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3 Crucial Life Lessons I Never Expected To Learn From My Sales Job

Sales will always be dear to my heart. After graduating from college, I got my first job as an inside sales associate. I would call for hours to try and get customers to buy our company’s enterprise software. After leaving that job, I realized that a space in my heart opened up for the people who try to get me to buy stuff they think I need. I even began noticing and liking people who are not afraid to try — which was one of those rare 180-degree-turns (I used to really not care for them).

Being in sales drove my empathy from 0 to 100. It forced me to be brave in talking to other people; it taught me that hard work and persistence pays off as much as (if not more than) innate talent; it pushed me to ask questions and listen more than I was previously comfortable doing. But even more than all of that, I’d like to share three I never expected to learn from working in sales.

1. “Life consists of some well-timed sprints, but most of the time, you’re just walking.” I first heard this from Chelsea in a TFD video. When I started out in sales, I realized that my days would mostly involve lists, scripts, email templates, and canned messages. Most of the time, work is an overwhelming monotony. You call about 20 people every day (80-90% of them not so thrilled about your call), you ask them the same questions, you take note of their answers, you notice similarities. You eventually develop some templates and scripts based on their common response. You follow up after a few calculated days, you get ignored, you follow up again, you try to find more creative ways to follow up, you get ignored even more, you learn to move one. You get a few positive responses every now and then — you see some patterns, you work with that patterns, you establish a more predictable workflow…

The good thing is that, at some point, while you’re busy going through this endless routine, all factors will eventually align and things will get better. The timing finally becomes right — they realize their need for your product, they have the money. Conclusion: you close the deal. The key is to be able to endure the unglamorous moments.

Interestingly, these unglamorous moments kind of fade when you look back in hindsight. You would remember distinctly the closes and the wins and the milestones, but in reality, you had to go through tough, monotonous days, even weeks, before you hit a milestone. This is the same in even the simplest things, whether in hitting a sales quota or any financial goal: realizing that you need to deal with the unglamorous activities helps you become more patient with yourself and with your life.

2. A skill that everyone needs to learn as early as possible is to handle rejection well. Rejection is always going to sting, and there’s no getting immune to it. But you CAN get better at moving on from it. I was lucky to be surrounded by friends in the office who also understand the sting of rejection. Our rule: You can rant and wallow and be bitter about one client who turned you down or who was mean to you — but only for five minutes, max. After that, you have to move on to another client.

Rejection is never not a part of sales. In fact, on a good day, you get rejected three out of four times. And when the numbers look like that, you get braver and tougher. Sometimes, it’s really not about you or your pitch or your face or your voice — it can just be the timing. Well, sometimes, it can be you too. Maybe you sounded too scripted or maybe you had forgotten to follow up and the competition didn’t. Maybe you didn’t pitch right. Or maybe they found the price too expensive and you miscalculated their capacity. The point is, there are plenty of factors, and it’s pretty rare for all those factors to align.

Rejections can come in different forms for different people. For me, it would usually come in the form of contracts left unsigned. For students, it can come from professors who wouldn’t approve a thesis idea or a really terrible grade. For a candidate looking for a job, it can come from companies who didn’t see you fit for the role. But the better you are at handling rejections, the faster and more effectively you can move on.

3. You are not your number. I had to come to terms with the fact that most bosses and executives look at you based on how much you contribute. For them, you are essentially the revenue you bring in. Nothing personal, it’s business. Which is why it is crucial to remind yourself every day that you are not your number. Despite whether you’re performing really well or failing to deliver, it is not healthy to ascribe your value and identity to your profitability or productivity. You have got to understand that happiness doesn’t come from milestones or numbers, but on your habits, your relationships, and the things you do every day.

I will never forget that time I consistently hit my numbers for a few months. I remember feeling strange because, in theory, I should have been happy. I had been thinking (for so long) that if I can prove to myself that I can sell, then I would finally be happy and satisfied. At that time, I had hit 190% of my individual target, and I was overjoyed — momentarily. I remember how high I felt, and I also remember the downhill part — people congratulate you, and then they move on. I had to admit to myself that I was craving for more acknowledgment. Perhaps some pat on the back, or a special recognition for these numbers under my name?

What bothered me so much at that time is that I almost didn’t think of it as a craving so much as I thought of it as a right. I felt that, because I was accomplishing all of this, I deserved some special treatment or that I should matter more than my colleagues who did not hit their goals. I had to remind myself that everyone matters equally, and it is not because of what we do or what our contributions are. It is simply because we are all human. I felt like I should have known that, but it is such a slippery thing to navigate when you’re in your “entitled mode.” We think we know, but not really. We always have more to know and we should be better, and we can be better.

I had to remind myself then that I shouldn’t ever feel like I deserve better treatment or that I have some sort of leverage or that I am more important just because I have better numbers. Similarly, I shouldn’t feel like I don’t deserve to be treated well or that I don’t hold as much value simply because my numbers were lower. Yes, we track our progress through our numbers and we can measure success through them, but ultimately, numbers shouldn’t dictate the way we value our lives. I think it’s always important to remind ourselves of that whether we are in sales or in school or in our workplaces and communities.

It is important to have concrete financial goals or fitness goals or travel goals, but our value does not come from how much money we have saved in our X number of years working, or how many push-ups we could manage, or how many countries we’ve visited. I need to keep giving myself enough distance from my numbers to be able to truly enjoy my accomplishments and allow myself to spend my hard-earned money, and at the same time, to be less flappable when setbacks come.

Krissa Magdaluyo aspires to be a novelist and a social entrepreneur, occasionally dabbling in standup comedy. She is still trying to figure out how to be all that. In the meantime, she is a Project Manager by profession and is looking for ways to contribute to the growing startup ecosystem in the Philippines.

Image via Unsplash

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