When I applied to my first job in outside sales, I didn’t have any of the necessary qualifications. I had a year of experience working in inside sales in Virginia. I stumbled upon a commercial for an up and coming company called LivingSocial and contemplated applying.
I learned they were hiring account executives in San Antonio. I didn’t meet any of the requirements: 3-5 years of outside sales experience, familiarity with the city, etc. In fact, I didn’t know much about San Antonio except for The Alamo….Remember? Bad joke.
I applied for the job and got a phone interview. I made it through the initial series of interviews before meeting with who would be my director at LivingSocial. I could tell that the person on the other end of the phone hadn’t looked at my resume prior to our interview seeing as she spent the first 30 seconds glancing through it. She then spent the next two minutes telling me that she didn’t know how I’d made it this far.
I could see she was annoyed and, on some level, offended that I had gotten an interview with her.
“We’ve already blocked out 30 minutes for this meeting. Can we please have the interview? Give me a chance to do it, and ask all of the questions you’d normally ask.” I asked.
To make a long story short, I ‘pitched’ myself and got the job. My success came from a combination of things—luck, determination, and self-awareness. I knew that I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for and I acknowledged it. That’s really the key. To advance in sales, it’s critical that you don’t pretend that you know more than you do. Instead, show that you’re capable of growth and development.
Getting off on the right track
To really succeed at a job, start with the desire for mastery, and continue with the drive to attain it. At the same time, stay humble, and remember that despite what success you may have, you’re not yet at the top of your game. I recommend the following:
- Own the fact that you need to learn and be learning constantly. Use your accumulated knowledge on the job, but never make the mistake of thinking that you’ve already learned everything you need to learn.
- Get a mentor, or preferably multiple mentors. I credit a lot of my career success to my mentors, in so many different ways. Use your mentors for feedback, education, and networking. These are people who have succeeded—but they’ve likely failed, too. It’s important to have people like that you can turn to for advice.
- Set goals, both short-term and long-term. If you want to go from being an account executive to Head of Sales, set that goal and start coming up with a plan. Don’t let other factors get in the way of your goals. It’s tempting to think “I’m too young/too old/a woman,” but that’s just counterproductive. Then, identify the nearest stepping stone you might take to officially get yourself on that path to high places.
The importance of self-education
There really is no silver bullet that will help you become completely confident all of the time. But if you’re constantly learning, that can build confidence.
When you’re sitting in a room and are expected to know something, it’ actually really powerful to say, “I don’t know that.” But then you need to everything you can to get that knowledge. Seek out knowledge from mentors, and take advantage of online sales resources. Know what you want to learn, and go through the list.
My current position is in healthcare, but my background before that was food and beverage. I was very upfront about that during my first interview with my founders.
Once I got the job, I took it upon myself to gain the necessary expertise. I started by getting to know more about buyers and what makes them tick. To do that, I made use of company resources, and asked my coworkers questions. From there, I was able to get started on really learning the space. I still don’t know everything, but I know how to learn.
Moving into management
Successfully entering management also requires self-awareness, as I’ve learned. I was very eager to get into management early in my career, thinking that it was mostly about mentoring and coaching. It’s not.
At the time, I was at a startup called Zapper. I worked with my CRO to develop a career plan that would get me into management. I probably wasn’t ready for the position when I first started, to be honest. But I was able to learn from my CRO and other mentors.
I quickly realized that it wasn’t just coaching and mentoring. There’s a science behind sales; it’s a data-driven process. It was only until after I had some successes and some failures as a manager, that I really gained my footing. The manager who helped me through it is still an important mentor.
There’s really no magic moment when everything comes together at once. But by knowing what you don’t know, you can succeed.
Jennifer Etherton is the Head of Sales at Klara, the #1 healthcare communication platform, bringing everyone involved in patient’s journey in one place including staff, clinicians, billers, labs, referring physicians etc. Previously, she was the Head of Sales at WayUp and DipJar.