What I Learned During my First Months at Dell

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Always Bring a Potato Salad

plate of food in front of a Dell laptop on a table

Let’s say you got invited to a party, and you want to impress whoever is there. Everybody agreed to bring something to the party so when you enter, the others logically ask what you brought with you. And you just stand there and think oh no, I brought nothing with me. Not even a good joke to at least make them laugh.

Not a really good impression, right?

This example actually has a very important lesson in it that you can apply at work, and even in your private life: one of the lessons I’ve learned at Dell in my first four months.

Last October I started working for Dell as an EMEA Sales Graduate in The Netherlands. During my first few months I had the privilege to follow specific sales training together with sales graduates from countries all over the EMEA region, work with my local group of 10 graduates in Amsterdam on several on-site activities (e.g. the annual Christmas drinks with a charitable event) and get to know an organization that is totally different from what I expected.

That’s why I want to share a few key insights I got at Dell. Insights that not only helped me see Dell in a totally different way but also changed my perception about what sales is or should be.

1.  Dell is much more than just computers

I made an assumption about Dell before applying for my role and it couldn’t have been further from the truth: I thought Dell only sells computers. After graduating I wanted to move into the IT sector because of its quickly changing landscape and its huge potential (think of IoT, Big Data, VR, AI, Machine Learning, etc.). I thought of Dell mainly as a computer selling organization. I mean, as many of us might have, I purchased my first computer at Dell. Turns out that Dell is actually also investing in IoT, Big Data, VR, and so much more.

Yet it doesn’t stop there. When I applied I found out that I didn’t apply for Dell but for Dell, a name that I mentioned a few times before in this article. Dell is part of a family of organizations under the umbrella of Dell Technologies. Like me before I applied, most of my family and friends didn’t have a clue what Dell actually does. But as part of Dell Technologies it helps organizations modernize, automate and transform their data center infrastructures. Sounds different than only selling laptops and desktops right?

Next to Dell, Dell Technologies consists of:

  • RSA and Secureworks to address cyber threats and other security issues that organizations can encounter;
  • Pivotal to transform how organizations build and run any application, at every cloud, in one platform to innovate at start-up speed
  • Virtustream to build cloud solutions to run complex and critical applications;
  • VMware to use software and services that let organizations run, manage, secure and connect all of their applications across clouds and devices

So as you can tell I made a very wrong assumption about what Dell actually does, and I’m very happy that I looked past this assumption.

2.  Sales is great skill to learn early in your career

A second lesson I learned during my first few months at Dell was that many of us (including me a few years ago) associate sales with something negative. But you know what: I think that mastering how to do proper sales will teach you so much for your professional career and your personal life. Let me tell you why.

  1. Sales is everywhere

The first time I actually read about sales being everywhere was in a blog on LinkedIn from Somen Mondal about why sales is the best first job and it made me realize how sales is an important part of most organizations. In my opinion he is absolutely right: sales comes back in every aspect of your life. Whether it is convincing people about your ideas, when you are looking for a new job (and you basically need to “brand yourself”), when you’re selling products to customers or when you want to sell your vision to your employees as a manager. Think about that for a moment.  

  1. Sales generates direct value to organizations

When an organization is going to invest in you it will expect a return on investment in the long run. What will your value to the organization be after many training-hours? After looking around at different departments, and drinking coffee with managers to understand the business? In sales you can directly generate revenue (=value) for your organization, which will give the organization a reason to invest more in you and gives you the opportunity to grow faster in an organization than any other position. No sales, no customers, no money, no existence. And this example doesn’t limit to only profit organizations: for non-profit organizations to exist sales is also of paramount importance.

  1. Sales gets lots of people out of their comfort zone because you need to deal with rejections – which makes you stronger

Getting rejected is something nobody likes, including me. I have learned that it is not about being rejected but how you learn to deal with it, how other people see you dealing with rejection and how you stay focused on your goal. In work and in life rejection will evidently happen – for example riding a bike: the more you ‘practice’, the better you become and the faster you can grow. Just like Michael Dell, who started his business in his college dorm room and now runs a global organization.

tweet from Michael Dell in 2012

3.  You should always bring a potato salad to a party

One specific lesson I have learned already at Dell is from one of our sales trainers, and I found it ties everything that I have mentioned nicely together. It is that you should always bring a potato salad to a party. Meaning that when you call a customer or when you enter a meeting with your colleagues, always think in advance how you will be able to contribute to the other(s). How you will be of value? What will be your ‘potato salad’ that you bring to the party?

For me, part of learning and slowly mastering sales is being able to deliver true value to customers. Working for Dell and subsequently, Dell Technologies makes it so much easier to have that talk with these customers. To have that potato salad ready during every customer meeting.

Thinking in advance about that potato salad in whatever situation you are is for me one of the most important lessons I have learned so far. It will help me to avert awkward situations in which everybody expects me to bring some kind of value to the table and that I actually have thought this through in advance. And that I will never think oh no, I brought nothing with me.

So what do you think about my experiences after reading this piece? Did you have a similar assumption about sales, and has it changed since you have experienced it? Please let us know in the comment box!

 (And if you are interested in reading more about our graduate program make sure to read this blog post about the experiences of graduates last year!)

About the Author: Daan Halma

Daan Halma is an EMEA sales graduate for Dell-EMC Netherlands since October 2017. At his first rotation he did an assignment for the Customer Services department and for his next rotation he will be joining the Managed Server Partners team. Daan has a master’s degree in Strategic Management, for which he graduated writing his thesis at the Social Investment department of Shell Netherlands. In his free time he mentors students at a non-profit student consultant named SOLVE consulting, as well as students of his previous university from the Rotterdam School of Management. He also studies Chinese language (Mandarin).
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