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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Without sales you don’t have a business

EGM On A Missions: Let’s Build Better Companies

I’m one of those natural born salesmen who can sell ice to an Eskimo, oil to an Arab or anything else you can think of. If I were a superhero, selling would be my superpower. There’s not a soul on the planet who does it better.’ (‘The Wolf of Wall Street’)

‘Sales first.

Manufacturing second.’ (Elon Musk)

Why don’t they teach sales at university?

You can do marketing, applied marketing, digital marketing and even social media marketing.

Anyone got a degree in sales? Thought not.

The result? – one of the most critical business functions is the one people either don’t get the chance to study – or they do their best to avoid.

In the words of Philip Broughton in ‘The Art of the Sale:’

‘Many supposedly well-educated people in business haven’t got a clue about the most vital function, how to actually generate revenue. They study marketing, business strategy or how to prepare a business plan. But never the most vital part of any business. Sales is the poor relation.’

Times have changed.

Remember when we sold physical goods and products? Then it was all about who shouted the loudest.

  • We invented slogans, produced shiny ads and splattered the world with our message.

  • Whoever made the most noise won.

‘Business was all about broadcasting, boasting, barraging and BS. Jumping up and down, waving our arms and trying to attract attention.’ (Dan Lyons, ‘Disrupted.’)

But the world has flipped.

Everything has become a service. Software, consulting, training, recruitment. Now, we listen to our customers (we no longer shout at them) and find out what they need. We iterate, collaborate and learn from mistakes.

  • In the goods-based world you built something and found customers.

  • In the services economy today, you find customers first and then develop solutions to their problems.

So, with a focus on selling professional services (as most of us work in the sector,) here are some of our thoughts on this most critical of business functions.

  1. The first sale is to yourself

A basic.

If you’re not sold on the service you’re offering, no-one else will be.

  • You need to be convinced that what you are selling gives real value to the customer.

  • If you’re not sure, you’re not ready to speak with the customer – your doubts will show through.

The first sale is to yourself – or there won’t be many more.

  1. People sell to people

Your company might send you on a sales course.

Two or three days learning the secrets of how to write compelling a sales proposition, how to produce a Power Point for a sales presentation, how to negotiate, close the sale and complete the paperwork.

All good stuff.

But research shows that the qualities that make a great sales person aren’t the process or technical skills (many top sales people are hopeless at completing the paperwork.)

Over the long term, the things that make great sales people are ‘human’ qualities. High levels of integrity, responsiveness, empathy, honesty, resilience and optimism. All qualities that help build trust and help develop two-way relationships.

‘The business we’re all in is a relationship business.’ (Alan Weiss, ‘The Million Dollar Consultant.’)

People sell to people – (and people buy from people they like and trust.)

  1. Long term relationships are the best

It’s all too easy to identify a short-term customer need, close a sale and move on.

But this attitude doesn’t build relationships. Often it shows a lack of understanding and empathy.

It’s not always easy, especially if there are sales targets to meet. The longer the customer stays and builds trust, the more they’ll keep coming back in the future – even if they have moved to another organisation. They will also give recommendations – the most powerful sales aid known.

‘I first realised the advantage of long-term relationships after I started to keep in touch with customers – despite having nothing specific to offer them. I noticed they came back to me to seek advice and assistance and, when it came to potential deals, they were more open to discussions.’ (Thomas Kruger, Senior Executive, Rubrik.)

And there are good economic reasons for building long-term relationships. The constant churn of customers and the need to bring new customers on board are incredibly costly.

  • Conduct regular customer review meetings.

  • Allocate an account manager or contact person.

  • Invite the customer to social events or network meetings.

  • Designate the customer as a ‘VIP’ or ‘Gold’ account – and offer enhanced deals and loyalty rewards.

Build long-term customer relationships. They’re the best.

  1. Responsiveness is key

In his book ‘Moments of Truth,’ Jan Carlzon, ex-president of Scandinavian Airlines, defines a moment of truth.

‘Any time a customer comes into contact with a business – however remote, they have an opportunity to form an impression. These are ‘moments of truth.’

Carlzon says that, for each moment of truth, staff should be trained to the highest levels to give the customer a memorable experience.

And the most important moment of truth? When things go wrong.

‘Customer complaints are a ‘golden opportunity’ to build a long-term relationship.

When things go wrong, what the customer wants, first and foremost, is to know that her compliant is dealt with in a ‘professional and fair manner.’
  • Staff reply to correspondence and emails promptly.

  • Telephone calls are returned in good time.

  • Staff do what they say they’re going to do.

  • People look for a ‘win-win’ solution and try their best to resolve the issues.

  • The promises that are made actually happen.

While Carlzon set out these principles for staff dealing with customer complaints, they apply equally to the sales process. Make no mistake, if these basics aren’t in place, a long-term relationship won’t be built.

Responsiveness is the key component to long-term business relationships.

  1. Think output – as well as input

Look at things from the customers point of view. The benefits your customer gets from the service provided are often well in excess of the price you charge. And that’s clearly a good thing.

  • For example, a well-designed training course to 100 call centre agents can lead to huge benefits in terms of first-call resolution, improved customer service and retention, lower costs and higher cross sales.

While it’s not always possible to price service as a proportion of the benefits generated to the customer (although many consultancies and law firms operate this pricing model,) by thinking of the business benefits, you will go into the sales meeting with increased confidence and certainty.

‘I am no cleverer than you but I make ten times the amount. I simply have a better business model. I talk output (value) rather than input (costs) and my conversion rate is high.’ (Alan Weiss, ‘The Million Dollar Consultant.’)

Always think output (the value generated to the customer) as well as input (the man hours or other costs to provide the service.)

One final point.

For those who work in HR or IT or Operations or Finance, it’s worth remembering one thing.

‘We are all in sales now.’

Take a look at your diary for last week. Fact is, we all devote a sizeable proportion of time to selling.

  • Selling an idea to a group of colleagues.

  • Selling your skills and experience in a job interview,

  • Selling the benefits of a ‘sideways’ move to an ambitious team member or

  • Selling the idea that it’s probably best to do that homework to your 9-year-old. (Best of luck with that one.)

‘The one thing you have in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is you’re a salesman – and you don’t know it.’ (Arthur Miller, ‘Death of a Salesman.’)

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