For many years I have struggled and beaten off my competition through hard work and failures. I have read many books and many articles on how to be the best Salesperson or the Best Marketer and have tried implementing all the advice. I am sick to death of all of these How-To guides and the lack of actual real-life examples of when these tips actually worked!
A bit about me first so you can understand my frustrations. I left the British Army in 1995 and having no actual trade to fall back on (well not one that would be of use in Civvy Street) I stumbled into Sales. I found that I had a natural ability to listen to people, identify opportunities and close business, so did quite well. For three years I worked for a small Sales and Marketing company that sold products and services on behalf of developing companies. I managed to save enough money to put myself through University and in 1999 started a 3 year Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Systems. I graduated in 2002 and having no real interest in sitting behind a desk for the foreseeable future analysing computer systems, I veered towards sales again and gained employment with British Telecom. I started at British Telecom; working for the BT Phone Book/Yellow Pages, as a Field Sales Consultant.
British Telecom has an established pedigree for Sales Training; having previously started and subsequently sold the Yellow Pages, and I undertook the two week residential sales training course in Milton Keynes. Not the best city in the world and too many roundabouts! This was an eye-opener as I had previously never received any official Sales training, but insightful nonetheless.
I excelled in sales and was quickly promoted into management – not always the route successful salespeople take, but one that suited my motivations. I excelled in Management too and transferred to the technology side of BT, managing teams of Technical Sales consultants. This was a new challenge as the needs and support required by Technical consultants was completely different to those required by Media Advertising Executives.
Again, through our successes, I was promoted to Regional Director Level, managing the P&L for numerous departments that supplied my Region.
After 6 fantastic years with BT I moved to another Blue Chip company, DSGi, to take on a new challenge as their Sales Director for the Mobile and Data arm of their business. Originally a 12 month contract, our successes extended this contract for an additional 12 months in preparation for the sale of the company. This brought with it the exposure to Lean Transformation and Marketing. The import of aligning Sales and Marketing and how the resultant output far exceeded any previous endeavours by the existing teams, was of huge interest to me.
This experience prompted me to undertake a Master’s degree in Strategic Marketing Management to fully understand the potential opportunities that the strategic alignment of these two key functions could seriously increase the output, and resultant revenue generation of any business!
I also have a bit of a bone to pick with Universities too, in that their course content is not only archaic but irrelevant in today’s marketplace, but that moan is for another time.
We have sales trainers across the world that teach us about questioning techniques, objection handling and closing techniques and dependent on who you ask, the answer and importance of one technique over another will vary. But the answers should NEVER vary, regardless of product or lead time!
When you go on a date with a lady (or man) that lady (or man) has already considered sleeping with you. The date is to test the water and to see if you are compatible for the future! They are not thinking about the fantastic prawn cocktail starter or the (medium done) fillet steak, they are thinking; will they be good in bed? Will our children look good? Will I be financially secure and will I have his/her support when I need it?
A business sale is exactly the same thing! It doesn’t matter whether your product has whistles and bells on it, or is gold plated, if the person selling it can’t fulfil the criteria of the date, then he/she won’t sell! Let me elaborate because to make an analogy of a date and a sale is a bit vague lol!
Prawn cocktail starter: Your Introduction to the company and yourself
Fillet steak: Your product and what you offer
Eton Mess desert: Your close/proposal
Coffee and Liquors: Objection handling
Yes you have questions in between to establish needs and opportunities, yes you have your marketing literature, yes you have objection handling techniques, but that’s just not enough these days!
Your customers are looking for more! They are more discerning in these economic times; that provide additional choice and competition galore! They want their first date to be special, they want to find ‘The One’.
The Questions your date is thinking about
Are they good in Bed? – Can we work together? Do I like this person sitting in front of me? Do I trust the person sitting in front of me? Does he/she share my vision, outlook and ethics?
Will our children look good? – Can I see my company aligning with his/her company? Will his/her company add value to mine? Does he/she bring anything attractive to the mix? Will there be an impact on my business to use his/her product/service?
Will I be financially secure? – Is his/her company big enough to support mine? Do they have a pedigree of fulfilment success? Are they going to be breaking my balls for money? Is their sole focus money? Are they flexible with their pricing?
Will I have their support when I need it? – What sales support can I expect? Is he/she just going to sell me a widget and then disappear? What if something goes wrong? What if I need a cuddle or I need to vent frustrations? What if I grow really quickly or need immediate help?
Price and Brand do play a big part in the date but that is not all these days. It’s not about this fantastic sales technique or tip or that objection handling tool any more. We are reverting back to the old adage ‘People buy from People’! In fact we never left that adage behind, but the newer generation of sales people forget that or are not taught that! An all singing iPad for presentations and great marketing literature is not enough to win business!
I often read articles about utilising your CRM effectively, Ideal social media marketing tips, how having a great website will bring you fortunes, blah blah blah…. When did we stop being good at Marketing? When did we stop being good at working our data? When did we forget about our Brand?
The majority of adverts I see for all of the above are, for the majority, scare tactics! We have never neglected our businesses; we never rest on our laurels and we never forget marketing!
Ok it’s difficult to adapt quickly and sometimes it’s difficult to see the benefits, but it is necessary. Sometimes there are barriers to change and we need a hand to overcome these barriers, but we always want our businesses to be profitable!
The focus of any business will always be on sales and how to generate revenue! Telesales is NOT dead, Field sales is still expensive but works, customer services still create sales opportunities and marketing supports all of the above.
You don’t need an all singing CRM or a Big Data Services or a Social Media Guru or flashy tools for your staff. You need a spreadsheet or Access database, a telephone and dedicated and enthusiastic people to support your journey. The rest are just luxuries!
You have reached your current status by absorbing and developing your own style and approach. This has obviously worked and you have grown as a business and as a person. You don’t need to change your whole approach or character to be continually successful! Yes you need to adapt to market changes, but generally they are not that significant that they require you to alter your whole approach. You don’t need to do all of the TOP 10 tips to be successful, you don’t need all the fancy tools to be successful and you don’t need to spend to be successful! You are already successful!
For many years I have been a business coach, working with some large Blue Chips and lots of SME’s. I have never suggested a Top 10 anything, or that they invest huge sums in new technology. The majority of the time my role is guided discovery! My clients already know the answers, but have forgotten the importance and my role is to open their eyes and get them thinking. They have achieved success without me, but have developed barriers to growing that little bit extra they desire. I just give them options. I tell them the uncomfortable truth because I am their objectionable friend.
Whilst I acknowledge the advertising tactics employed by these companies that scare the living daylights out of CEO’s and MD’s, I don’t agree with them. People only need the basics and an absolute conviction to be successful, the rest is a luxury and not that cost-saving in reality!
We all hate recruitment agencies because they cost us money and time (sorting through the crappy CV’s they send us) but they serve a purpose. The bigger question is why do you require them in the first place? Are your Sales teams churning too quickly? Are your staff not achieving targets? Are your staff not happy in their roles?
The recruitment of the right staff is one of the key elements to achieving the growth you need! That and being realistic with your expectations! Utilise psychometric evaluation in your recruitment process.
Yes some of you may think this stuff is mumbo jumbo but trust me, for many years I was of the same opinion! However, I know my own company culture, I know my company strengths and weaknesses, and I know my own company’s management and how they manage. So using psychometrics I can assess the truth about any potential candidate and see through any bullsh*t they feed me on an interview. These sales people are going to cost me £30k in salaries and the additional on-cost of another £20k, £5k in recruitment and time, so I want to make damn sure the person I recruit is not going to leave in 12 months! Part of ensuring this is by being honest in the interview. I tell them it is tough, I tell them my expectations and I tell them what will happen if they don’t achieve. This generally thins the herd a bit so I can concentrate on the REAL candidates.
When measuring my Sales teams and the numbers of people achieving or under achieving, I identify areas of development. If my teams are not achieving their goals then this may be an indication that they are either not being managed effectively or that my targets may be unrealistic. If my sales teams are not happy then I will lose them and they will not generate the required revenue. If they are consistently not achieving across the board then I may have to address my expectations. I don’t need fancy technology or new sales tools, I need to re-motivate my teams and achieving teams are happy teams.
I conscious of the fact that I haven’t addressed any Sales fallacies and I have just ranted about a variety of subjects. So in brief here are the common sales fallacies:
1) Success in selling is all about having the “gift of the gab”
Most salespeople believe that having the gift of the gab is the qualification required to be successful in sales. To some extent this is true – a sales professional should have a natural ability to express ideas fluently and persuasively. However, at times our eloquence turns out to be the major hurdle in understanding and connecting with the prospect. WHY? Simply because we emphasise more on our sales pitch rather than lending an ear to understand the needs of the other person. The desire to talk more than to listen renders a salesperson ineffective.
In this context, you will realise that communication skills are often misunderstood. When I ask my clients to define communication, the most common reply is “getting your message across”. This may be so, but this is just a small part of communication. What about the receiver and his/her comprehension of the message?
Communication is all about connecting with the other person at an intellectual and emotional level. “Gift of the gab” is talking impressively, and this in itself is not enough. Empathetic listening and our ability to understand and feel the real need in what is said, is of the essence.
2) Sales is A Numbers Game
Do you really believe that doing more of something will get you better results?
More often than not, we’re doing more of the things that aren’t working.
More often than not we get caught up in some “persistence” thing or our inner competitor takes over and so does “smiling and dialling”
I’m saying that less might be more if it leads to a higher quality effort!
A higher quality effort is one where you actually did some research, mapped your communication on both the messaging side and the inclusion of a good, healthy sales mix.
For people new to selling, mastering the basics is a numbers game (repetition is key to developing new skills). But once they’ve done that, using those skills in a smart, flexible way is key. “Less might be more if it leads to a higher quality effort!”
3) Experience fallacy – Hiring salespeople based on their experience at large corporations or hiring salespeople based on ‘feelings’
These common mistakes often are the reason businesses fail to meet sales goals… It’s neither fair nor logical to exclude someone based merely on the amount of work experience, and the assumption that the number of years of work experience is a good indicator of one’s ability to do the job.
Well; maybe just a ‘experience fallacy’…; companies need to sit down and figure out a map of the behaviours (e.g., salesperson and customer…) that drive success before doing any hiring… If you’ve got a profile of the behaviours to drive success, then you’ll make sure that people are more likely to be aligned.
But when all else fails, you may have to come to grips with trimming the sales team of dead weight. Data I’ve collected shows that companies tend to spend too much time coaching the top 20% of performers and not trying to improve the bottom 20%.
But focusing on the core middle 60% of the sales team it is the best way to improve sales!
4) “Relationships Just Happen”
When I ask why relationships are important to sales success, the answer is almost universal: “Because people buy from people they know and people they like.” Really? The reason goes beyond that standard answer, and people know that!
Relationship-building is about more than just the opportunities an individual throws your way. If you’re working with a big client, it’s likely there won’t be a single unique buyer. There may be dozens of people on the client side that will influence the outcome in some way–dozens of people with information and insight. You may have that many people on the seller’s side as well. It’s very rare that any one person will be able to make a unilateral decision.
Even the best-laid roads develop cracks, and the bigger the deal the bigger the risk. Without solid relationships to help you survive the inevitable bumps in the road, today’s mega-deal—the one that’s going to feed you for the next decade — could easily become next year’s biggest nightmare and cost you your job.
5) The way to increase sales and motivate salespeople is to offer “incentives” in money and gifts
Poorly designed incentives create a temporary mask for incompetence, and no matter how cleverly disguised, any carrot-and-stick process produces questionable long-term, sustainable results.
Manipulating behaviour by offering reinforcements rarely brings out the best in salespeople. There is current, sound, and factual supporting evidence.
A better approach is to focus on the fundamentals of the sales profession.
Oh my god I just created a Top 5 and I have spent the best part of 10 minutes of your time berating those that create Top 10 lists! I apologise profusely and will self-flagellate until suitably chastised!
I know this is a rambling article, but I hope that it provides clarity and honesty in the stereotypically deceitful role of a Salesperson.
Grant Stanley BSc (Hons) MA MCIM