Career Guide

Dear Careernomers: How do I tell my manager I want to learn more?

We have experts on career management, HR and office issues who will address your questions weekly. We refer to them as careernomers Ė experts in career matters who will help you in your career journey. So If you have burning questions, send them to dearcareernomers@ and we will get the panel to answer your questions.

This week, Claudia Cadena, director, strategic human capital management president and group CEOís Office, SapuraKencana and Shoba Kesavan, consultant, CnetG answer Ju Lengís question.

Dear Careernomers,

Iím a fresh graduate and I started working at a large corporate software development organisation four months ago.

I work in the sales department, which happens to be one of the fastest moving and most hectic departments in the company. I spend a lot of time accompanying my manager to client meetings, but Iíve never been able to do my own sales pitch.

When I tell my manager that I would like the opportunity to do a sales pitch, she says I have a lot to learn, since I am still new. Hereís the thing, I really want to learn, as much as I can, as this is my dream job. But no one in my division has the time to train or teach me.

Iíve tried talking to my manager after client meetings, asking her questions which would help me understand how the company and the products work, but she is always too busy with work that she doesnít have the time to teach me.

I really want to stay on in this company, as working here has been my dream, and I really want to learn. But I feel that I am unable to fully utilise my skills and capabilities. What should I do?

What would be a good way for me to talk to my manager, to get her to teach me? Or do you think it would be better for me to look for other job opportunities? Please advise.


Ju Leng

Dear Ju Leng,

I read your situation with interest and the first thing I must say, is congratulations on securing a job in your dream company! Now, letís discuss how you can take advantage of this opportunity as I donít believe you should consider leaving the organisation at this stage.

As you have just started on your first job and it is in sales, I suggest you do the following steps to ensure you are able to take the next phase in your career.

I will start with the steps you need to take on your own, and then I will elaborate on the steps you can take with the help of others.

Steps to take on your own

1 Learn about your company. As a sales person you need to fully understand your company so that you can portray an accurate picture of the organisation to your potential customers.

What does your company do? What is its scope? Who are its major customers and competitors?

What are the main projects the company is working on and for which clients? What are the companyís strengths that should be communicated to potential customers?

2 Learn about the products and services your company offers. Knowing and understanding the products and services is critical to your ability to become an effective sales person.

You must know how the company provides/develops its products and services, the type of after-sales service support given to clients and warranties. How are the companyís products and services different from those offered by its competitors?

3 Learn about the sales process your company follows. Knowing the company and the products/services is not enough. You must also understand how they sell these products/services.

Who is responsible in identifying prospective clients and how to contact them? Does your company understand their needs?

How are proposals put together and who is responsible to present the proposals to the clients? How is price negotiated and agreed upon and what type of contracts/agreements are put in place prior to providing the agreed services/products?

A simple way to find out is by going through your companyís website, manuals, product/service specifications and by talking to your colleagues in the sales department.

Ensure that you are always questioning the information and make a list of things you want to clarify. Try to find answers by doing further research or asking your colleagues.

Steps you need to take with the help of others

1 Clarify the information you have obtained on your own. If youíve done what Iíve listed above, you will soon realise that you are able to start talking about your company, its products and sales process with confidence.

You will be able to engage in productive conversations with your manager and other people within the organisation who will realise you have done your homework and are not just waiting to be spoon fed all the way.

People will surely be willing to clarify and further explain as they will not need to do the basics which they expect you to do.

2 Discuss sales meetings with your manager. Now that you know the products/services, the company and the process, you can engage with your manager to discuss how you can support her in preparing for the next sales presentation.

Ask specific questions about putting together documents, developing a presentation, arranging for a demo, or doing research on the client you will be meeting.

This will demonstrate that you are proactive and that you want to contribute. Demonstrate that you are ready to take on responsibilities. These are the steps you need to take to prepare yourself to make the sales pitch.

3 Engage with clients. You indicated you are attending sales meetings with your manager. This means you have access to the clients.

Donít attend as a passive observer. Ensure you are able to engage in productive and professional conversation with the client.

You need to take small steps by demonstrating you are confident, able to interact with the client by introducing yourself and by demonstrating you are genuinely interested in the clientís needs/interests. You can give some input or ask questions during the meetings.

You must be tactful on how to do this to ensure you are asking the right questions, at the right time and in the right context.

You donít want to negatively impact the meeting by asking the wrong questions or by doing the wrong things during the meeting.

If you do this responsibly, your manager will realise that you are progressing in your sales knowledge and she will soon start allowing you to take on a larger role.

She needs to be comfortable and confident that you are able to do the job before you can expect her to let you do a sales pitch.

I hope this advice will help you in finding a way to growing and learning in your role and organisation. Good luck!

Claudia Cadena

Dear Ju Leng,

The first 90 days (at least) of a sales personís tenure is the highest-risk period as you are challenged with all kinds of questions and concerns. You definitely need a mentor and ensure that there is open dialogue running each day.

There are two types of trainings that fall under the umbrella of ďsales training.Ē

The first is learning the mechanics of sales and the second is company-specific training: details about your products and services, the sales process that your team is expected to use, tools and resources, etc.

Your priority, as a fresh graduate, will be in company-specific training. While your manager may not have the time to teach you, ask if she can arrange for you to sit with your customer service team.

The customer service folks are intimately familiar with your products, and will know what existing customers like most (and least) about them.

Listening in on customer service calls, and having access to documentation about the products (user guides, brochures, websites, etc) is a quick way to enhance your product knowledge.

Once you have mastered your product line, pairing up with your boss or even any other senior or experienced salesperson will make more sense. Listening to phone calls and riding along on appointments will give you a better idea of the sales process.

Once you are fairly confident, request for the chance to make calls and take appointments with a senior salesperson (or your sales manager) observing. This will allow them observe how well you have absorbed information about your company and general sales knowledge.

Ask for feedback and how to improve. Youíll then know where you need to brush on your ďmechanicalĒ sales needs.

The next step will be to ask for simple products and easy-to-sell items to demonstrate your ability.

Nothing builds confidence more than making a sale, and these early, quick sales will help you establish relationships with the customers.

Suggest to your manager that both of you should have a weekly check-in. Even a weekly five or 10-minute phone call from you can work wonders.

Share what youíve learnt, what challenges youíve faced, what solutions youíve tried (even if it did not work), or whether thereís anything you can do to help.

In a way, publish your efforts to her and she will eventually realise your interest and potential.

Shoba Kesavan

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Leaderonomics or