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What is Working in Sales Really Like? Expectations vs. Reality

Jun 20th, 2019

Starting a career in sales can be very exciting and equally rewarding if you have the right attitude. But for someone who’s looking for their first job out of college – or thinking about changing professions – it’s normal to have misconceptions about life as a sales rep.

As a sales or sales enablement leader, you don’t want to see your organization spend time hiring, training and coaching new reps, only to watch them quit because they had unrealistic expectations. But what should new sales hires know about the role before they jump in?

As a Team Lead on Brainshark’s Account Development team, I stood in the shoes of a new salesperson two years ago. I came in with my own ideas of what sales would be like, and since then, I’ve learned a lot about the highs and lows of the job. (Full disclosure: I don’t close sales, but I have spent enough time around closing roles to realize a few things.)

That’s why I’m sharing 5 situations where a new rep’s expectations may not line up with reality.

1. How Long is a Typical Sales Cycle?

Expectation: I’ll be able to close my first deal in no time!

Reality: Persistence and patience are two of your biggest allies.

When most people think of sales, they think of the movie portrayals. Take The Wolf of Wall Street for example. When Jordan Belfort joins Investors’ Center, he nails a $4,000 sale of Aerotyne stock in less than two minutes – and everyone looks at him like he’s Superman.

In focusing on the quick close, Hollywood cuts out the grind of a real sales cycle. Making your first sale is not quick or easy. Most deals, especially in B2B sales, are very complex, and they involve multiple calls and meetings with multiple buyers.

Research firm CSO Insights found that almost half of B2B sales take 7-plus months to close. For sales development reps, it may take a few weeks before you qualify that first opportunity. Emails will go unanswered. Calls don’t get returned.  

For brand-new sales reps, there’s nothing more disappointing than expecting immediate success, only to realize that life in sales isn’t so easy. They have to understand that every win requires a lot of hard work.

2. What’s the Culture Like in Sales?

Expectation: It’s a dog-eat-dog world where everyone looks out for themselves.

Reality: Collaboration and coaching are more important than ever.

Salespeople are naturally competitive. We’re all working hard to hit quota and beat our goals. But if your new hires think sales is all about eating off their teammates’ plates, they’ll come in with the wrong mindset.

Selling today is more of a “team sport” than ever before. Closing a deal means getting help from marketing, account executives, sales engineers, sales leaders, procurement and legal. Your company’s industry may have extra hurdles to clear, too. (Example: cybersecurity audits in tech.) To succeed, new reps need to understand the value of being a team player.

Coachability is also critical for new sales hires. That means showing a willingness to learn from more experienced peers, practice on their own time, and accept feedback from a manager or sales coach.

Because good salespeople are in high demand, the best companies work hard to build a sales culture that prepares new reps to succeed, provides ongoing learning opportunities, and lays out a career path that they can follow.

I can say firsthand that Brainshark does a fantastic job in all three areas, and that it has played a big role in my team’s success.

3. How Will Buyers Treat Me?

Expectation: Buyers will be rude to me just because I’m a salesperson.

Reality: The right buyers will make time for you.

In sales, you are judged by your ability to connect with the person on the other end of the phone (or video conference). But most cold calls you make won’t result in a connection. In fact, you’ll probably face your fair share of impatient buyers who don’t want to deal with you.

But there’s a difference between thinking everyone you call wants nothing to do with you, and recognizing that they may not be a fit for your product or solution. According to research from Marc Wayshak, at least 50% of your prospects are not a good fit for what you’re selling.

In B2B sales especially, reps need to know that the people they call have a lot on their plates. Any and all free time is precious. An impromptu call from a rep they don’t know isn’t usually top of mind! And if you haven’t done your research into the buyer’s company, why should they talk to you?

Some buyers can be rude, and there’s not always something the rep can do about it. But if you show up ready for every call, you might be pleasantly surprised by the time and attention buyers give you!

4. How Often Will I Hit My Number?

Expectation: I’m going to hit quota every single month/quarter/year.

Reality: You won’t always hit your mark.

More than 50% of sellers missed quota in 2018, according to sales training company Aslan. So, if new reps think they’re never going to miss quota, it’s probably time to adjust those expectations. Because there will be times when you’re at 85-90% of your goal.

If you want someone to stick with sales, the key is helping them respond to the setbacks. Sales rock stars might go through a slump, but then they’ll bounce back the next month or quarter at 110% of their goal. Reps who make excuses or throw pity parties for themselves after a bad quarter may not last in sales.

Quick Tip: If a new sales rep isn’t meeting quota, a coaching role-play exercise or a video coaching activity can help their manager figure out why he or she is struggling (without a buyer in the room). With the right feedback, your salesperson will be more confident and prepared during the next call or meeting.

Read more: 3 Ways To Help New B2B Sales Reps Succeed

5. What Will My Sales Manager Be Like?

Expectation: A demanding boss who only cares about the bottom line.

Reality: Someone who’s invested in your success.

It’s a big misconception that sales managers are money-hungry, power-hungry, and waiting to grill reps who aren’t producing. Maybe they’re imagining someone like Alec Baldwin’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross, demanding that you hit your number or “hit the bricks.”

But new reps need to know that sales managers are incentivized to help them succeed. Good sales managers will also genuinely care if someone is growing in the organization, because having a good working relationship with your team will usually lead to better performance.

Without that people-first approach, new reps can end up losing focus or settling for the bare minimum.

Finding and keeping good salespeople is tough. Check out this Brainshark Special Report to learn how readiness can support a better sales talent strategy.