Where to draw the line.

That’s a good question…..

When training a sales team from Samsung recently, I was asked a question which prompted a lot of thought and soul searching.  I was able to answer it, but was the answer just too easy? 

The question?   Where does an ethical sales person ‘draw the line’?

The answer is simple, and quite straight forward: ‘wherever your conscience lets you draw the line’.  This is obvious, clear and fits all.  However, is it a helpful answer?

The example given by the team member was of a potential customer who used their own ‘pressure buying’ techniques that quickly strayed into bullying; the Genghis Kahn school of negotiation.  Apparently, the buyer would throw his pen onto the table and demand loudly that they accept his terms or get out.  Other tactics of similar aggressive and intimidating nature were used.  Unfortunately, the team member, while an experienced sales person, was not able to walk out on the negotiations as he had been instructed to pursue the business and to win it.  Would YOU sit there and take that abuse?

He had my sympathy.  Most experienced sales people have had situations of similar severe discomfort.  While the buyer rants, raves and threatens, you are sat there wrestling with your own conscience and professionalism. What are your options?

There are many as every situation is different and requires some ‘thinking-on-your-feet’.

Below I describe the two extremes and an ideal. 

1/  Fight back?  This is the most satisfying.  Potentially it can gain respect from the buyer and a mutually beneficial solution could be possible.  However, it is extremely risky, as it may escalate the emotions and temper to the point where errors are made, opportunities are lost, and things are said that should never be said by true professionals.  Are you reducing your own standards by lowering yourself to their position?

2/  ‘Take it on the chin’; in other words, sit there and use silence or passive resistance as your main tool of defense.  This is a very professional approach that will make the buyers behavior seem very childish and clearly bullying in comparison.  However, there is also the risk that they will then take your reluctance to engage in a fight as weakness and assume their argument has been won.

3/  A carefully judged balance between the two, whereby you respond to aggressive posturing with a firm insistence and repeated ‘no’.  Your volume would be higher than usual but less than theirs; maintain eye-contact as much as possible; your words would again be professional, but your manner should show you standing firm but being fair.  Consistency, professionalism, repetition and firmness are needed, with a clear message that you will not be intimidated.

The salesman was strong and held his ground as best he could.  Give-in to a bully and they will always bully you.  If you cannot work with them, and you have the authority, you can walk away, but do not let them win.

Yes, it is up to you and your conscience.  Sometimes it may be a balance between needs and conscience.  Apply your own positive, firm approach but do your best not give in to intimidation. When you can, retain the moral ‘high ground’ and give little away.  No-one likes a bully, and it is a great shame that some believe this is the way to behave in modern society.  However, one cannot deny that they still exist, and we must deal with them while achieving our objectives AND remaining professional.

How to overcome Brexit Blues and how the Salient ‘Plan B’ showed the way forward.

It has to be said, I am sorry, but it does have to be said.

Brexit has made a difference and will make further differences to business.

Things are changing and there are more changes to come.

But, I am not one of the doom-mongers as I believe it offers us interesting and useful opportunities.  I say ‘offers’ as it is up to us whether we take those opportunities or sit back and just hope.

Whatever happens there will be change, and we need to be prepared as best we can.  But prepared for what?  I believe there are four indisputable facts:

  • Brexit will happen!
  • Markets will change
  • There will be greater focus on domestic markets
  • We will find ourselves competing with more UK companies as larger providers seek to replace off-shore business.

This is what happened to Salient in the last 18 months:

  • Five larger prospects, (£1M turnover+), were reasonably secure in my sales pipeline.
  • As the Brexit vote loomed, happened, and shocked the markets, these five companies retreated, not wishing to ‘spend money when the market was so unpredictable.’
  • My cash-flow forecast dropped considerably!
  • I initiated my contingency, my Plan B, and targeted the smaller businesses that tend to ‘get on with it’ no matter what the market is doing.
  • I had to replace one large opportunity with ten smaller ones.
  • It was successful, and I have now progressed to Plan C where I develop the new smaller company market, while attracting new larger opportunities.

But what of the larger companies?  What will they do in this Brexit uncertainty?

I believe they will do very much as I did and look to smaller domestic markets to fill the gap in their turnover.

In other words, those who rely on domestic markets for the majority of their turnover will start to find more competition from larger suppliers.

There is another side to this.  Those seeking your products or services are less likely to look off-shore for suppliers as these are likely to become more costly.  Therefore, they will actively seek domestic suppliers. It could be you, if you are ready!  Another point is that if they previously sourced from larger companies, they are likely to spend more than your present customers.

To summarise, this could mean for your business:

  • New domestic markets are likely to open up
  • Competition will increase for home-grown opportunities.
  • The new opportunities have different expectations and spending levels

Are you ready?

Is your sales team and/or your sales process the best it can be?

Your sales effort needs to be at its best; sharp; focussed; forward-thinking.

Don’t miss the boat. 

If you fail to address this, others will get there first and will win the lion’s share of the new opportunities.

If you are successful in this, your business growth could be double what you would anticipate for 2018.

If you would like to discuss your experiences of this, please be in touch; call or email Andy

What politicians could learn from Ethical Selling …and what we can learn from the politicians’ mistakes

 

Thursday 23rd June 2016 was a landmark day for many reasons.  The outcome of the referendum surprised a lot of people and delighted others.  But, why am I blogging about the referendum of all things?   One word: INTEGRITY!  As many of you will know, I fly the flag for honesty, openness and integrity in business and particularly in sales.

Sales and selling has long suffered a bad press due to the involvement of those with little or no integrity; those who firmly believe the end-justifies-the-means and the means can be anything at all to win the business.

There’s the parallel.  The press is now talking about the ‘fallout’.  Now we hear that key arguments and figures were in fact a ‘mistake’.  We have now heard that ‘immediate emergency measures’, means ‘we’ll have to look at it in a few months-time when the dust is settled, as we need stability’.

AND THEY WONDER WHY WE DON’T TEND TO TRUST OR RESPECT POLITICIANS AS MUCH AS THEY WOULD LIKE US TO!

If a certain PM, a particular UKIP leader and a well-known chancellor had done things differently; perhaps they could have kept their integrity AND continued to influence people ethically and positively!  They would have remained respected, believed and would still be able to influence.

The Salient Points:

  1. Politicians need to be good at sales and selling. They are in a position of influence and the people expect to be led and advised with honesty and integrity.
  1. NEVER ASSUME what people want, or the outcome of an initiative. Making assumptions as to what people think, expect, want or need is a recipe for disaster. Identify and clarify the need, what is really the issue, then aim to fulfil that need.  Assuming everyone, or at least a majority are going to agree with you is never a good idea.
  1. If you seek to influence and persuade your customers, or in this case ‘the electorate’, it’s always a good idea to provide accurate facts and reasoned argument.
  1. If you have competition, do not make it personal! YOUR ARGUMENT SHOULD NOT BE LACED WITH PERSONAL ATTACKS ON THOSE WHO OPPOSE YOU!  Sell it on its merits.
  1. If there is any possibility that you may lose the argument, after all there is always ‘the unforeseen’, have a CONTINGENCY PLAN, which helps you to carry on, but perhaps in a slightly different direction. (‘Damage Limitation’)
  1. If you want to remain a supplier to your customers (or ‘in office’), then the following applies:

Be clear and consistent in what you say, giving enough facts to allow an educated decision to be made by your customers (‘the people’).  This wasn’t done well in the referendum.

These facts and arguments must not be exaggerated, or untruthful, because, surprise-surprise, truth will out, particularly in the fall-out after the event.  This happened on both sides.

Customers (the public) will see this disparity between what you promised and what you deliver as a clear manipulation of the process to achieve the sellers’ (politicians’) own ends. They are MUCH less likely to buy from (vote for) them againThe PM is going; others will likely follow.

A customer who is given all the facts they need in order to make an educated and reasoned choice, and these facts are given accurately, without exaggeration, fabrication or vagueness of interpretation, will be happy to deal with you again.  IF the final answer is ‘NO thanks’, they are still likely to return and engage with you again.  Customer retention and loyalty is only possible if you maintain this integrity.

If you are proved to be false or manipulative, then you should not be at all surprised if the customer then goes elsewhere.  That’s politics as we know it!

As it should be in SALES and in POLITICS, it is down to motive, intent and conscience. I aim to sleep well every night.  Do you?

Move your own goal-posts.

Do you really want it?

Lots of money; holidays; cars; clothes; lifestyles…..?

Do you really want it, or do you just want the end result, the reward?   Do you want the omelette but are not prepared to break a few eggs and spend time whisking?

Everything of value to you has to be fought for.  A struggle is often needed to move forward.  This could entail time; working all hours, repetition; over and over again until you get it right; changes to relationships; being with patient people who share your dreams, and so on.  Whatever you do requires effort.  How much do you want that dream, that wonderful end result that will make you happy?  Are you prepared to struggle to achieve it, to work through the process time and again and again until the outcome is secure?

I meet many people who claim to have a dream, a goal, an objective, but have not yet asked themselves these questions.  In fact, too many have not even made a plan or mapped out the route they would need to take to get to where they want to go. (Have you?)

Here’s an example (names and figures have been made up to protect the guilty):

John wants to be successful   –  how successful John?

John’s dream is to achieve a turnover of £100,000 in 5 years  –  where are you now John?

So, John needs to find and win £85,000 of new business within 5 years – really?!

That is as far as John gets with his dream.

John’s approach is to keep doing what he is doing to make the business grow.*  He believes that “opportunities will arise along the way which will boost the business”.

Hands up who is surprised when, in 5 year’s time, John is turning over £32,000, and most of that is from a couple of clients who are personal friends.  John’s expansion plans are on hold.

Did John achieve his dream, his goal?  No.  Why not?  Probably because he chose a goal without considering the process, the effort, the struggle that would be needed to set his sights that high.

Every dream has a cost.  That cost includes the time and effort, the loss of focus elsewhere, the reduction of short-term-gain in favour of long term benefit.  Likely there will be disappointment, fatigue, despondency, even despair in yourself, and possibly those close to you.  Is it worth this struggle, or is it likely to damage other things you value more; your family, friends, principles, standards, enjoyment?

If you have considered all this and it is worth it, then go for it!  Or, as I read on Facebook last year: ‘Don’t downgrade your dream to match your reality, upgrade your faith to match your destiny’!

However, if the process, the struggle, the ‘pain’ proves too high a cost; lower your sites.  You can still win, and enjoy the journey.

* Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Beware the spread of ‘Sales Phobia’

Has anyone else noticed this? ‘Sales phobia.’

A contact of mine who runs a business that provides professional training to education, public sector and professional bodies, was telling me that his clients appear to have adopted sales-avoidance strategies.  I suspected this was a wind-up until he told me that, for some, their new term for this was ‘Customer Engagement’.  Others had replaced sales and selling with the catch-all of ‘Business Development’.  I had previously heard of a consultant in the south of England effectively demoting sales by saying it was part of the discipline of ‘Business Strategies’.

Sadly, there may be a simple reason for this; bad experiences of being sold-to and more people are expecting to be given the ‘hard sell’ As a result they do not respect the sales process or people who sell.

Having spent 20 years in field sales and sales management, I have been very aware of the pressure that senior management put onto their sales teams.  In the companies I worked for, it was always ‘do whatever it takes to win the business’.  In the extreme, one MD said to a colleague of mine ‘if you don’t win the business, don’t bother coming back’!  This culture fostered some terrible sales practices, all based on pressure, manipulation and worse.

At the same time, business-to-consumer sales was facing growing and tougher competition and so, instead of offering better service as an enticement to buy, they too adopted pressure selling techniques.  We all remember the awful reputations gained by car and double glazing salesmen!

Unfortunately, I believe that, while some improvement has been made, pressure selling is still rife and the sales discipline as a whole has become tarnished by these unethical practices.  The culture is also perpetuated by the likes of The Apprentice, and, occasionally, even Dragon’s Den., i.e., if you don’t do what is expected, if you don’t win, you are humiliated and you are out.

When selling, how far would YOU go to protect your income, your standard of living?

I suspect that this continuing culture has caused the name change.  Perhaps our own professional bodies should take notice and make solid pronouncements against pressure selling techniques.  Perhaps not enough has been done to ‘clean-up’ sales with clearly defined boundaries of what is ethical and what is at least ‘dodgy’.  I feel passionately about ethical selling and have flown the flag for some years now, but I too come across very negative attitudes towards selling and sales people in general.

I aim to bring back enjoyment and satisfaction in selling by teaching a clear and clean sales process that is open and understood by all prospects.

In the words of Robert Louis Stevenson; “Everyone lives by selling something”.  Often this is just selling ourselves; making a good impression; having a positive impact.  If we cannot do this without being devious or manipulating our prospects, then clearly we cannot be trusted and perhaps we deserve the demotion to a sub-discipline.

In short, ethical selling must inherently be more successful, especially in the longer term.

  • Pressure selling is less likely to result in repeat business or referrals.
  • Building business relationships and selling ethically reduces the need to keep looking for new customers.
  • Customers who don’t enjoy buying from you are less likely to come back for more.
  • Keeping existing customers AND finding new ones will build a business far quicker than if you constantly have to look for new opportunities because former customers have voted with their feet.

If we don’t all start flying-the-flag for strong, ethical sales, then fewer people will respect it, expectations will remain negative, and we will all become ‘customer engagement’ experts!

Do you have a ‘Sales Phobia’?

Let me ask a different question:

Does the idea of selling cause you to palpate or procrastinate?

Do you fear a prospect rejection, or worry about making a fool of yourself when asking for the business?

If the answer is yes, you may have a sales phobia.

Unfortunately, I fear this is becoming more common.  I am doing my best to change business culture to accept that sales can and should be ethical, simple, jargon-free and enjoyable!  I achieve this in most cases.  However, there is a risk that this phobia is becoming institutionalized.  It should be a high profile and honourable profession.  Don’t let the gainsayers try and tell you otherwise!

Selling can be even more fun than buying!