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The Most Valuable Lesson I Learned from My Early Days in Sales

The Most Valuable Lesson I Learned from My Early Days in Sales - Janice Mars, SalesLatitudeI was recently reminded about my early days in sales when CommissionCrowd asked me to write an “Expert’s Corner” article about my first sale. Wow. That took me back. Way back to a time when I knew much less than I do now about sales. It got me to thinking about a pivotal time in my sales career, when I had to make a crucial decision about the best way to build and work my pipeline to ensure I made quota. And since it was the beginning of my sales career, with little training or mentoring under my belt, I had to mainly figure it out on my own.

A Tale of Two Sales Reps

I worked for a company who sold multiple products and services. Two of us were asked to sell this one product to small- to medium-sized financial organizations. Hence, our territories were huge since we divided the U.S. between the two of us. My territory was the Northeast since I lived in New York, covering NY, NJ, CT, MA and NH. The other rep, who lived in Texas, had the rest of the country based on the number of organizations that fit our ideal client profile.

We both went about our business, building our pipelines. Neither of us had had much sales training. But intuitively, I knew that I wanted to get a pipeline with many deals that would give me the best shot at making or exceeding quota. But she went about it differently. She only wanted to find that one big kahuna that would make or exceed her quota.

We had many conversations about how differently we approached building our pipelines and working deals. Here’s how things looked (and I think you know how this is going to end!).

Me: The Incessant Qualifier

We were selling a stand-alone software product and services that ran on a dedicated machine. Our closest competition in terms of features, functions and services was more of an “in the cloud” provider (back then, this was known as a “service bureau”). This detail was key to the way I qualified prospects.

First, I tried to figure out who had a problem I could solve with my product and services. Then I would determine which way they leaned from a technology perspective. If they absolutely did not want a stand-alone product or service, then I would disqualify these deals from ever getting into my pipeline. As a result, my pipeline was well-qualified, and I typically closed deals when I said I would (give or take some anomalies). In fact, I made my quota that year three whole months sooner than our fiscal year-end, which enabled me to exceed my quota in my first year of sales! Success all around.

Her: Chasing Moby Dick

On the other hand, she found her big whale and worked it diligently. She met with executives that had budget, ensured she understood their needs and where they fit into their priorities, and felt very sure that her one colossal deal would get signed in October. Unfortunately, it did not. Nor did it sign in November or December. Her year was a big goose egg, but she did end up closing that deal later the next year.

Early Days in Sales: Lesson Learned

That experience in my early days in sales taught me one main thing: my job was to ensure I maximized my time, my company’s time, and my prospect’s/customer’s time. Since then, I made sure to always work diligently to ensure I have a qualified pipeline with enough in it, year after year, so that I don’t have to panic.

As I started selling solutions to larger financial organizations, sometimes that became a bit harder since the sales process, based on their buying process, was more complicated. With bigger dollars at stake, more people were involved. But I had learned one thing early on: fill your pipeline with quality deals for this year and subsequent years to ensure you never have that one deal slip by that causes you not to hit your goal.

Thankfully, these experiences from my early days in sales taught me much and I have had a successful career in sales and sales management for many decades. What have you learned from your early days in sales that you want to share?


Janice Mars, Principal and Founder of SalesLatitude, is a sales performance improvement consultant and change agent focused on growing top performers to impact bottom line growth. With more than 30 years of experience as a senior business and sales executive, she helps companies build successful sales teams by maximizing their time and resources, selling from the buyer’s point of view, and strengthening the effectiveness of leadership. View my LinkedIn profile | Twitter


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