Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
Sales, getting no respect since forever
For centuries, sales people are been an easy, cliched target to make fun of, for people who don’t do sales. People whose salary would not exist if not for the work of sales people. They believe sales life is just spinning yarns, having lunch, and accepting client orders served up on a simple tick-a-box form, like a hotel breakfast.
Unfair, yes, but it’s a deeply ingrained image and you must deal with that reality.
Now you have a business, you want to build revenue and it seems the answer is sales. What do you do? Because odds are, deep down you don’t identify as a sales person.
You identify as a businessperson, or a professional. In your mind, sales is a dodgy career swamp of Always Be Closing phone boiler rooms and time share real estate. That creates inner conflicts. If you’re talking to a new customer, you’ll have a great, comfortable chat about their needs. It all feels good. You know you’re a supplier they’ll be happy with.
Then when it’s time to confirm the deal, your mental alarms go off.
Oh no, says the voice in your head, it’s sales time. I have to do a close now. What were those sure-fire closing words they gave me in that sales training course three years ago?
You think: don’t fuck this up, without this revenue we might not meet payroll this month.
Your face and voice change as this inner turmoil takes over, then you blurt out a half-remembered sales script. Which, like scripted bar pickup lines, have the opposite effect to what was intended.
“Uh … we think this is not only a great price but also more importantly great value, so are you ready to make the best decision of your life?”
(You think I’m joking don’t you. Here’s the second half of that line on a sales advice site. “This is one of the most successful sales closing phrases we’ve seen.”)
The client is thinking: you seemed so helpful and smart, then you turned super-weird in the last thirty seconds, safer to back out of this while I can.
The most wretched sales calls you can imagine
I still squirm when I remember my early-career sales exploits. Sales wasn’t my main job, but I was a young manager and wanted to build the business.
I’d suit up, go out and do some of the most wretched sales calls you can imagine. Talking at a silent client until my mouth ran dry and my tongue stuck to my teeth. I’d learned by going to meetings with a sales guy who was a fountain of confident lines in the style of actor Matt Berry’s work in The IT Crowd, and I thought that was what you did.
Sales people were described as ‘silver-tongued’, an expression that gets more revolting the longer you think about it. I didn’t realise you should shut up and let the customer talk.
My new business efforts were as unproductive as they were embarrassing. Because in my mind I was trying to be a pro salesman when I knew deep down I was not that.
I had no clue until I set up my ad agency, where I had to generate revenue or we were cooked. I’d just go out and talk to clients about their business and listen. At the end I’d make a few suggestions. Turns out that was enough to do sales. That and getting back to them with the stuff you promised, on time.
This is no revelation to actual sales professionals, who are really interested in their clients’ businesses and do not go on about their product for hours. The rest of us take a bit longer to learn.
When to avoid the ‘s’ word
Non-sales sales isn’t just about you. As your business grows, it’s tempting to take people who are good at what your business does, who seem to able to talk coherently, and make them a sales person.
That’s how we got most of our sales team. But we avoid the ‘s’ word, for all the reasons you just read. In a similar vein, look at lawyers. Some of them are great at bringing in new clients, but you will never see Sales on their business card. (Hi legal readers, do firms actually use the word “rainmaker”, or is it one of things that only exist in film and TV law fantasy world?)
In most of our businesses we call them project managers. Ironically, it makes them better at sales. Because they’re providing advice and experience to help clients get what they want.
In a lot of industries, clients don’t want to have to go through layers of amiable but powerless intermediaries to get to the people doing the work. It’s valuable having someone who can answer the question or make the decision right there in the meeting, rather than “I’ll get back to you.”
What about pure new business?
This is a tricky one.
There’s an idea that you can come up with a business idea, then hire a “gun” sales person to go out and bring clients through the door. Good luck with that.
I’m not saying our business is a universal strategy template, but over the years we’ve tried to employ specialist new business reps to hustle around and bring in new clients from a list of prospects. The number of times that approach has worked is zero.
Taking people from cold stranger to paying client is fantastically time-consuming.
Business owners can do it with warm leads, because clients see them differently and they carry more of an aura of authority. For everything else, I’ve found it’s more productive to use marketing campaigns and word of mouth to generate enquiries, then focus on being at your best when they come in.
You could (and should) read some of the billion books on the topic, but if you don’t have time here’s the fortune cookie version:
Get clients to go on about themselves and just listen. Most of them love to do it , you hardly have to say anything. Just nod and ask more questions based on what they just said.
You don’t really need a genius sales pitch. Just being someone who seems to understand is usually enough. Then just proceed on the assumption that you’re doing the work, if they say no at some point that’s fine, there are other customers.
If I had to pick one source of sales tips, as a non-sales person I’d recommend following Keenan. I love his barely-suppressed rage at bad sales technique: poor listening, focus on features, discounting and so on. He’s right about pretty much everything and a guy who can even make a LinkedIn car video compelling entertainment. Never thought I’d see that.
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For those of you in geo-blocked countries, here’s your non-Spotify audio: