Category Archives: – Selling Tips

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.


Lunch is for Winners

Lunch Break

I caught an entertaining programme on the radio which took a look at how Gordon Gekko’s famous quote (“Lunch is for wimps”) now seems to have become accepted policy for many office workers. Apparently 1 in 5 of us never eats lunch with only 1 in a 100 taking a full hour’s break. The programme took us on a nostalgic trip back to the days when that lunch hour was our own, when we would actually leave our desk to meet friends and colleagues in the pub.

We also heard from a historian who told us that Winston Churchill’s several courses with wine and brandy were viewed positively at the time, actually helping rather than hindering his leadership of the country.

Undoubtedly our working day has got busier as technology continues to drive a faster pace, making time even more precious. But business leaders and their sales people have yet to be replaced with machines: as human beings our body’s need for refuelling can’t have changed, nor for our eyes to take a rest away from a bright screen or for our brains to switch off for a short time from meetings and client demands.

If businesses are to be competitive as well as productive, their workforces need to perform to fullest potential – in which case surely lunch breaks should be encouraged to maintain concentration and engagement?

When a sales person – whether on the telephone or out on the road – is doing his/her job fully and properly, I would have thought they should feel the need for a lunch break. Proactive, professional selling is a demanding job requiring the seller to use listening, presentation, verbal and consultative skills. In other words to be firing on all 4 cylinders.

The hard working sales executive who can put work aside for thirty or forty-five minutes to refuel and get outside in some sunshine is bound to have a more productive afternoon than the one who spends an hour dropping breadcrumbs over their keyboard as they stare numbly at a database of prospects.

In a fast-paced sales operation where time literally is money, there are ways you can use lunchtimes as a ‘time maximiser’.

Some suggestions:

On the Road

If you haven’t done this before, why not accompany an external rep on calls one day? Make use of lunchtime (the company’s shout of course) as an opportunity to encourage as well as to analyse the morning’s successes and setbacks in some detail.

Make it Fun

An effective way of boosting rapport within your teams and between departments is to arrange occasional team building sessions with one or two group sales games. For ideas, there’s a good range of reasonably priced books to be found.

Ideas Forum

Invite sales people and sales support staff for a free exchange of ideas and solutions. Stimulate discussion through brain storms and mind maps.

Everybody Out!

If it’s dry and sunny outside, insist that all office staff leave the building for at least 20 minutes.

Is Anybody Swinging the Lead?

Conversely, this topic may have made you think about checking if anyone is taking their lunchtimes too seriously…

Lunchtime Selling

If you have a telesales or telemarketing team, set an earlier lunch break roster so they can make calls between 12.00 and 2.00 to maximise their chances of catching those elusive prospects.