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Step 6:
All you need are sales. Sales are all you need


Sales are the lifeblood of any business. Sales are how you pick up the phone; they’re how you greet potential customers in your shop or at a meeting; they’re even how you treat your suppliers. All suppliers are customers when they’re out of work and they are more likely to recommend their nice clients to their friends and family than their unpleasant ones. Everything you do and say with your business hat on reflects the business you run. If you need to vent some fury, hang a punch-bag in your garage and beat that to death every evening.

This section describes the importance of a sales oriented culture, driven by people who can connect with customers. I provide some examples of good selling skills, balanced with an example of how not to do it.



If the face fits

Recently I needed to find a builder or stonemason to reconstruct my front garden wall. Whilst driving down a dual carriage way I happened across a van promoting a local stonemason. The design looked appealing and I hastily memorised the telephone number on the rear. As I then overtook the van I took a glance at the driver – my prospective stonemason. Driving that van was the most miserable, unaccommodating looking man you could imagine. If he was stood in a line-up with five other builders and you were asked to select the individual you would least like to invite to your house to undertake some building work, he would be your man.

Now if you’ve got an unfriendly looking face that’s just plain unfortunate. He may well have been a lovely family man who is a joy to employ. However, my first impression suggested otherwise and that was sufficient for me to erase his number from memory.

To my mind, businesses fall into one of three categories. Some comprise a mix of two. There are businesses that sell a product. Then there are businesses that sell a service. The final category comprises of businesses that sell other companies’ products or services. There may well be four or more categories, but if there are, I cannot imagine what they might be. Each of those categories requires different sales techniques.

For example, I suspect the vast majority of people hate being jumped upon by the eager salesperson each time they enter a clothing or gift store. This is product sales at its worst. The art of the salesperson is to recognise when the customer is in need of assistance and when they need browsing time. I’ll return to this type of sales environment shortly.

The service industry is as broad as it is long. Typically, service businesses are purveyors of some information or skill that is in demand. Two key qualities are required in this sales environment – listening and interpreting. The prospective customer requires two things from their initial meeting. Firstly, the chance to get their point across without feeling rushed or bullied. Secondly, the security of knowing they have found the right person to do the job in hand. In that first client meeting, therefore, it is imperative that the salesperson allows them the time and freedom to express their need. Whilst taking in this information, they need to be carefully crafting in their mind the necessary sales pitch to convince them that they are the ideal candidate for the job.

Good salespeople know the importance of the next stage of the process. Rather than respond with a spiel of sales talk, they are likely to probe further with a number of questions. Crucially they must be questions that enable the customer to answer in the affirmative. Questions to which the answer is ‘yes’ confirms in the mind of the prospective customer that they have not only listened but are on their wavelength. The goal at this stage is to build rapport. Now is not the time to suggest extravagant solutions that are likely to radically oppose what they have in their mind. “Yes” questions help to quickly create a position of trust. Following a dialogue that contains several of these positive connections, the salesperson is then able to impart recommendations that are much more likely to meet with agreement. Consequently they will likely be hired to complete the work. People who are truly good at sales possess more of a deep awareness of social psychology than the ruthlessness, charm and other stereotypes associated with their profession.

The third category is businesses that sell other people’s products or services. One might imagine that product or service knowledge is what is at stake here. In so doing businesses can all too easily divorce themselves from the role they have of selling themselves as the provider of choice. As way of illustration, consider again an estate agent. Surely their job is to sell other people’s property? In fact the act of selling the property is the final part of the process. The real sale was completed when they convinced the vendor to commission them as agents.

The art of estate agency sales is as much, if not more about winning the project, than fulfilling the order. This involves selling the benefits of appointing them and is a particularly delicate sales proposition. Most vendors want to place their property on the market for more than the agent knows is realistic. However, scoffing at their valuation is almost certain to be met with resentment and the selection of another agent. Blindly agreeing to their valuation is the easy, short-term solution. However the agent is acutely aware that they will subsequently be blamed months down the line when the property hasn’t had any serious offers. The solution is therefore providing that balance between concurring on the presentation and potential of the fabulous property and sympathy at the external factors that are likely to adjust its real value downwards.

I don’t subscribe to the view that people can either sell or they can’t. Numerous books, videos and courses are available to help develop selling skills. The Useful links section that concludes this step provides some good starting points. Two important attributes for sales are empathy and passion for the product or service. In the third year of Moose I decided to break into wholesale by supplying golf shops. This was an attempt to increase my sales volume, despite forfeiting considerable margin. I had no formal training in sales nor did I have the professional merchandising of my competitors. I went into those shops with a mobile clothes hanger bought from a local hardware shop and a number of my own suit carriers lacking any Moose branding. Also, without any background in sales, I had none of the patter a typical salesperson would have at their disposal.

Instead, my approach was a natural one. I was polite and sympathetic to their cause. Typically, most golf shop managers expressed their negative attitude towards stocking ladies golf clothing. They probably expected me to roll out all the reasons why selling our range would be different. It would be foolish to try to convince them that stocking Moose would change everything. It wouldn’t. Consequently, my response was along the lines of “tell me about it!”

I was able to build a rapport because my experience was as one of them, not some rep that had possibly never sold an individual garment in a retail situation in their life. My sales strategy was not to attempt to sell them thousands of pounds worth of stock. Try a few hundred pounds worth with the option to re-purchase individual items on a next day delivery service. I planted in their mind the types of individual that would buy this, that and another item, from my own experience: those that like flowery tops, others that like something sportier. Now the prospect of being stuck with a large box of clothes they would be forced to heavily discount at season end was removed from their mind.

On a particular two day trip to South Wales I recall visiting ten golf shops. Nine of those ten placed an order and the total value of the orders was in excess of £11,000. Admittedly one of those orders was in the region of £4,000 as it was one of the two leading golf clubs in Wales.

Salvation at the seaside

However my abiding sales memory with Moose came much earlier in its life cycle. The first year was a very bad year. As I explained earlier, I had drastically over estimated my sales volume and purchased way more stock than I could have reasonably sold. In short I was in a cash flow hole. My salvation was to come when I transported the stock to my first significant exhibition – the merchandising tented village at the Ladies British Open. That year the event was being staged at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s Golf Club. These were big events with 30,000 to 40,000 visitors spread over five days. I had no preconceived idea of how much stock I could sell. A double pitch in the tented village set me back around £5,000. Even in those early days, it felt like make or break.

Some weeks before the event a lady made contact with me who had seen our adverts and editorial in the golf magazines and had bought one or two items. She was a sales assistant in a golf shop in Cornwall. We spoke a few times about the possibility of her shop stocking our clothing and during those discussions I told her of my intention to sell at the British Open. Out of the blue she volunteered her services to travel up and sell for me, along with her friend, Carol. I agreed without hesitation and some weeks later I met the pair of them from the railway station in Lytham. I had no idea what they looked like and vice versa – yet we were about to spend six days together in the small confines of a tent by day and a self-catering cottage by night.

The name of that lady was Brenda. Little did I know at the time, Brenda was the salvation of Moose that year. With the exception of our primary mail-order competitor, who was also exhibiting, all other retail outlets at the event were being run by men. Our mail-order competitor’s range was frankly old fashioned and garish. In comparison our range was fresh and stylish.

I had packed my own surround sound audio system with the intention of subtle background music. No other vendor played music. Within one hour of day one, the low key pro-am day, Brenda had me driving into Lytham town centre to buy some replacement CDs. Replacing the chill-out music, she wanted to create an atmosphere. I returned with the best I could find that fitted her shopping list – CDs by Robbie Williams, Badly Drawn Boy and a montage of Latino dance tunes such as “Papa loves Mambo” by Perry Como.

That exhibition provided me with one of the greatest highs I ever experienced with Moose. Brenda was sales assistant / manager extraordinaire. She was a multi-tasking whirlwind, providing personal shopper experiences to half a dozen ladies concurrently. She was a colour, size, shape and image consultant all rolled into one. Her advice invariably resulted in multiple item purchases. The same customers frequently returned later that day for additional garments. Brenda had planted the idea that they might not be in stock later in the week. She was in her element and we were in the money.

Meanwhile I was relegated to the job of stock replenishment. I must have walked five miles each day going backwards and forward to our van with my refill box and a trolley. Yet I didn’t care one bit. We had something none of the other vendors had that week – a trained saleswoman whose opinion was trusted by all of the customers. Women like to buy clothes from women and Brenda made connections with each of them. In her early forties and attractive, she was the perfect age to influence both the young and the old.

We must have sold more garments that week than any of our more experienced competitors. Our takings were well in excess of £25,000 which seemed nothing short of miraculous at the time. Two weeks later she joined the next exhibition trip to South Wales – another successful event.

So where was my mistake? Well it certainly wasn’t in sales when I had to sell down the line to the male golf professionals. It wasn’t finding the right people for the other sales roles. My big, monumental mistake was not recognising the unique value of the only professional salesperson I ever used – Brenda. Some months later we attended our third exhibition together in Munich. This time it was part of my big plan to sell wholesale to Europe whilst selling directly in the U.K. (see Step 9). On this trip we were attempting to forge deals with reps of sports chains across all of Europe. However, we were selling clothes designed for a British market to Europeans. We had no recognised brand name to trade on and were competing against the real deal – the likes of Cutter and Buck and Ralph Lauren from the U.S., Golfino of Germany and some really sophisticated lines from Scandinavia. These were multi million euro/dollar organisations and we were totally out of our depth.

The event was pretty much a disaster and my regret of the wasted money on a “run before you can walk” scheme clouded my judgement. Naturally, Brenda still expected to be paid the full amount we had agreed. Just as for the British Open, we had agreed a daily fee rather than a commission rate. Whilst this worked in our favour at Lytham, it certainly went against us in Munich. In addition to the cost of the exhibition space, the flights, hotel rooms and all the costs of merchandising and transportation, we were badly out of pocket. Whilst I naturally honoured our agreement, I did so with an air of coolness. Our great professional relationship had been soured. Unlike Lytham, where we had been on the phone to each other within days of arriving home, weeks went by without contact after Munich. We may have spoken once or twice again but no mention was made of future events. In short I didn’t have the maturity to recognise the shortcomings were my own and not Brenda’s.

So my big mistake in sales was not recognising an asset when I had one. There is no doubt that Brenda would have continued working with me at the numerous other events I attended in the subsequent years. Yet after Munich, our paths never crossed again and that was very much my loss not hers. Although friends and family were superbly supportive in the numerous exhibitions beyond Lytham, we never reached those heights again. Our final Ladies British Open exhibition was ironically at Lytham and St Anne’s once more, the scene of that initial success. That final week we sold around £10,000 worth of clothing – almost one third of what we took with Brenda and barely enough to cover costs.

There’ll be no welcome in these hillsides

Having lived that brief life in sales it is now easy for me to identify sales related faux-pas on a regular basis. Recently, I spent a night in Merthyr Tydfil on business. As part of that trip my colleague and I had a meal at a pub that was local to our guest house. The village was a little off the beaten track and this pub seemed to be the village’s only establishment. The pub was homely at best and tacky to those less charitable. It was just generally downmarket, from the worn patterned carpet, to the beer mats on the tables and the ornaments on the walls. It could conceivably be a pleasant local, but on first impressions alone, you wouldn’t drive out of your way to get there.

The pub was run by a husband and wife couple. The wife was very pleasant and seemed to double up as the chef. In contrast, the husband was terse and occupied the front of house role. Early in the evening, a lady came in on a recce, in advance of potentially returning with a dozen of her girlfriends on one of their social nights. Clearly this was an important decision for the lady – she had the expectations of all her friends on her shoulders and the fear factor of being the one that organised the meal from hell.
The landlady was in the kitchen cooking our steaks so the prospective customer was greeted by the husband and their son. I have already touched on the décor of the pub. However, that first glance around the place could have been salvaged had the personal contact with the father and son been positive. Sadly it wasn’t. Firstly, they were both wearing tracksuits. Secondly, they barely broke into a smile or provided any gesture of warmth throughout the conversation. Thirdly, and most importantly, they couldn’t have sold their menu any worse if they had tried. From a sales perspective the menu was pretty awful. However, their description of each meal option was even more uninspiring. However, what really did it for me was the response to the lady’s request for more information on the “vegetarian options are available” footnote. Delivered in a deadpan South Wales drawl, with not a hint of humour, “well, it’s vegetables isn’t it”. Within a minute the lady had left, doubtless never to be seen again.

Sales is a consequence of creating a relationship

Many businesses employ a cold calling approach to creating sales. Whilst this is far from ideal, in some situations, particularly business to business, it is a necessary evil. At times I have undertaken this type of work myself. I have also observed others doing it.

Let’s be honest, we all know when we’re being cold called. Often, we just want them off the phone as quickly as possible, particularly if it’s an obtrusive call to our home in the evening. The first 10-20 seconds of that call are crucial. Therefore, if the salesperson can create a reason for the recipient to stay on the phone beyond those few seconds, the hardest obstacle has already been overcome. Exactly how that is achieved depends very much upon the personality of the individual and the product or service they have to sell. One of the things I always find most irritating about sales calls is the salesperson refusing to concede that they are selling something. Consequently, this formed the basis of my strategy on the rare occasions that I took the hot seat. I would be quickly upfront about it being a sales call but directly follow that with a killer reason why they really should learn about what I have to offer. Other people may adopt different opening strategies. One I particularly dislike is when sales reps I have never spoken to before ask me how I am doing that day. It may be their attempt at politeness; at the other end of the phone it just sounds completely false.

The next tip is essential: do not, in any way, attempt to sell there and then. All you should be trying to do is earn a commitment to move to the next stage. This may be a personal visit by yourself or a sales rep. It may be receiving some material through the post or by email. The key is not to make this next stage seem in any way onerous or highly pressurised. Receiving a one off mailing or a fifteen minute meeting with someone is often acceptable. Putting them on your weekly newsletter database, sending them a five year contract to sign or scheduling an in-depth liaison, is frankly not. A good tip I received from Phil Jones (see Useful links) on this was to arrange any follow-on meeting at an irregular time of day such as 1:10pm or 2:45pm. This immediately creates the impression of a 15-20 minute meeting. In contrast, a 1pm meeting subconsciously implies that they could be stuck with you for some time.

No such thing as a free lunch

If your business is online, then sales are very much about how you present your content. Selling online is a different animal altogether. Yet in many ways it can be much easier, if face to face contact is not your strength. Good sales technique online is subtle. It’s about presentation of material from a visual perspective.

One of the masters of online sales is Seth Godin. If you’ve never heard of him, I fully recommend putting his name into your search engine of choice. Download one of his freebie e-books. You will notice that he is giving away free information. Yet spare a little thought as to how he is doing it. The information he is providing for free is genuinely useful and brilliantly articulated. Why then, for goodness sake, is he giving it away or free?

To answer that, let’s turn the whole thing on its head. If the free information he was providing was of dubious quality, would anyone seriously consider purchasing his other material? Of course not! By providing superb advice at no cost, he is building an immediate sense of trust, in much the same way as the salesperson who asks questions to which the answer is “yes”. Then, on relevant pages of his e-book, he will provide links to his non-gratis publications where he covers the subject in more depth. Despite giving away some of his great ideas for free, he leaves readers wanting to know more. It’s clever, but it’s not charity. Neither is it a cheap trick. It’s just great sales technique.

A Richer Experience

Every member of staff you employ is selling the business in some way or another, from the receptionist to the delivery driver. Unless you lock them in a dungeon with no phone and no Wi-Fi, which may contravene human rights, they are a sales ambassador for your business. Your task is to make every employee acutely aware of their importance in a way that makes them grow with confidence, not shrink under pressure.

Equally, to quote an age-old saying, you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. If you employ staff in a customer-focused role, they must be able to connect with your customer base. Age and appearance will be factors in this. Ultimately, however, it all boils down to personality. It is your responsibility to recruit staff that positively reflect your brand and understand, or are malleable enough to be taught, how to sell.

To get the best out of employees you must treat them like they really matter – which of course they do. This starts with how much you pay them. We spoke about being lean and mean in the previous step. Perhaps wages are one item of expenditure where this philosophy shouldn’t be applied to the max. The difference between what a fairly paid employee earns for you, and what an unfairly paid employee would generate, is likely more than the difference in the two wages.

Staff motivation goes beyond simple generosity, of course. One of the U.K.s great business success stories is the audio retail firm Richer Sounds. This business has enjoyed longevity in a challenging market despite substantial competition. The owner, Julian Richer, is legendary for treating his staff as his most important asset. This is no autocratic culture. Employees play a pivotal role in developing the business and the business has likely profited as a consequence.

Some issues for you to explore…

1. Have you got your most outward facing employees in selling roles? Conversely, do you have people conducting sales that are ineffective or could improve?

2. Are your business’s sales techniques driven towards developing relationships? In particular, can more be done to convert prospects by listening and asking “yes” questions?

Useful links

1. Phil M Jones is a renowned sales professional and trainer. I have had the pleasure of spending two days on one of Phil’s courses and it was particularly thought-provoking. His website is www.philmjones.com.

2. There are a multitude of blogs out there relating to sales. One author I particularly like is Jill Konrath. Her website is www.JillKonrath.com and it’s well worth a visit.

3. Cold Calling for Chickens, Bob Etherington, Cyan Books and Marshall Cavendish, 2006. This is a superb book on selling skills and particularly for mastering the dark art of cold calling.

4. A great book on more generic sales techniques is: Bare Knuckle Selling, Simon Hazeldine, Lean Marketing Press, 2010. You can download a lot of articles and sample chapters from the book on his website – www.SimonHazeldine.com.