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First of all, growing startups aren’t always rainbows and butterflies. When things get tough, a seller’s intellectual curiosity and passion to learn keeps him or her going, and sheds positivity on everyone from customers, to team members, to yourself internally. Secondly, and more importantly, I’m a firm believer that your job as a seller at an early company is to be a hunter-gatherer of knowledge, not just customers, for your organization. Think about it – you’re the first person to talk to customers about their problems, you tell the story of the product and company more times in a week than anyone, you affect most major operational metrics within the business, and eventually, you have the best sense of who’s a good seller to hire and who’s not. That means you’re an extension of your engineering/product, marketing, ops/finance, and recruiting, and should probably learn more about their worlds.
If you don’t choose to learn about these things, engage with those team members, and help them out, then in that case, you’re just a number. That’s great when products are perfect, teams are fully built, all graphs are up and to the right, and everyone outside of your team has god-like respect for you. If that’s the case, give me a call! If that happens to not be the case though, below are some of my suggestions as you seek to learn, grow, and contribute beyond just your number this year:
1. Learn to CodeSo you had a bad product demo due to lack of insert-shiny-feature-here and you now want to tell your engineers how to do their job? First of all, don’t do that. Secondly, if you want to have a technical conversation with your engineers, well start to learn their language! Codecademy (full disclosure, a portfolio company at Bowery Capital where I work) is an amazing place to start to learn how to code, and be conversant on your product’s inner workings. As a result, you’ll be able to help your customers implement your product faster (if it’s technical), you’ll communicate more effectively with your engineering and product team, and you’ll have more respect for what they do and vice versa.
2. Get a Grip On Finance & OpsTake on a project or sit with sales ops and finance to learn the basic frameworks of how they plan things. Why? Well first of all, you’ll be able to forecast your own performance more effectively and hit your goals. Secondly, they’ll come to you to hear about what’s happening on the frontlines with selling the product, and how that affects the plan they’re putting in place and adjusting. Also, I’d make a good bet that when you go to negotiate next year what your quota or OTE is, you’ll be a bit more respected in the conversation as a result of your newfound knowledge. Check out this post for your first lesson on sales ops frameworks.
3) Assist with Recruiting & Employee TrainingYou know what a good seller for your organization looks like. Your Head of Talent knows how to build a team with the right input. Trade your knowledge here and learn together. If you want to be a great manager, VP, or C-suite leader someday, that’s a lot harder without the hands-on experience of learning what it takes to source great team members, and construct an A+ group of people. My suggestion: in addition to volunteering to interview people, also volunteer to lead one onboarding session for new employees and/or be a mentor (with accountability) to them. You’ll start to learn if you really want to be a manager someday, and save yourself a lot of lessons down the line.
4) Explore Content MarketingAsk your marketing team to teach you about content marketing, and start to write articles on LinkedIn or contribute to your company blog. There are so many benefits to this: you’ll be more respected by yours buyers, you’ll help marketing who will feed more leads your way as a result, and you’ll build a personal brand for yourself that lasts well beyond your current job or title. It’s also a tangible exercise in creativity and self-reflection, which is a good way to break up the repetitiveness of sales!
If you’re a startup leader reading this, I’ll conclude with one final tip to shift your culture to one that balances numbers-based achievement with goals around learning. When you set goals or OKRs for the year, force your sellers to come up with an additional learning goal outside of their quota. You can reinforce it by letting them know they’re not eligible to get a major promotion, to be a manager, or to be a strategic contributor in meetings with other teams if they don’t show strides towards these, because these goals lay the foundation for those things your sellers want. Remember, the best leaders aren’t the best leaders solely because they were ranked #1 on their team, always hit 100%, and then got promoted. They’re the best leaders because they learned how to build and inspire teams, realistically manage the operations around those, and gain respect and support from other internal teams by helping them out too. That starts with setting learning goals, so get to it.