Eight things you need to know about sales

Sales are the lifeblood of any business and selling arguably the most important business function of them all. Here, Dr Brian Williamson, successful serial entrepreneur and chairman of marketing agency 4icg, offers eight tips on how to be an effective salesperson.


1. Don’t chase rainbows

In fallow times it can be easy to get caught up in the need to get work. In the early days of business, this can be all about pitching in order to get contracts that can be delivered, turned into invoices and then, you hope, money. Too often I have seen pressure brought to bear on oneself or the sales team with a ‘must win work’ mentality. This can lead to sending out a 10,000 e-mail blast which is therapy rather than strategy. It’s fine to be driven but chasing rainbows can lead you down a tunnel with no way out.

Tip – split the sales process into different activities and look around to see if someone can deliver part of that activity better/quicker cheaper than you.

2. It’s a long-term game plan

Sales that are sustainable, even with transactional products like consumables, come from playing the long-term game plan. Using a strategy of ‘lower price to entice’ is a short-term game plan and it’s not sustainable. It is a bit like making money from wood logs. You need to be chopping some trees down now for money today, nurturing some saplings for wood tomorrow and planting seeds, so you have wood for the future. Patience is the order of the day.

Tip – Easy come, easy go is the phrase to remember. Don’t be tempted to try and close too early.

3. Create trust

The key to selling is that people prefer to buy from people they like and, generally, people like people they feel they can trust.

The key is to make sure you know your stuff and that you are credible in the eyes of the potential buyer. That means understanding your product or offering and the sector it fits into really well. Once you have established your credibility you need to be known for your reliability…you always deliver on your promises, be they arriving at meetings on time or answering requests or doing whatever you have agreed to do. This is all good and well; the prospective buyer, however, wants to feel emotionally connected to you and so you have to be able to ask searching questions that are deep and meaningful rather than vanilla. Where do you live? is OK buts it is vanilla. What kind of upbringing did you have when you were young? is deeper and What’s your life aspirations for you and your family is even deeper. Asking these on the first meeting may be seen as a bit overly rushed so it’s best to introduce intimacy at an appropriate time.

All of this is ruined though if you are seen to be building a relationship for your own self-interest without any regard for the person. Totally suspend your self-interest in the early stages of creating trust and only focus on understanding them, their challenges and work out how you can help them.

– Try doing them three favours with nothing but their interest in mind before you even consider asking for one.

4. Give ‘presents’ that are relevant.

Everyone you meet needs to be understood and there is no better way than showing them you understand them and then that you are thinking about them.

Give them a ‘gift’ and I don’t mean a hamper. A gift could be a book that you think they would be interested in. It could be sending them an article on a company that is in their sector or it could be as simple as a newspaper article which made you think of that person and his or her business.

Tip – put yourself in their shoes. Imagine, if you were them, what would be a thoughtful thing to do.

5. Ask for a favour that is easy to give

People like giving. Just like at Christmas, are you happier watching the eyes of the person you have just given a present to or are you happier getting a gift? So asking someone for a favour is giving them an opportunity to have that pleasurable experience by giving you a gift. It has to be one where it is easy for them to give. So ask for a recommendation of a business book or ask them how to find a good FD.

Tip - Always precede the request with a compliment. “I know you have always been good at value stream mapping; can you recommend a good book or course that would help me understand it the way you do?”

6. Listen

This sounds simple but it’s a skill that is very often missing. We all like someone who shows genuine interest in us. We all like to talk about ourselves, our experiences and our likes and dislikes. For that to happen one person has to listen more and talk less.

I have often asked ‘preachers’ in business what they learned in a meeting where they dominated the conversation. Their reply is often something like “I think they got it”. Yes they got it alright…the lesson according to…

Advice – Be on a mission to fact find. Give yourself a target of trying to learn something about that person, her or his skills, wants or desires. Information about the company or the market. Ask yourself what did I learn from that person? Probably the more you learned the better the meeting will have gone.

7. Act

I go to a lot of events in a year and if I like a speaker, I send them an authentic note to say how much I enjoyed their talk. No agenda…just a compliment. If nothing comes out of it other than they think you are a nice person for saying that, there is absolutely nothing lost. Just imagine you are building a network of friends and don’t be too keen to advance that friendship quickly. Never ask for a meeting at the first point of contact.

Tip – Many people do not act on that instinct of making contact. There is no excuse with technology the way it is nowadays. You can do that in the moment on your phone so act in the moment.

8. Explore and experiment

It is true in life that we often we learn more from what has gone badly than what has gone well and that’s probably because we reflect on bad experiences and work out how they could have gone better. Selling is about experimenting with different styles and techniques and learning from each one what we think worked well and what did not. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel because you can take someone else’s idea and improve it.

Tip – keep a reflective diary where you analyse the interfaces you have and what you feel went well and what did not. As a result, take action on what you want to change.

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