There's a reason there are CEOs in Silicon Valley who've owned a company before they've ordered a cocktail: big ideas often come with a little bit of ignorance. We tend to think of ignorance as a universally bad quality, but in reality a little bit of unfamiliarity can be a huge asset. In the case of starting a business, not knowing "the way things are done" can really set you ahead, because it allows you to imagine the way things could be done. Oftentimes the most innovative people are also the newest to the game.
The power of an open mind is something I experienced personally as young entrepreneur starting out in the U.K. I made dozens of decisions then that I might have approached differently if I'd "known better," but these actually ended up setting my company ahead. It's a phenomenon that's also applicable in sales. Typically, sales leaders tend to err on the side of assuming more experience is better, but that's not always the case-new reps bring a lot to the table, too. Successful organizations have a blend of both.
How a Rookie Can Be an MVP
The problem with being a seasoned worker in the rapidly evolving technological world is that we expect the things we've already learned to hold true-but that doesn't always match reality. Why question something we already think we know? That's where the beauty of inexperience comes in.
Liz Wiseman, an expert on business leadership, wrote a whole book on the topic, called Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. She writes, "When the world is changing quickly, experience can become a curse, trapping us in old ways of doing and knowing, while inexperience can be a blessing, freeing us to improvise and adapt quickly to changing circumstances."
Being inexperienced means being open to newer (and possibly more effective) ways of doing things. In sales, that might mean embracing technology to better access customer data or experimenting with social selling-tactics that a more seasoned sales professional might dismiss in favor of something more "tried and true," or never even consider.
At the management level, it could mean being willing to reevaluate established processes in areas like incentivization, organizational structure and resource allocation. Reexamining the way you assign leads is a particularly relevant example. Fifteen years ago, dividing sales territories by geography made perfect sense, because people wanted to feel like their salesperson was local and therefore trustworthy. Deals were struck over rounds of golf. Today, customers have come to expect-and even prefer-that they won't meet with their salesperson, so geography is no longer as relevant. Instead, the migration to inside sales has opened the door for far more effective systems for assigning leads, by area of expertise or performance, for example. A manager who'd been in the field for twenty years might not ever think to question the territory norm. An inexperienced manager would.
What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You...But It Can Also Help You
When I founded my first company, the odds were stacked heavily against me. I'd created the business only a year or so before the dot com bust. The economy shuddered to a halt; companies were failing left and right. At the time, I didn't truly understand the scope of the obstacles my company was facing. If I had, I would have been paralyzed by fear-and I'd have made decisions like someone paralyzed by fear. But I didn't. Instead, I simply tackled each problem as it arose, and we were able to get through it and create a successful business.
Feeling indestructible can empower people to do great things. A salesperson who focuses on everything that could go wrong during a sale is far less likely to close one than one who acts with confidence. Recent psychological studies show success is as much defined by confidence as it is by ability. Even confidence borne of inexperience can end up setting a salesperson ahead.
Obviously, there's a balance to all of this. Many of the tried-and-true methodologies are still used for good reason, and no amount of confidence will ever be as valuable as a deep understanding of the industry or customer problems. That's why maintaining a diverse sales organization is so important. Having sales reps from a variety of different backgrounds ensures that they'll be able to complement one another and push each other to continually grow. That willingness to learn is the difference between a good sales team and a great one.