Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Sales Pitch too Far

An important aspect of successful selling is confidence. If a buyer can detect any hesitation or doubt in a salesperson’s pitch, he’s unlikely to buy. At the same time if the salesman has no confidence in what he’s selling, he won’t be able to sell it very well. Of course at the other extreme, we have the con-trick which is the attempt to defraud someone after gaining their confidence. Nevertheless, even for something that’s honest and authentic, whatever it is we’re selling, we have to be positive; to really believe in our product or service. But every now and again, when I hear about something unethical, unprincipled or simply just unfit for purpose which is selling supremely well, I’m reminded of the reasons why there’s so much cynicism about salespeople.

At the Old Bailey today, in a little reported story, a dishonest businessman who pocketed millions of pounds over ten years was found guilty of three charges of fraud.

James McCormick, a former police officer, made £55m over a ten year period selling bogus bomb detectors to governments all over the world. Let’s just hope he was paying his taxes. Priced at £27,000 a pop, the hand-held detector was based on a novelty golf ball finder and made out of cheap components in a factory on an industrial estate in the West Country. Preferred marketing channels were glossy brochures and a website. McCormick’s clients included the UN, Saudi Arabia and Niger – he made £37m from sales to Iraq alone. The QC for the prosecution said “The devices did not work and he knew they did not work.”

Devil-Doing Business 1

Although the precise figure can never be known, it’s without doubt the fraud will have been directly responsible for the loss of hundreds if not thousands of lives because explosive devices were not identified.

This case is depressing as it is shocking and sad. As if proof were needed that any bad product can be successful if you sell it aggressively enough.

However, do not assume for a moment that a fantastic service or product with a list of benefits as long as your arm will sell itself; believe me, there’s rarely such a thing. So what’s stopping you? Act now and talk to your sales people. Remind them of the myriad strengths of what they’re selling. Inspire them and invest in their training to get out there and sell with truth, passion and confidence.

Update-2/5/2013: McCormick sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.


Call me Madam – Part 1

Have a Nice Day

Hot on the heels of a recent piece in which I made passing mention of the annoyance of cold callers, the issue of ‘cold caller chumminess’ was addressed in a poll published this week.

As we have all known for a long time (‘Have-a-nice-day’ Americans excepted), British social behaviour and interaction doesn’t really run smoothest when strangers are over familiar with us.

Cold callers and customer service departments such as those in banks come in for the heaviest criticism, with half of all people questioned preferring to be addressed as Mr/Mrs/Miss.

Even hard-working waiters and waitresses at restaurant chains do not escape reproach with 10% saying they dislike their false chumminess.

The survey of 1,000 people was commissioned by Ask Jeeves. A spokesman said ‘There is nothing wrong with friendliness but it just doesn’t wash when it comes from someone you have never met or even spoken to.

‘Often these are people who are trying to sell you something and who have no other interest in you, yet they treat you like a long-lost pal. Jeeves was a well brought-up butler, he would never have dreamt of saying to Wooster ‘Hiya Bertie, how’s it hanging?

‘Britons are saying “enough is enough” and do not think it is old-fashioned to demand a bit of respect and to be called Mr, Mrs, or Miss by cold callers, sales staff and others.’

As we know, business and social etiquette has become more relaxed in recent decades but school/college leavers still break long held social codes at their peril. For this reason, I always include something about how to address the prospect/decision maker in any sales or customer service induction courses. I get the group to consider the sector they’re selling to (eg conventional versus modern or progressive) as well as the status/rank of the contact they may be dealing with.  Certainly a respectful tone and polite manner never goes amiss, though I do stress that no one ever bought from a salesman because (s)he sounded subservient.

Whether they are expecting a prospect to spend money with them by directly selling or merely representing their company in a customer-facing role, basic rules of business etiquette need to be highlighted to young or inexperienced recruits. Simply because any perceived unprofessional behaviour costs business.