Category Archives: – Sales Thoughts

Dear Diary

Mobile Phone Diary

Every year, for retailers and their suppliers, the customary seasonal countdown seems to start earlier and earlier. But for the rest of us in b2b sales, it will begin proper after this weekend. At least this year – because December 1st falls on a Monday – workaholics and the conscientious will be pleased to see that at least they will be able to fit in a good three weeks’ worth of sales activity before the break.

Focusing on a practical but vital aspect of sales management, whether your sales people use analogue or digital means to schedule their appointments, follow ups and call backs, now is the time to establish good diary habits ready for the early part of 2015.

As you all know, I regard motivation (and self-motivation in particular) as one of the main cornerstones of sales success – and a busy diary must surely be a key feature. Or to look at it another way, who is going to feel a greater compulsion to perform next year? The salesman with a full diary or the one with a blank one?

Don’t hold back from asking your sales managers and reps the following question: “What’s in your diary for January and February?”  If you get a blank look, it’s time for some very tough love…



Sales Recruitment: Some Thoughts – Part 3

Merry go Round-B&W and Lilac

While we can never stop people looking for pastures new, employers should be doing all they can to minimise the likelihood of itchy feet among their staff. Predictably, better pay and bonus schemes are the causes most often cited by sales people for leaving but the reasons for staying never seem to get much exposure. I wonder why. Because bad news make better headlines, perhaps? Teams which, by and large, get on well with one another, who respect their line-manager and fellow colleagues are not as rare as after-work pub gossip would have us believe. Not surprisingly, in my largely peripatetic role I get to see and experience work environments which range from the genuinely positive to the downright negative, and it doesn’t take an in-depth academic study to recognise the ones where people are more likely to stay in their job for its own enjoyment, sense of purpose and the contribution it makes.

In-depth studies, however, do blame a variety of reasons why employees quit their job on employers. Aspects of the work environment, its culture, and how an employee perceives his/her job and its potential opportunities are commonly observed factors that the employer has failed to maximise or address.

Where studies have made recommendations, the majority advise organisations to tap into what their employees are thinking. Now, nobody is asking bosses to become mind readers – or to be best friends with their staff. But if management are to get the best out of their people, communication channels need to exist and to be open, clear, and two-way. But this also means that staff should take the initiative too. It’s a well-worn joke among HR managers that in any ‘exit interview’ departing employees will commonly moan “No one motivated me… No one gave me any responsibility… No one asked me to apply for the promotion… No one ever…” The list runs on and on. Of course, a good HR will gently point out, er, excuse me, but didn’t you – ie the employee – ever think to talk to your manager…?

Of course by this stage it’s too late. Any respect one side may have had for the other will by now have evaporated. Even if there is a new job to go to, at such times employees tend to feel aggrieved and/or disillusioned, while the employer simply wants them out as quickly as possible. What a pity when I think of the huge amounts of goodwill and enthusiasm both parties once had when the job offer was made and accepted.

Not for the first time or the last time either.

Because all this is another aspect of what I call The Recruitment Merry-go-Round; the one which keeps HR, recruitment consultants and headhunters in clover. (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about free passengers.) Only for the employer it never really ends all that merrily, does it? However large or small the organisation, recruitment costs are a drain on the bottom line. Every business should make every effort to learn something from such experiences and slow down the ride.



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.


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.




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.


Bring Back Professionalism

Ipcress File-Enlarged

“Culture is difficult to define… But for me the evidence of culture is how people behave when no one is watching.”

What an astute observation. But a bit of a let-down when I remember it was made (a couple of years ago in a BBC speech) by Bob Diamond (yes, that one).

Nevertheless, regardless who said it and whether or not he was the first with this insight, the quote has got me thinking because it’s also an excellent definition of acting professionally when in front of customers. Now, unless you are in a profession such as accountancy, teaching or law, ‘being professional’ isn’t a term you hear very often.

Betraying my age, I increasingly find some school and college leavers seem to lack the tone and manner which many of us would describe as professional or even respectful. Witness, for example, the casual service we often experience in shops, even allowing for inexperience and the natural shyness of youth.

In wondering whether this really is a generational thing, it brought to my mind The Ipcress File which was recently on TV again. I always enjoy the way it captures 1960s London (where’s the traffic?) – as much for John Barry’s soundtrack (oh the twang of that cimbalom!) – as the espionage drama. Seeing it again this time, however, I noticed that, coupled with that typical British reserve in a range of characters less than one generation on after the second world war, everyone is possessed of a civility we now seem to have lost. The film’s protagonist, Harry Palmer (Michael Caine), is a secret agent and it’s a fair bet to say Harry is no Old Etonian – by which I mean he evidently was not raised to be mannered within an inch of his life – and yet he has a courtesy in his dealings with others, a professionalism which is displayed as he methodically carries out instructions from his (rather creepy) intelligence officer boss. Could it be because those were the days when adult men of all ages were never seen outdoors without a tie, or ladies their gloves? Fans of Mad Men enjoy the series for its indulgent nostalgia and yet I have a client barely past retirement age who remembers his first sales job when, as a mere 17 year old, he would never, ever, leave the office to see a customer without his hat.

So, how do your employees behave when ‘no one is watching’? If you have customer-facing staff, it might be instructive for you to spot-check how they conduct themselves when away from your glare, because the job can be hard enough without giving valued clients – and prospects – an easy reason to go and buy elsewhere.


No Confidence, No Sales

A few months ago, following a news story about a con-man who made millions from selling sham bomb detectors, I wrote about the importance of being able to sell confidently – even for products which are honest and genuine.

Like me, I’m sure you will have seen sales people from the same team, selling the same thing where some are confident and others are not: the confident ones sell more and generally have a better time of it. Undoubtedly, confidence – by which I mean self-confidence (as in having faith in one’s own abilities) – is a big factor in successful selling.

A significant milestone in much of the one-to-one coaching I give is when a sales rep starts to increase in confidence, and one of the most rewarding aspects of this is seeing that moment when he or she becomes bolder and seems less fazed by the usual knocks to grow in stature and start winning more sales. Talk about job satisfaction for both of us. At such times, more often than not, latent aptitudes come through, such as a positive change in approach, or, in the case of a team leader, the development of a more assertive manner: all wonderful things to witness and I am lucky to see this often. My reward continues with the thrill (yes, really) of planning how best to nurture that new and revitalised talent to maximise sales. As a task it’s as good as it gets because it usually leads in one direction – improved results on a number of levels. The sky is now the limit and the journey is exciting.

The icing on the cake is when I can let the company’s board know that they are in for some very good news.


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.


How Deep is Your Grudge?

Smiley-Bittersweet Reduced

Latest statement today from the OFT regarding petrol and diesel prices: “Competition is working well in the UK road fuel sector.”

Hmm… On hearing the inevitable protests to this, the words ‘grudge purchase’ sprang to mind. Now, I have no idea who first coined this phrase but it’s a powerful tag for something we never feel good about paying for. In straitened times consumers are likely to be sensitive to grudge purchases such as fuel. By the same token, what about the inevitable grudge purchases which are part of running a business?  Certainly overheads such as rent, heating and electricity. Then there’s insurance, health and safety compliance measures, audits for accreditation etc. What about emergency or ‘crisis’ costs for recruitment or legal fees? Does your organisation supply any of the services I’ve listed? If so, how good are you at recognising just how your customers may feel about your invoice? For example, if a cynic were to describe your product as a grudge buy, what do you offer in terms of benefits and service which puts you ahead of your competitors? If you’ve never thought about it in this way before, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at every step of the customer’s experience.