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The new salesperson’s guide to understanding the stages of success
Measuring achievement requires different yardsticks depending on where you are in your journey
When a wine and spirit supplier, importer, or distributor hires a rookie sales consultant, they are making a bet. An inexperienced salesperson is a tremendous gamble; their salary (if they get one before going on full commission) is likely greater than the profit they’ll produce, the opportunity cost of providing a territory or account run to a greenhorn rep is great, and the uncertainty as to whether they’ll stick around is real.
A “new” rep costs a company in year one, breaks even in year two, and makes back the money they’d previously cost in year three. Every “new” rep is a long-term investment. While waiting for the return, both managers and novice salespeople would be wise to recognize that success is a process and not a place. Here’s what that looks like.1
Year one is about opening accounts. Since a beginner rep won’t exactly know what they’re selling or how to sell it well, the name of the game is new business. The more accounts, the better. A talented rep with the right traits and a fair territory will be able to open more than fifty accounts in a calendar year. Think one a week. It’s a numbers game. If you email, call, and visit 25 potential accounts a week, you only need a hit rate of 4% to make this work.
Along the way, you’ll sell some booze, but, more importantly, you’ll learn answers to the following questions:
Is this the career for you? Everyone starts out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but year one can be a slog. Are you still excited after your first 12 months or was it more of an interesting exploration of a profession that isn’t the right fit?
What type of customer is “worth it?” Learning to divine the difference between who is wasting your time and where real potential business resides is invaluable.
How does the company work? The order board, the portfolio or brand managers, supplier visits, etc. Year one is the time to suss out the mechanics of business, figure out possible pitfalls, and adapt according.
An inexperienced salesperson’s first year needs to be graded on curve and in relation to how many accounts they’ve created new business with. The typical metrics used to assess more seasoned reps fall short in their predictive capacity when it comes to evaluating the performance of a newbie. Every company will be different with regard to their goals, but all should be clear about those goals before any new rep signs on.
The sophomore slump is real and for good reason—what got you here, won’t get you there. When a fledgling salesperson has become adept at opening new accounts, it’s usually time for them to switch gears and start seriously growing the business they have. Now it’s time to put away those crutches called tech sheets and make use of the 7 P’s of selling wines and spirits.
Gone are the days of patting yourself on the back for closing on that order that met minimum. Instead, now is the time to learn to sell across the book and land deeper drops. Earlier, a new rep might have been happy to score a bottle placement. At this stage, it’s all about getting multiple BTGs and cocktails on the list.2 It’s also time for a rep to take full advantage of the rhythm of the seasons they’d likely missed out on at the start of their journey: rosé for the spring, important autumn allocation, and so on.
At this junction, the training wheels come off and a rep’s success should be measured in dollars, drops, and dispersion.3
Forget the 10,000-hour rule, mastery comes with deliberate mental practice. Veteran salespeople concern themselves with refining their practice rather than their pitch. This stage is defined as being organized enough to proactively plan rather than reactively play catch-up to company goals or chase incentives.
It’s no longer just about pounding pavement or windshield time because now you’ve figured out much more than simply how to do the job; you’ve learned how to serve your company and your customers as well as yourself and you know how best to balance the needs of all three.
The biggest impediment a sales rep faces at this stage is stagnation—in sales, in professional satisfaction, in personal development. Herein, resides the greatest challenge because this is where success is measured in meaning and purpose.4
Please note that these “stages” are not strictly sequential. Just like a salespeople’s skills don’t all develop evenly, neither does their business with their accounts.
BTG = “by the glass”
Dispersion is how well a rep sells the whole portfolio and not just sections of it.
Meaning and purpose are qualities of life that capitalism often fails to account for. Simply, economic utility is not the same as happiness. It’s difficult to reconcile the “necessity” to continually grow beyond a point when diminishing returns offer progressively less happiness per additional work hours invested.