I still remember my first day in sales…. 1st November 1993.
I was absolutely terrified!
I was selling dental products to dentists and dental practices. I was a former dental technician so I knew about dentistry, but I’d never been in sales. The company had hired me to cover a territory that had been vacant for some time.
I’d been told about the company, trained on the products and given all of the Yellow Pages for my territory! I’d written up the record cards for the first week of activity and plotted a route of customers I’d visit. I thought I was prepared!
I was woefully underprepared and that’s why I felt so anxious. Thankfully, I didn’t consciously realise it!
I remember the first practice I walked into. I must have looked like the new child on the first day at a new school.
My palms were saturated, my heart was racing, my mind was awash with all of the things I could, should and might be able to say, I’d never felt a feeling of such fear and vulnerability! I was on my own doing something that felt so unnatural to me.
I remember these three questions shouting inside my head: “Am I allowed to just walk through the door and ask to see the dentist?”
“What if they say No?”
“What if they say Yes?”
I waited outside the very first customer’s dental practice in my car, running through my head what I was going to say and how I was going to stay calm.
I must have spent 15 minutes talking to myself, then I said to myself, “You’ve just got to get on with this Justin.”
I assembled my things; my business card, the faux-leather literature folder and my promotional flier (a month out of date because the company didn’t have this month’s flier ready yet).
I walked through the door of the practice and the receptionist was booking in a patient, she looked up from the diary she was writing in to see who had walked through the door. She gave me a look that said “I’m not impressed.”
The 2 other patients sitting in the waiting room turned to look at me, then resumed reading their magazines (there were no mobile phones at that time, it was a magazine or a daily paper to read while you waited to see the dentist).
The patient turned away from the desk. It was my turn, this was my moment, I stepped up a little shaky, clearly nervous and said “Hello, I’m Justin from…” But before I could finish my sentence the receptionist said “We don’t see reps here, we’re far too busy.”
It stopped me completely in my tracks!
I said something like “Ah, but I’m new to the area, it’s my first day.” She looked at me, smiled and said “That doesn’t change anything, we don’t see reps.”
I felt so uncomfortable, all I wanted to do was turn and walk away. I was so nervous I think one of the reasons I hadn’t already left was because my legs were so wobbly!
I said “OK, would it be alright if I took one of your practice cards please?” She gave me a card and I said “Would you mind if I asked your name?” “Janet” she said, “Thank you Janet, and is there a practice manager here?” I asked. “Yes, but she’s also the head nurse so she won’t have time to see you either.” “Oh, I understand, would you mind if I asked her name please?”.
Janet rolled her eyes, then returned her gaze to me. I could sense I was on very thin ice, Janet paused, the said “Melanie”. “Thank you for your help Janet. I’ll be in the area once a month, would it be OK to come in and say hello and see if there’s anything I can help you with?”
Janet paused then finally said “I can’t stop you!”
I thanked her again and left as quickly as I could, rushing to the door to leave, I ‘pushed’ instead of ‘pulled’ and walked straight into the glass door. I stumbled backwards, pulled the door, looked back to see Janet half laughing and I left.
As I walked back to my car, I felt a surge of adrenaline. It was exhilarating, terrifying and exciting all at the same time. I sat in my car, pulled out the record card for the practice and updated my first customer record card.
Receptionist – Janet
Practice Manager – Melanie
Notes – Doesn’t see reps (yet). Missed the door (Janet laughed). I drew a little smiley face.
It would be nearly 9 months before I got my first order from Melanie, and before Janet started to offer me a seat and allow me to wait for the dentist to see me.
These early lessons were critical for me, I’m not sure I knew it at the time:
Perseverance, building relationships, maintaining a positive perspective in the face of rejection, not taking the first answer someone gave me, seeking to understand first, keeping key notes so I could refer back to them.
All were building foundations for my future success, even if I didn’t realise it at the time.
Wishing you every success,
You can connect with Justin and learn more about how he helps clients become world class here:
You can contact Justin directly by email here:
email: [email protected]
Whether you’re new to sales, an experienced sales professional or a leader looking to improve the consistency and performance of your sales organisation, you’ll gain immense value from these articles, the scorecard and the INSPIRE, INFLUENCE, SELL book. Our systems map out a memorable sales process over several steps and also include mastery content for each stage of the system, which will give you deeper insight and expertise. The combination of foundational and specialist material ensures that no matter where you’re starting from, you can become a skilled salesperson.
You might want to work through these articles at the foundational level and return to the Sales Mastery sections once you get to grips with the overall system and have developed your skills. Each article starts with an experience story in which I share relevant, valuable anecdotes. If you prefer to dive straight into the sales system, you can skip that content. These articles are designed to be accessible and flexible, so that you get the most out of them.
As you work through each stage, I suggest you make notes in a journal or notebook. This will help you learn and adopt the content.