The Non-Graduate’s Revenge


A young man has been hired by a company and turns up for his first day at work.

His manager greets him with a smile and then hands him a broom. The young man looks puzzled.

“Your first job will be to sweep out the office,” explains the manager.

The young man is indignant. “But I’m a university graduate!”

“Oh, I am sorry, I didn’t realise that,” says the manager.

“Here, give me the broom. I’ll show you how…”



Just Say No


Long before bookshops had entire sections devoted to ‘Mind & Spirit’, my mother had a self-help book (American, of course) with the title of Don’t Say Yes When you Want to Say No. Seeing this lying around the house I couldn’t understand the point. Why read a book about saying No? Surely grown-ups get to say what they like, whenever they like? For most young children, articulating the word No is not usually difficult.

Despite this early introduction to the ‘I-Don’t-Really-Want-to-Say-Yes-Issue’, like most people, I was a while into adulthood before I fully grasped the ‘obligation trap’ of saying Yes. In the big, bad world of work, I came to see those constant appeals for favours outside of my main remit as annoying distractions, robbing precious time and derailing previous plans. In an attempt to stop the constant nagging, an exasperated “Ok, yes!” was often potentially fatal: it meant having even more to fit in and made me a time-management dummy.

Whether for work, domestic or social, we’ve all submitted to something only to end up regretting it and then getting tied up in knots when we try to extricate ourselves later. Typical situations range from dealing with children who are strong-willed (the experts’ term, not mine), to requests for help from friends and colleagues. We are pulled by client demands too – and don’t get me started on that prospect or lapsed customer you’re carefully nurturing but who has you running around on fact-finding missions, free advice or revised proposals/quotes. “Time waster!” many a hard-bitten sales rep will mutter, but for most of us, our better nature will respond, with motives varying from wanting to be liked, appearing a dynamic and capable multi-tasker, through to just being helpful.

So, what to do?

As ever, it can be down to the right words. But the right words are no use if you are caught unawares and start umming and ahhing, and then, embarrassed at the awkward pause have to say yes, alright, it’s really no problem. Practice to yourself (or the dog) phrases such as “I would love to, but…” or “I’m about to start on a big project/assignment/proposal/pitch, there’s no time to do it.” And try to sound assertive. Requesters of the trivial or social variety will most likely get the message without you needing to explain further. Only the most crass will wait to hear you out before going into full persuasive mode – in which case stand your ground with a smile and a sorry. Remember, you have a life whose purpose isn’t for spur of the moment requests. You are busy with commitments: your own, as well as work.

Client, customer or prospect demands are of course harder. Business is precious and the lure of a potential sale makes cowards of us all. For these reasons I always advise to play along and don’t lose your ‘sales hat’. By this I mean that you should never forget to sell the killer USPs of your company, product or service, reminding prospects of the benefits of becoming a fully engaged customer. Appropriately pitched, some humour can go a long way, e.g. saying something with a smile along the lines of “We could also do this for you, as well as x and y once you’ve come on board with us, of course… ” Or “Well, x is a strong area of expertise for us and you’re always welcome to join our many satisfied customers!”

Final note: I checked to see if DSYWYWTSN still exists and, amazingly, used copies are still available, and there’s an unabridged audio edition too. It must have gone to a gazillion reprints since it was first published in 1975. Almost forty years on, there’s no question that the husband and wife team who wrote it were on to something which is still relevant for many of us today.



Law Update: LinkedIn Contacts – Who Owns Them, You or Your Employee?

Scales of Justice 1

Like millions of employees, your sales and marketing staff may be using social media for business as well as personal contacts. Perhaps you have actively encouraged them to do this as part of their job. But at the end of the day, who owns the database or the information on it? This question recently became the subject of legal debate when the High Court addressed the status of LinkedIn contacts.

Our guest blogger, Andrea London of Rosenblatt Solicitors explains…

Almost all businesses now use some form of social media for their sales and marketing: they can be extremely effective and better still, are free. However, those same social media platforms – such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook – are often also concurrently used on a personal basis by employees. As a result, the line between a ‘professional’ account and a ‘personal’ one easily becomes blurred. The question of ownership of the account, or more importantly the contacts contained in an account when an employee parts ways with his or her employer, has become a hotly contested legal one.

This issue of whether LinkedIn contacts created during a period of employment amounts to confidential information which belongs to the employer came before the High Court in the summer 2013. In very summarised terms, the case of Whitmar Publications v Gamage, Whitmar sought an injunction against several former employees, one of whom had maintained Whitmar’s LinkedIn company contacts during his employment and who then subsequently sought to use the information he had collated on Whitmar’s clients to help launch a rival business. The injunction sought was granted as an interim measure pending trial on the basis that it appeared to be a misuse of Whitmar’s confidential information and a breach of the implied duty of good faith. This decision (and a later one in a case involving Hays Specialist Recruitment) appears to indicate that English courts are very willing to consider the use made of a LinkedIn account by an employee during and after their employment as evidence of their breach of confidentiality and/or their reasonable restrictive covenants.

Whilst that may be the case, the question of ‘ownership’ of a LinkedIn account in such circumstances remains unhelpfully vague. It is LinkedIn’s view, as clarified in its user agreement, that ownership of a LinkedIn account is personal to the individual in whose name it is registered. This is regardless of which email address is used to register the account. Accordingly, businesses should do all they can at the outset to protect and clarify their position with their employees to avoid the risk of (expensive) disputes arising later on.

Some practical suggestions might include that you:

1. Ensure your company has a clear and effective Social Media Policy so that employees are clear on their own and the company’s position, and most importantly, what the company will do (both during and after termination of employment) if confidential company or client information gained during their employment is added to their personal accounts;

2. Ensure that your company’s LinkedIn account is not opened and then maintained (particularly if this is over a long period of time) by a sole individual;

3. Make it a requirement for employees to open a ‘company’ account for business clients using their work email address. From the outset, make it clear that it is the business which owns that particular account and all contacts and information in it. Ensure this account is regularly monitored and any costs/charges pertaining to the account are met by the company.

Legal Disclaimer: This article should not be taken as definitive legal advice on the subject covered. If you require legal advice on any of these matters please contact Andrea London of Rosenblatt Solicitors on 020 7955 1433 or email



Every Move They Make

Spy eye

As developments in technology continue to surge ahead, these days it’s never a great surprise to hear of new inventions designed to improve our everyday lives and which will soon be commonplace.

Every January, NGPLU’s (‘Non-Geek People Like Us’) get a glimpse of the latest advancements via news reports from the Consumer Electronics Show held every year in Las Vegas. As well as the usual unveiling of prototypes to tease and tempt (such enticement is known as ‘nerd lust’), this year’s highlights included televisions with concave curved screens (why?!) and a range of personal health gadgets.

One month on, a new technology just had its press launch, and depending on your point of view, will be greeted by NGPLUs with either enthusiasm or total horror.

The product in question is a new monitoring system designed to track employee movements throughout the working day. Just like a standard ID badge in appearance, the ‘Business Microscope’ device is loaded with sensors to record behaviour with the aim of improving employee and workplace efficiency. Hitachi explained that their invention will be able to judge the distance between people talking, and show “who talks to whom, how often, and how energetically”.

Just remember to leave your badge in a drawer next time you have a secret assignation in the stationery cupboard.

While I can’t be the only one to find Hitachi’s authoritarian language slightly chilling, I do see that if the price is right, this could be good news for bosses in some industries – though obviously, not so good for workers. Leaving aside the quip made by several wags that we should force all politicians to wear such badges, employers with, for example, pilfering problems in their warehouse, might see this as a good solution. However, thinking about this further, would the badges offer any more than CCTV cameras already in place?

It will be interesting to see where this – and its pricing – goes.



Sales Recruitment: Some Thoughts – Part 1

Merry go Round-B&W and Yellow

If you’ve employed sales staff for any length of time, you will have learnt to expect some degree of churn in your team(s). Whether it’s because of poor performance, burn out, or the lure of a better bonus scheme, you will understand that it’s not in the nature of many reps (especially young ones) to stay put for very long. Anyone who has experienced the time-consuming and costly hassle of dealing with agencies, posting ads on job sites, sifting through CVs and interviewing, must surely have thought to themselves at some stage “I hope I don’t have to do this again for a long time.”

In a previous life I had a good run in permanent employment at several well-organised and profitable companies, at which a director’s signature was always needed for the weekly stationery order. So far, so corporate. However, not one ever put any restriction on recruitment spend: the assumed message being do whatever it takes to get prospects and customers serviced properly again and sales had better meet projections. The stationery v. recruitment paradox is not uncommon in the business world, and I still muse on the fact that a pack of 3M’s finest yellow stickies could be subject to stricter control than a series of ads in sits vac or agency fees – which in some months ran into thousands.

But this is the point. In most cases, there is financial pressure to fill a vacancy as quickly as possible. Predictably, suppliers are exploiting a need based on urgency – hence their astronomic charges (although the internet has driven down advertising rates) – which buyers will rarely query at the time. The recruitment industry (valued last year at £26.5 billion* – yes you read that correctly) thrives on the pressure to return staff levels to full strength.

Recruiting to fill any vacancy is, at best, about being in control and striking lucky; at worst seeing it as a task to be over and done with and making hasty decisions under pressure. Potentially more disastrous, is falling into the common trap of conceding that ‘bums on seats’ will do – followed by a dollop of bad luck.

In the end, recruitment mistakes will always take time and money to fix, sometimes long after the manager responsible has left – or been promoted. As I often have to remind business owners: “Recruit in haste, repent at leisure”.

* Source: Recruitment & Employment Confederation, 2012-13



Wise Saws and Modern Instances

Quotation Marks

It’s always fun to come across a perceptive comment someone has made which I can quote. Whether attributed to Confucius, Socrates or a more contemporary figure, for me, a wisdom can inspire a blog, a tweet or simply be used to add interest to a training topic.

This week I came across a brilliant one from an unexpected source – in this case from the 20th century. Before I share it with you, let me take the opportunity to tell you about one of my long-held favourites – made by none other than the Queen (although not personally to me).

Many years ago, on one of those ‘fly-on-the-wall-but-not-really’ documentaries about the monarch’s everyday life, the Queen was asked how she manages to carry out such a unique and unusual job so supremely well.

She said her answer was exactly the same as the army officer to whom she had once presented an honour for an act of great bravery. Pinning the medal onto him, she asked a similar question: how did he know what to do? “Well, Ma’am” he replied, “I didn’t really stop to think about it at the time. I just did it. I suppose it’s the training.”

She completed her elegant reply to the interviewer by repeating: “It’s the training.”

But back to my newly discovered quote…

Last week, the death of a 91 year old Japanese war veteran was announced. Hiroo Onoda was the soldier who remained hidden in a Philippines jungle for 29 years, refusing to believe that the Second World War was lost. His story of survival is one of dogged loyalty to his commanding officer, self-discipline and endurance; his later years dedicated to inspiring Japanese children with outdoor activities. Reading his fascinating obituary, I learned that his first job – keeping the accounts for a trading company – came to an abrupt end in 1942 when he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army. A capable soldier, he rose to officer rank and enrolled on a gruelling training programme. The army instructor leading it was as tough as the course itself and would repeat this motto to his men:

Better to sweat on the training ground than to bleed on the battleground.



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!