Monthly Archives: November 2013

Call me Madam – Part 2

Have a Nice Day 3

Following the Ask Jeeves poll which highlighted the various annoyances of call centres [see Call Me Madam-Part 1 – April 2013], it’s clear there are some aspects of business etiquette which are just too important to ignore. For an easy checklist of how your customer-facing staff should be presenting themselves, here is my Top Ten:

1.  Do they always know the name of who they’re speaking to, and use it? If it’s unusual or unfamiliar, they should ask how to pronounce it and get it right. The same goes for spelling it correctly in any correspondence.

2.  Follow-up and/or thank you emails should be a matter of procedure and sent as soon as possible. In addition to ensuring that the rep or account manager has remembered, such professionalism will reflect well on your organisation.

3.  However boring, do your people show genuine interest in what their prospect or client is saying? As well as adding to their professional ‘persona’, listening to what their buyer has to say will give them valuable information which they can use to sell. Applying sales methods and techniques will keep a prospective buyer on track if he really is droning-on off the issue.

4.  Language! Slang, offensive or abusive language are an absolute no-no – even if describing a disreputable competitor – and can easily slip out. I could write reams on the insults I have heard reps describe the difficult prospects who never buy, together with a long list of their swearwords of choice. Without exception, such language and banter are for the back-office only – and you may need to remind them of this.

5.  The handshake. Still enormously important. Even if they’re unexpectedly introduced to someone in a casual setting, it’s good to be seen to make the effort by standing up (and yes that includes women as well). A handshake should be firm and efficient.

6.  Good eye-contact with customers. Vital. I even come across university graduates who still haven’t learnt this.

7.  Mobiles should be switched off before any meeting or presentation.

8.  No buts. Customers or prospects should never be interrupted.

9.  Following from point #8, if he has a complaint he needs to rant about – let him. However, company representatives should make an assurance that they will investigate/resolve the problem asap – and ensure this is done.

10.  Finally, how often do your staff smile? This underrated feature costs nothing. Everybody looks more attractive when they smile (ok, maybe not the last Prime Minister, but you get my point). A genuine smile signifies sincerity, honesty and openness – positive qualities when perceived in a sales person.

To anyone visiting your premises, a greeting with a smile from the receptionist will convey a warm welcome, giving the impression that your company is ‘nice to do business with’ – something which says more than any carefully written marketing blurb in a brochure or website.


The Convict & the Salesman

Tie 2

A convict who is on the run ends up in the middle of a desert. He soon runs out of drinking water, and, hours later, is staggering about in the midday sun. Close to desperation he suddenly sees something in the distance. Hoping against hope there’ll be some water, he starts running towards what he thinks may be an oasis, only to find a little old man with a stand, full of colourful ties.

“Hey, do you have water? I need water!”

The old man replies: “I’ve already finished my water, but would you like to buy a tie? Any colour you like, just £5 each!”

Frustrated, the criminal starts shouting: “You idiot! Do I really look like I need a tie? I could kill you right here, but I have to find some water first!”

“Tut tut, no need for threats,” says the old tie salesman calmly. “But even though you don’t want to buy one of my ties and you treat me like this, I will help you. Just carry on walking over that hill for another couple of miles and you’ll find a restaurant with great food and all the ice-cold water you can drink. Good luck, mate!”

Cursing in disgust, the criminal staggers off towards the hill in the distance. Several hours later the salesman sees him crawling on the dune back towards him. When he finally arrives, he collapses in front of him gasping for breath.

“You alright?” asks the tie salesman as he bends over the other man to hear him rasp:

“They wouldn’t let me in without a tie.”



Going All Mary Beard

Socrates statue 2

“Because it’s two ears and a mouth, isn’t it…?”

If I had a penny for every time I’ve been told this by an applicant being interviewed for a sales job I’d be very rich indeed. In case you’re lucky enough never to have had this recited at you, it’s a pre-rehearsed answer to the standard question of what makes a good salesperson.

Thinking back to the many times I’ve heard it, for some reason, my recollection is always of a voice like Ronnie Barker’s in Porridge. Probably because it’s the kind of obvious understatement, made with a sniff, which would be typical of the Fletcher character.

Rootling around the web I have found that the quote – and others similar – can be originally attributed to no less than three ancient Greek philosophers, the earliest, not surprisingly, being Socrates (born around 469BC):

“Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, but one tongue – to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.”

Whether you like to picture an ancient thinker clad in linen robes as you roll your tongue around the original quote, or is someone who identifies more easily with the Norman Stanley Fletcher version, it’s an essential guideline. Two ears and a mouth is a sound ratio, an easy shorthand for a good salesman who listens more than he speaks. No one wants a salesman’s monologue; a recital of what could be looked up in the brochure or website anyway. Selling isn’t telling: it is asking questions and listening carefully to the answers.

As well as being cast-iron advice for selling, it’s also an excellent strategy for those first prospective client meetings when, let’s face it, more often than not, we go in with little idea of what is required and how we might help. Listening carefully will put us in a better position to match solutions to the prospect’s requirements  – and win the business.

Modern day EU member-state Greece may be an economic basket case, but her ancient philosophers’ writings still apply to so much today – even selling techniques.


7 Reasons Why Your Sales Team Training is Failing

Trainer at Graph

1.  You’re not spending enough time with each team

Everyone is different and everyone will vary in their experience just as they will vary where they are on the Winning-or-Not-Winning spectrum. Little and often is better (and in the long run more cost-effective) than holding long, intense sessions once in a blue moon. To some extent, frequency will depend on how fast your sales environment is and how often the reps are in the office. If they work remotely, organise a specific time for training or else schedule your sessions for when they are due in.

2.  Performance data is being ignored

It’s almost impossible to successfully develop sales people without some form of statistical information. Whether it’s month-on-month, year-on-year or a comparison of different reps’ performance you need some hard and fast figures in addition to what your instinct sees and hears in the everyday sales mêlées of your department. Peter Drucker – he who first popularised the now commonplace practice of ‘management by objectives’ says in The Practice of Management: “What’s measured, improves.”

If your company doesn’t have a fully integrated CRM system, check on past actuals to understand where performance should be and identify shortfalls. Don’t be afraid to introduce new measures which can be used to incentivise reps as well as to track their progress.

3.  Sessions are never scheduled

If sessions are always spur of the moment, this can leave individuals unsure about planning their day or week. Giving good notice of a forthcoming session will also give you a useful reason for demanding that reps organise their week more effectively since they will be losing some selling time. This will have the benefit of reps becoming more disciplined about managing their time and structuring their sales activity – which can only be positive.

4.  Reps see sessions as repetitive and/or boring

Pre-planning your training sessions means that they will never be repetitive or boring. Work out a programme of topics and allocate dates of when you’ll lead them. Think about using senior or experienced members of the team to conduct other sessions later on. As well as easing the burden on you, this ‘curiosity factor’ will keep sessions motivating.

5.  Sessions are conducted in a one-way manner

The best form of business skills training is participative and involving – the same goes for sales. Build-in some practical exercises, simulations, brainstorming and mind-maps into your sessions to challenge as well as sustain reps’ interest.

6.  Sessions are seen as irrelevant or a waste of time. 

One possible reason for this may be down to individuals’ experience being at variance with each other’s. For example, there may be recent school leavers as well as highly experienced sales people on the same team, meaning that sessions will fail to hit the mark for some.  Another reason could simply be because training never seems connected to the current challenges of the market. Alternatively, training may be used as the scapegoat for negativity rooted in missed targets or a tough market. Draft half a dozen topic headings which you see as top priority, present them and then invite the team to add their suggestions.

7.  Sessions are seen as a negative ‘sign of trouble’

Is the fact that you are spending dedicated time with a team interpreted as a sign of trouble? If this is the case, then the most carefully crafted sessions will fail because negative environments are never conducive to motivation. As openly as you can, present your reasons (it’s fine to say you think everyone should be doing better) and ‘sell’ this as the positive it really is – both for their individual development as well as for the company.

Finally, it’s always worth reminding them that, as sales people, an improvement in their performance is likely to mean improved bonuses!




The reclusive author of the enthralling To Kill a Mockingbird recently reached an agreement to settle a copyright issue against her literary agent. This has reminded me of the wise counsel which the book’s character Atticus Finch gives to his daughter:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

This ‘simple trick’ as Atticus calls it, is also brilliant selling advice because empathy with the buyer helps to focus on his issue(s) of ‘pain’ in the sense of how your product or service would solve or remove that issue.

As well as helping us to come across as less pushy and more consultative, seeing business concerns from the prospect’s viewpoint will give us some killer reasons for him to buy, which will strengthen our sales pitch against the competition.

It’s my long held belief that, generally speaking, we buy for one of two main reasons: for pleasure – because of a ‘desire’ for something, or, to take away ‘pain’. These terms are simple (call them ‘want’ or ‘need’ if you prefer) and can be applied easily to whatever you’re trying to sell.

Temporarily, you have to make a shift in your thinking, and to facilitate this ‘climbing into his skin’, when training or coaching I introduce the notion of imagining the buyer actually asking us “What’s in it for me?” So essential is this to any sales presentation, that for good measure I will repeat each one of WiiFM’s five words to the bang of my fist on the desk.

By this stage, it’s fair to say that I’m probably having more fun with this than the poor trainee.

Getting back to the point, we have to put ourselves in the prospect’s position and understand the most critical issues from his standpoint. Why should he take time to listen to you? Why should he be the one to break the unspoken company rule of ‘We never buy from sales people we didn’t approach first’? Why should he run the risk of disturbing his own – and possibly others’– corporate comfort zone by taking a decision? Increasingly, business buying decisions are rarely the sole preserve of one person, so that’s a further situation which needs to be visualised.

Before we get too depressed by what he may or may not be thinking, using your next sales or board meeting to brainstorm WiiFM issues is a worthwhile exercise which will develop your marketing for the better. Some suggestions to get the ball rolling:

1.  How would your product or service increase his organisation’s productivity? Would it improve the quality of what they produce or deliver? In what way?

2.  How much more time would they gain with your product/service per week/per month/per year?

3.  How much money could they save per week/per month/per year?

4.  Would buying from you improve their status as a company? If so, who to? Their existing customers? Competitors? In what way?

5.  Would it enhance their image? How?

6.  What would make the decision to buy easier? eg payment terms, free delivery/ customised installation or service agreement, etc.

Once you’ve made the initial leap and understood the other point of view, I promise, it will get easier. Before you know it, you and your colleagues will have started to describe your product in a clearer, fresher and more compelling way.