Remember when you first learned how to drive a car? 

You might have had a driver’s handbook that went through the technical details about intersections, parking, highway driving, road signs and vehicle maintenance. Really important stuff to know – you couldn’t drive without it. But there are some things it didn’t teach you: how hard to press the gas pedal. The sudden jolt of an emergency stop. Whether you’ll make it through that yellow light.

Those are things you learned through experience, with the guidance of someone who’s been there before. 

If you’re a new sales rep, learning to sell is a little bit like learning to drive. There’s a mountain of useful knowledge in your playbook. You’ve got everything from your sales process to call scripts and email templates at your fingertips. But there are a lot of great lessons that come only from experience, too – which your top reps have in spades, even if it’s not written down anywhere. 

That’s what we call tribal knowledge. It’s the tips and tricks your reps have developed over time, and those are just important in making a sale as the knowledge that does get written down. When combined with the information in your playbook, it becomes the stuff of sales success.

So what hidden lessons can your experienced reps teach the new ones who are behind the wheel for the first time?

Failure is always an option

Every rep has royally messed up at one time or another. Maybe they blew a sale by calling someone by the wrong name, saying something accidentally obscene or showing up to a sales call on the wrong day. And you know what? Your new reps will blow a call one day, too. So why not talk about it to get them comfortable with the inevitable?

Mistakes are painful at first, but they’re also an opportunity to own your actions, learn from them and respond positively. And eventually, they turn into funny anecdotes because we grow beyond them. So share widely and proudly… and maybe, as a bonus, help those new reps avoid repeating them.

Don’t trust your gut

Your instincts are great for some tasks, like sensing when something’s going south with a customer or running from an angry bear. But they can also be very wrong. Research shows our intuition favours simple solutions to problems, details that confirm our beliefs over those that go against the grain, and choices in which we’ve already invested time and money. 

The best reps know this – and they rely on data for the real scoop. In fact, high performers are 1.6 times more likely to use data to prioritize leads and 1.5 times more likely to base forecasts on data-driven insights than underperforming sales teams that rely on gut feeling, says a report from McKinsey. In short, crunching those numbers pays off.

To thine own pipeline be true

We know it’s tempting to stuff that sales pipeline full of leads that just aren’t a good fit. Maybe that new rep has a great personal relationship with a prospect, so they mark a deal as likely to close. Hey, now those numbers look great, right? 

Here’s the problem: it messes with your sales data and throws your whole forecast off. Garbage in, garbage out. And experienced reps know it’ll come back to bite them next month when the deal hasn’t moved or falls through. That’s why it’s best to be truthful today and focus on what really needs to be done tomorrow to hit that quota honestly. 

Embrace the dark side

While there’s something to be said for a glass-half-full mentality, a healthy dose of skepticism goes a long way in sales. That’s why two thirds of top reps lean toward the pessimistic: they’re always thinking about what could go wrong so they’re one step ahead when things do go wrong.

A pessimistic outlook also makes it easier to approach the true decision-makers and ask the tough qualifying questions early on. Not a good fit? It’s better to find out and deal with it now vs. three months down the road when you’ve invested more time and money. 

Fire that client

Every client is worth something, but some clients cost more than they’re worth. Although it shouldn’t be a common occurrence, every now and then when things get bad, reps may need to cut an account to save their time – and sanity.

Reps who have had to deal with the “no one else matters” client know the pain of weekend calls on the personal cell phone and drawn-out meetings that repeatedly and unapologetically spill into other work. They may have met the “your cheque is in the mail” client who uses a good business relationship to abuse a financial one. Reps who have been there know where the boundaries are, and know that it’s okay to cut ties when it reaches a point where they can’t work out a solution.  

Don’t take referrals for granted

First, let’s make one thing clear: every rep should be asking for referrals. Research shows referrals are a key differentiator between top and bottom performers. If that’s not in your playbook, add it.

But experienced reps know that a friend of a friend is not automatically a friend. It might seem like you can get a bit more comfortable straight off the bat, but just because you share a connection who’s using your product or service – and maybe has even advocated on your behalf – it doesn’t mean you can skip over client research or pre-meeting prep. They know they  need to try just as hard to win a sale with a referral as they would with a stranger.

Stop making excuses

Hearing a lot of “no”s lately? Well, the leads from marketing have been pretty crappy lately. And a new feature from your direct competitor is winning more prospects over. And you just didn’t see eye-to-eye on a personal level with that buyer. You’re short on this month’s quota, but it’s not really your fault, right?

Top reps have a habit of looking inward for insights rather than blaming external factors. Sure, there may be pricing changes that impact your latest run of bad luck, but seasoned sellers stay focused on what they can do to overcome obstacles and reflect on each rejection to learn what they can do differently. If they lose a sale, they’ll at least know they gave it their honest-to-goodness best shot.

Find the perfect knowledge mix

Imagine if your driver’s handbook came with a bunch of helpful notes in the margin that answered the been-there-done-that questions you never even thought of. It would help you feel more confident on the road – and maybe even pass that dreaded driver’s test on your first try.

That’s pretty much what a knowledge sharing platform does . It lets the experts share their own experiences and nuggets of wisdom widely so everyone, even new reps, can start selling better, faster.

Now start your engines and drive those sales!

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