling. The men in suits are smiling. But as they begin to speak, you’re not smiling.

Why?

sold down the riverBecause you just found out that you have been sold down the river!

That’s right – your company has been acquired. Or maybe you’re merging with another company.

Acquired or Merged, it makes no difference. Your life is now going to turn upside down.

Up until now, you had the prefect life. You have the prefect spouse, the prefect kids, the prefect neighborhood and the prefect car.

But things are not going to be prefect anymore.

While the owner is smiling because now he can afford to take that vacation to Hawaii he always wanted, you’re not smiling because you’re worried if you can afford to pay your rent or mortgage next month.

How do you survive an Acquisition or Merger?

1). Don’t panic – Listen carefully to want the new owners are telling you. Maybe it’s not going to be all bad as you think. I’ve gone through acquisitions and mergers where my compensation plan and benefits actually improved. Sure, there were some layoffs, but most people kept their jobs.

2). Don’t be a jerk – Don’t spread rumors, but listen to rumors. There’s a difference. You don’t want to be the jerk causing panic, but on the other hand you need to keep your ear to the ground to find out if you’re going to lose your job or not. Like it or not, trust is the first victim of an acquisition or merger. The new owners will have to earn your trust, not the other way around.

3). Ask intelligent questions – Don’t ask if you’re going to be laid off. That’s rude. But do ask “What are your short-term and long-term plans of the sales department or the company?”

Other questions may be –

“Are you planning to make any changes to our products or services?”

“Are you planning to keep our location open or close it in the near future?”

“Are you planning to come up with new quotas in the near future?”

Read between the lines. Watch the body language. Are they avoiding eye contact? Are they giving you conflicting answers?

Check out “8 Great Tricks for Reading People’s Body Language,” by Travis Bradberry

4). Update your resume – and make sure your LinkedIn profile page is also updated. For example, now would be a good time to add that photo that you keep forgetting to post on your profile.

Good advice from  “8 Steps to Improve your LinkedIn Profile in 2016,” by Lauren Batcheck

Also, check out Knock ’em Dead Resumes: How to Write a Killer Resume That Gets You Job Interviews by Martin Yate.

5). Check your Interview clothes – it doesn’t hurt to make sure your interview suits or dresses still fit. Maybe it’s time to buy some new ties, polish your dress shoes, and get some second opinions on what to wear on interviews.

6). Research the Company – does the new owner have a history of “grabbing and trashing” companies? That is, is your new employer acquiring a lot of companies and then laying off or closing those entities down? You can Google to find out. You can also check Glassdoor. You can also go on LinkedIn and see if a lot of employees “left” for new jobs. If the companies acquired by your new employer are located in small towns or cities, check the business section of the local newspapers and see if they reported on major layoffs or shutdowns.

Also check out this site from “The Magnet” on “The Top 5 Sites for Employer Reviews & Ratings.”

7). Take Home your Performance Reviews – Make sure you print out and take home all of your previous reviews and other documentation that shows you did well in your current job. (Or you could also email them to your personal email address). If layoffs come suddenly, you may not have time to access your performance records before you are denied access to your work computer.

8). Ask for a Letter of Recommendation – Now would be a good time to ask your manager for a letter of recommendation, or better yet, have him write a positive recommendation on your LinkedIn profile page. Make sure you have your manager’s personal email and phone number in case he gets laid off before you do. Sure, you might find him on LinkedIn or Facebook, but he probably wouldn’t be in a good mood to respond to you.

9). Keep your enemies close and your friends closer – that old saying will mean a lot once the announcement is made about the acquisition or merger. You will see a sudden swift in everyone’s mood.  Anxiety, fear and mistrust will begin to take over. You will see a major upswing of brown-nosing, especially with the new bosses. Old feuds that have been simmering for a while will erupt without warning. You’ll hear nervous laughter in the lunch room as someone shares another juicy piece of gossip. As you walk down the hallway, conversations will suddenly stop until you walk on by. Old alliances will fall apart and new ones will be created.

Bottom line – Watch your back!

10). Keep an Open Mind – as I mentioned above, not all acquisitions or mergers are bad. I’ve gone through several in my career, and I ended up with a better comp plan and benefits package. Sometimes, I would find myself with a better manager and an upgraded sales pipeline or territory.

Acquisitions and Mergers are a fact of life these days.  In the long run, the best way to survive one is to always be learning, always be networking and always be looking.  If you continue to learn, maintain your network of contacts, and keep your eyes open for new opportunities, you should be safe.

Here are some links to help you –

“Acquisition and Merger Process Through the Eyes of Employees,” by Terhi Maidell

“How to Merge Corporate Cultures,” by Tim Donnelly

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