I’m not one of those people who entered sales on purpose. In fact, it’s fair to say I stumbled into it as a career after spending a few unhappy years on Wall Street. One night I was having a drink with a friend and she happened to be meeting her vendor. We got to talking and she asked me to apply for a sales job.
At the time, I knew nothing about sales, which is probably why I ended up interviewing for the position. My first foray into sales was a humbling experience because I realized how much you have to depend on yourself. You really do create your own luck and your own opportunities.Despite (or maybe because of) my own accidental entrance into sales, I’m a massive advocate of actively managing your own career. Here are my top recommendations for success.
1. Find a mentor.
My first six months in sales involved me stumbling around a lot. Looking back, I’m honestly pretty horrified. I can only hope my ignorance wasn’t evident to the clients I talked to.
Then, I found a mentor who gave me the guidance I so desperately needed. This was absolutely critical for helping me to learn the ropes of sales and my long-term career. My recommendation to find a mentor being listed as the very first step is borne out of experience, so get to it sooner rather than later.
2. Stay in close contact with your boss.
I was lucky, not smart, when I got my first promotion. But you can’t count on luck. To advance in your career long term, you need to be really transparent with your boss. If you can help them understand your goals, they can help you along your path.
As I recently told a mentee, thinking you deserve a promotion and acting like you do are two different things. By having very open dialogue with your boss, they can keep you on track with your advancement.
3. Focus on outcomes.
Be honest with yourself about your accomplishments and abilities. In sales, promotions really are based on outcomes, not just your tenure in the role. If you can show the outcomes, you can get the promotion. Keep a comprehensive record of your accomplishments so that you can point to them when it’s time for that conversation with your boss.
4. Keep learning.
To get into the C-suite, you’ll need to learn about the different areas of business and always be improving. Oftentimes, you’ll need to do this on your own time. Teach yourself new things at home. Help someone else close a sale. It will take extra time and effort, but that’s what you need to do for advancement.
Again, finding mentors is critical. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to pay it forward and teach you new things. Ask them for advice.
The biggest thing you need to learn for high-level management is a broader understanding of how the company works, including hiring, strategic decisions, etc. It’s not just about the fundamental expertise you bring, but knowing the big picture and being able to participate meaningfully in those critical decisions.
5. Fail fast.
I tell my employees that if they’re going to fail, fail fast. It’s okay to take risks and try new things, but if you’re going to take that risk, you need to do it quickly. If something new isn’t working, pivot so that you’re not adversely impacting your performance long-term.
6. Be open with coworkers.
Sometimes people get anxious if they think you’re trying to take their job. The best way to deal with this is to be very transparent with everyone and respecting what they bring to the table. Give people context for what you’re doing and show respect. You might even ask them for help.
It might turn out that you do end up taking their job, but if you’re transparent and respectful all of the time you can help alleviate any negativity that might arise.
Career advancement is a long-term game and it requires your active engagement. If you can successfully manage your career, you can be successful in it.
The conventional path isn’t the only option. Figure out where you want to be and how sales fits into your story. Once you know that, sales can take you to any number of destinations.
Anita Absey is the Chief Reveue Officer at Voxy, An executive with an entrepreneurial spirit, skilled at growing and scaling global sales and service organizations, with a specialty in marketing technology and data organizations.