4 lessons learned sales

1. Get Over Your Fear of the Phone

When I first started working, I had a serious fear of the phone. And for the most part, that was OK—I could easily bypass a phone call with a well-placed text or email.

When I began renewing magazine subscriptions, however, I had no such luck: Phone calls were the most efficient and effective way of contacting elusive subscribers. Moreover, department leadership tracked our call volume throughout the day. I was sunk.

After some initial hiccups (I once stammered through a phonetic spelling of a name, saying, “It starts with F, as in… Fail”), I not only got over my fear, but I realized the value of these verbal conversations . Now, rather than play a frustrating and time-costly game of email tag, I won’t hesitate to pick up the phone when I need something clarified.

2. Follow Up in Writing

Any good sales associate knows that nothing really counts unless it’s in writing. I learned very quickly that I needed to follow up friendly phone calls with shrewd emails recapping the meat of a conversation—or nothing would move forward.

That’s served me well in subsequent positions, even when I’m not intently tracking goal numbers. After a lengthy team meeting or a one-on-one conversation with a manager, it’s helpful to send a quick follow-up email clarifying that you’re on the same page and assigning next steps. It’s a simple task, but it can preclude major pitfalls that result from miscommunication.

3. Embrace Metrics

When I worked in sales, my success was wholly dependent on monthly numbers. I was obsessive about tracking my progress; I knew to the decimal point what percentage of subscribers I needed to renew in order to reach my goals. The last week of the month became stressful if I hadn’t yet hit my goal.

At the time, I decidedly disliked this dependence. But now, without having a goal percentage to hit or a commission to make, I’ve found I’m still obsessive about metrics —I even assign myself goal numbers independent of my manager’s requests. I learned that metrics, however frustrating, are in place for a reason. They help track what worked and what didn’t, and this analysis can lead to improvements. For example, while I’m no longer counting each subscriber and his or her dollar value, I am tracking every reader of my company’s blog—where she comes from, what piece she reads, how long she spends on the site—and using that data to make decisions moving forward.

4. Toughen Up

When you work in sales, you’ll learn something quickly: People are not nice all the time. No matter how respectful or polite you are, you might encounter people who are rude, curmudgeonly, or just plain mean .

But you’ll learn to get over it. Once I had been hung up on, yelled at, and insulted over the phone enough times, I learned to let things roll off of my back. In any job (or situation, for that matter), I’ve realized that an outpouring of negative emotion, even if directed at me, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with me. Toughening up was a hard—albeit important—lesson to learn.