How to be a great salesman – A few tips I’ve learnt along the way

How to be a great salesman – A few tips I’ve learnt along the way

Sales can be a dirty word to a lot of people. For me, it’s the life blood of any company, after all without sales, you have no work and without work you have no money. SO I’m sorry folks, if you were thinking of starting your own business and thought you could side step this one, you’re going to need to be incredibly lucky or have invented the next big widget that everyone wants!

I’ve been selling for 13 years. I started when I was just 19, in Exeter (UK) in a world that was dominated predominately by guys that were 40+ and had been in business as long as I’d been on this earth! A scary place and one that I made lots of mistakes in. Here are a few tips I’ve learnt along the way.

1). Qualify, qualify, qualify

When you get to that wonderful point where people start making enquiries, you need to qualify whether they are a fit for your business. The gut reaction is always to take anything that comes your way (especially when you start out). The truth is this leads to lots of unnecessary running around for nothing, dealing with people who don’t respect you and bad business. It may well be that you need to pay the bills but my honest feeling is that if I had my time again, I’d have spent a significant amount of time working out who to target and going for them rather than the scatter gun approach I used back in the early days. Does your sales process include a qualifying step?

2). Make friends

It’s a cliché to say that people buy from people. That said, it’s completely true. If you can’t bond with a prospect within 10 mins of meeting you’re going to struggle. No one wants the sleezy sales person with all the answers (did we ever want that?). We want someone human that understands our needs, our problems and then demonstrates knowledge and the skills to help us with both. Quick tip: When you first go into someone’s office, take a look around the walls for things you might share in common; pictures showing a certain sports persuasion, certain types of books, posters or pictures. Don’t go overboard or change the lifelong football team you’ve supported to that of theirs – it may just be that when the time is right you can bring something less sales related into the conversation and take the pressure off the meeting.

3). Talk openly about money

How many times have I sat there talking to someone I thought needed a website and in my head I know this project is 10k but after two meetings and a proposal I’ve found out they only have a budget of 2k? Too many to embarrassingly mention! How about using a line like this to get you started (yes in your first conversation). “So John, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page here. Our ecommerce sites start at around the 10k mark. There are cheaper alternative options which certainly have their place in the market. Before we meet to discuss all the exciting functionality, how does that sit with you as I know neither of us would want to waste the time of the other?”. You need to work on delivering this in a nurturing way but it can be done and it will save you days and days of wasted time.

4). Build relationships

There are lots of quotes about how much easier it is to sell to current clients than it is to secure new business. Some say 5x, some say 7. Whatever the true number is, you need to work out a strategy for building your client base and selling within it. I tell you one great way of keeping clients loyal – look after them. Amazing isn’t it! Don’t look for the quick buck, keep an eye on their needs using social media sites, be there to help them when they need it. Try and hook them up with your other clients, try and find them sales without the expectation of getting something back in return. Don’t allow yourself to get so blinkered that all you do is look for that next new sale or you’ll make really hard work for yourself.

5). Connect

In this day and age, my clients and prospects can connect with me in many different ways and where possible I always do my very best to respond quickly. They can get me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Email, Google+, my mobile and a number of other places if they want. I don’t turn off at 5:30pm (maybe a bad thing in some people’s books). I’m available because I want the edge and if that edge is helping someone after hours because I can then I’m there.

6). Become a student

…of your industry. Sales these days is about positioning yourself and becoming a trusted advisor for your clients. If you’re the goto guy for something (a product/service etc) because you know the most about it and how it can be used to solve your client’s challenges then you’re going to make sales. If you simply turn upto work, make a few cold calls and go home at 5:30 then good luck to you, I’ve got a felling you’ll be looking for work elsewhere soon.

I’m interested, do you consider sales a dirty word? What are your experiences of selling and can you add any more tips to this list which will help the people reading this?

 

Photo Credit: Lacey_and_Cielle via Compfight cc

The Icarus Deception and Seth Godin

The Icarus Deception and Seth Godin

This week, Seth Godin made a rare appearance in the UK and I was lucky enough to bag myself a ticket. I’ve been a huge fan of Seth’s since reading his book ‘Purple Cow’ 4 or 5 years ago and applying many of the principles within it to my own business. Since then I’ve read a number of his books including Lynchpin and most recently, The Icarus Deception, the book this event was based on.

Seth has inspired me for a number of years so I was keen to see him live. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Icarus Deception deals with the fact that we are living in a revolution and that most people are struggling to see it. We are moving from an Industrial Economy (think big brands, big spends, loud marketing noise) where everything revolves around greater efficiency, cheaper products and where people are pushed to be average, to what Seth terms the Connection Economy where the connections you make and the opportunities you take to create ‘Art’ will be the most important element to your success in the future. The problem is, not enough people create art.

So what is art? Art is something new. Art is being different. Art is something you made before others. Art is something you probably tried to create time and time again, not being afraid to fail along the way. Are you making art?

A particular theme that interested me is that as we grow up we’re taught not to make art. Schools are there to teach us to stand in straight lines, to conform, not to speak up but to go through the system – junior school, high school, university, job. When are we told its ok to make a ruckus? I certainly can’t remember being given that instruction. The title of the book, the Icarus Deception refers to the Greek myth about Icarus who was taught, while attempting to escape from Crete, not to fly too close to the sun or his wings would burn and he’d fall into the sea. Of lesser mention is the fact he was also taught not to fly to close to the sea or the mist from the water would make his wings too heavy and the same fate would occur. Where are we teaching future generations to fly? Higher than ever or within their comfort zones, where its nice and safe?

A fascinating story using the company Lego was used as means of an example. Allegedly they were suffering grave problems back in the 80’s/90’s, as they stuck to their belief that every product they made should be able to be used for at least two different things. We were told the company was almost bought to its knees until one of its team came up with the idea of selling lego model kits that children (and I’m sure a few adults) could put together themselves. The company was saved and why? Because kids want to follow instructions, to make something perfectly, NOT to make art, NOT to stand up with something new and different and say, “I made this”

So what does it take to make art then? It takes the willingness to fail, over and over again (something I wrote about here). It takes grit and determination. It takes the need to overcome your ‘lizard brain’ and when others say you can’t do it, to carry on. It takes the ability to dance with fear (a favourite phrase of mine) and be ok with ‘this might not work’.

The Icarus Deception is a fascinating book and one that I’m excited about sharing. I for one embrace the connection economy. Am I creating art? Maybe not enough, but I intend to challenge myself with this question on a regular basis.

Are you creating art? If so, please share it with us, after all, an important part of this economy is to be able to stand up and say, ‘I made this’, whatever others say.

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The Secret to Great Customer Service

The Secret to Great Customer Service

Be where your customers are… Mind-blowing isn’t it. I hope I didn’t set your expectations too high with that title! :)

When I’m discussing social media communications with clients, one of the concerns they often have is that their customers may not be active in these spaces. It’s a valid point and one that is worth spending some time on. I was recently talking to a client of ours in the plant hire business. They weren’t sure if Twitter was going to be of use to them as a business. As we discussed this in their boardroom, a client of theirs pulled up outside in a van and walked into the hire showroom. This was clearly a ‘man and his van’ outfit. Lets call him Derek’s Diggers for the purpose of this post.

Derek and his small business are going through a tough time at the moment. Work is not easy to come by, there is an awful lot of competition and he needs as many ways of reaching his target audience as possible. You can bet he is probably networking, putting leaflets through doors, maybe cold calling and in this day and age if he isn’t active on sites like Twitter yet, you can bet he will be within a year or so. For the small to medium business without large marketing budgets, social media is seen as a relatively cost effective way of marketing. In the majority of cases these sites have free signup so Derek can start to build his following and create business opportunities in a tough market.

I asked my client if they had an email database of their clients? The answer was yes… I went onto explain that looking after clients in social media space provided another, excellent way of reaching out to these important people. By finding and following these companies/individuals on sites like Twitter, they could spend time understanding their prospects businesses, adding value to the relationship with them and ultimately build stronger and better relationships. The penny started to drop.

Your clients may or may not be on sites like Twitter and Facebook, Google + or LinkedIn, but before you discount any of them from your comms mix, make sure you spend time finding out. I truly believe its hard to put a value on retention of current clients, not to mention finding the new opportunities that lie within these exciting online platforms.

Why not spend some time today seeing who’s active locally on Twitter: https://twitter.com/search – Use the advanced options to play with your postcode settings. Try your clients names, both personal and company (I find searching for these in Google is often easier than Twitter itself). Once you’ve found your clients, put them into a list using a tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite and keep a close eye on what they are saying, so you can be the first to congratulate/help/just say hi occasionally. Do the same on LinkedIn, Facebook and G+ and I assure you, you’ll reap the rewards over the long haul.

Now Your Thoughts

•    Where do you find the majority of your clients hang out? Is one platform better than another for you?
•    Do you have any other tips for client retention?

Luck or Hard Work?

Luck or Hard Work?

A few days ago I was talking to a potential supplier for my wedding next year. Somehow conversation turned to their website and we got chatting about their overall, online presence. Conversation then turned to the challenges  they have (needing more traffic, spending too much on adwords, no way of emailing their database easily) I offered up a bit of free advice and naturally this lead on to what I did for a living (they didn’t know until this point). It transpired that they’d been wondering what to do about their site for some time now, so applying the ‘don’t ask, don’t get principal’ I asked if we could perhaps quote for their digital work. They said they’d be delighted for us to do so.

My partner and I have a bit of a running joke that I somehow manage to turn normal conversations with people in my personal life into work related ones, which in turn, often end up with opportunities for my business. She turned to me on this occasion as we got back into the car, and said ‘you really are so lucky‘.

Now I have a strong belief that this isn’t luck. Why? I believe that as a business owner/entrepreneur/salesperson/whatever you want to call yourself, you constantly have to have your antenna up, open to opportunities. If you’re doing this regularly enough then its merely a matter of time before one of these opportunities comes off. Some might even call it a game of numbers!

So the old adage, ‘you make your own luck’ is, in my opinion, a very true one.

New to business? In Sales? Consistently put yourself in situations where opportunities arise and when they do, grasp them with all you’ve got. I can promise you it works, I practice what I preach :)

Now Your Thoughts

  • Got any stories which felt a little bit like fate/right place-right time?

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Honesty is the best policy, Transparency is the key

Honesty is the best policy, Transparency is the key

Yesterday I was lucky enough to watch a presentation from a client and friend of Optix who has taken his business from a couple of million turnover to 30+ in just 6-7 years. Oh and the best bit – he only has around 40 staff. He talked about his meteoric growth and the lessons they learnt along the way. Some of the stories were gob smacking to say the least.

I live to learn from people like this. I think anyone who can’t sit and soak in that kind of information is missing such a trick. If you get the chance to talk to people who’ve ‘been there, done that’ take it with open arms, you’ll learn so much.

One thing that shone through from his presentation was the need to be transparent and honest in business. He particularly referenced his relationship with his bank manager which I thought was interesting. If anything goes financially wrong in his business he explains it straight away to their bank and similarly, he shares good news too. He feels strongly that this honest and transparent relationship means that when it comes to needing help then everyone knows the score and he’s more likely to get it. I can see his logic and while I have a great relationship with my bank manager, its probably not as solid as his is – something I’ve taken away to work on.
If you make a mistake, own up. Face it down and deal with it. Sticking your head in the sand or trying to hide something or worse hoping no one finds out will lead you down a dark path, one where you’re bound to be found out and everything will look worse on you if you choose that route.

If you’re starting in business make it your mantra, if you’ve been going a while, perhaps you need to revisit your thoughts on this and make sure your team(s) sing from the same sheet. My team at Optix know my feelings on being transparent and see-through. I believe in this digitally connected world, there is no place for business with dirty laundry.

photo courtesy of Urbanshoregirl

Now Your Thoughts

  • I’m very interested to hear if you have stories where you’ve owned up to a mistake and it’s paid off hugely.

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

One of the things its easy to forget when you’ve been blogging for a long time is all the great posts and content you’ve put together over the years. All that effort you put in, potentially lost in the mists of time.

Unless a user finds your posts by a search engine, its unlikely they’ll navigate back over years worth of content – lets face it, who has the time for that?

There is an easy solution to this though – A ’round up’ post. A collection of posts from your blog linked to from another post just like this. It could be your ‘favourite 5 articles’, ‘7 posts you’ve written on a  particular topic’, it could just be a random mixture you want to highlight for another reason.

So with that in mind, here is one from me.

I use a tool called Postrank (owned by Google) to help me work out which of my posts are well received and which flop. It scores on all sorts of metrics like comments/shares etc…

So here are my top 8 posts of all time according to my post rank stats – enjoy:

1). Here’s a great way to loose some customers – I got quite miffed one holiday in Cornwall a year or so ago and decided to rant a little on my blog. Right or wrong, this post topped the charts!

2). Do what you do best and delegate the rest – A post about my framework for delegation, essential as your company grows.

3). 7 Super useful resources for busy business owners – Gotta love a list of useful resources. It seems other people did too.

4). Facebook Places – Are you Aware – One of my most commented on posts so it clearly hit a nerve. A post about thinking before you ‘check-in’

5). If I were a solicitor… – Here’s a post for all solicitors thinking about how to use social media. Loads of great ideas, crowd-sourced from others as well.

6). The sale ain’t made ‘til the bill is paid! – Putting together a policy on money and collecting it is essential to any business, large or small. This post gives some hints and tips on this topic.

7). 5 traits successful business owners have – This one got a lot of traction. The title speaks for itself.

8). Cash Flow is King! Guide to setting up a cash flow forecast – My most visited post (and one of my oldest) by a long way. It proves that if you give a bit of value away you get search engine listings and lots of traffic in return.

Now Your Thoughts

  • If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog and have others you think I’ve missed out please do highlight them.
  • Have you thought about doing a round up post yourself? Its really quite fun to reminisce…

Photo courtesy of Fabio Marini under creative commons

p.s You can now add your email address to my ‘newsletter’ signup. I’ll be adding value to this group of people as often as possible – they will receive things from me that others don’t have access to, so please signup today.



p.p.s. If you like what you’ve read here then you should sign up to my RSS feed and every time I update this site the post will be sent to your reader automatically.

When I grow Up…

When I grow Up…

When I was growing up there were a number of people in my life that I looked up to – family members, inspirational teachers, sports stars and family friends all featured. When I consider the person I am today – my morals, my feelings towards others, my views on business and so much more I can see elements of these people in me.

Without realising it, I have become a product of my environment. As I’ve grown up I’ve continued to seek out new role models and people that I aspire to be like or learn something from. I’m sure a few of you probably put names like Branson, Steve Jobs, maybe even Lord Sugar in your role model lists but sometimes it’s the people that are on your door step that have the most to offer.

My Dad plays a huge part in my business life – I bounce ideas off him regularly, he chairs one of my companies boards as a non-exec. He is there for me when I need that experience and I’ve often said that if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I can never thank him enough for that.

I’m lucky that my job takes me into hundreds of businesses as a consultant and trusted advisor. I get to meet more people running businesses around the country than I ever dreamed I would have done. Every person I meet is an opportunity to learn. Every now and then I meet someone I know I can learn a lot from and I make it my business to do so. I ask questions, I show interest, I forget my path for that moment and concentrate on others. I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same.

There are a few people I’d like to pay special tribute to (business wise). Maybe you could consider doing the same today.

Ken Rudge – A good friend and businessman who lives and works in Devon. A very sensible head on him and doesn’t pull any punches.

James Trebble – Never have I met anyone who is so positive. Whatever life throws at this serial entrepreneur, he gets up, dusts down and gets on with it. An absolute delight to spend time with, everyone needs a JT in their life.

*Worth noting here that myself, James and Ken take a day a quarter out of our businesses to get together and talk about challenges, set goals and think about the next big thing for our companies – this is absolute gold dust.

James Dawkins – My business partner for 12 years. We might bicker every now and then but we’ve never fallen out and in 12 years I think that’s pretty impressive. He’s the ying to my yang (soppy I know!).

Nick Sprague – Ultra successful businessman and philanthropist. I think it’s important to have business goals in life and and mine are based on what this man has achieved. Not only does he have a number of successful businesses but he enjoys life, helps charities (even setup his own: http://www.parabottle.co.uk) and has a wonderful home life. If I’m where Nick is in a few years, I’ll be a very happy man.

My list could easily go on…

In my opinion its vital to surround yourself with successful and positive people. Role models are so important to have. If you’ve not done it already, seek yours out and make them a part of what you do.

Now Your Thoughts

  • Who inspires you? Give them a shout out on this blog. They deserve the recognition right?
  • How much of an impact did your childhood role models have on you?

Stop the Sabotage

Stop the Sabotage

I’m not sure why I find myself talking about hotels again is a disdainful manner, but that’s just the way it goes I guess. These are places which are supposed to hold the highest regard for customer service – it’s what much of their success is based upon.

So today I witnessed one of the worst cases of business sabotage I can ever imagine. It literally put shivers down my spine to think of my staff ever doing something similar (I know you wouldn’t by the way guys!!)

I’m standing at the reception of a well respected and fairly top end hotel in Exeter. There is a well-to-do lady talking to the man behind the reception desk. I’m not really a nosy person but I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. This is where the unimaginable happens.

The lady is asking the guy about hotel rates, she’s foreign by the way. The guy, seemingly uninterested responds ‘well it’s cheaper in the week than at the weekend’. The lady responds politely, ‘thats understandable, I’m enquiring for my daughter who would like to stay for quite some time’ – BINGO – Music to anyone’s ears surely…not this guy. He asks how long she’d be planning to stay and the lady responds ‘at least three weeks at first’. This is where it gets really silly. The guy then says to her: ‘Oh if its that long you better do it online as you might get a better deal there’!!!

Folks lets analyze this for a minute – you have a potential punter standing in front of you with their wallet open and ready to sign themselves up for a very long time – I’m guessing this is worth thousands of pounds to this hotel and what do they do, tell them to look online as it might be cheaper. Jeez – If it were me and it really were cheaper online (and by the way I doubt it very much) I’d walk them to the hotels computer and help them look myself. My guess is that it was too much work for this guy, perhaps he’d had a bad day or couldn’t be bothered with this one lady as it sounded like a bit too much work.

My guess is this woman (clearly in a foreign country) will not bother going online but will probably walk down the road to one of the many other great hotels in town. I know I would.

That guy has potentially cost his company thousands of pounds and doesn’t even care. As business owners, what can we do to make sure that our staff are not doing the same to us? Do they care about your business? Do they worry about losing money making opportunities as you do or is it just another job?

Watch out folks – I bet this hotel didn’t even realise that this was going on. Are you certain it’s not happening to you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Could I be going OTT because I’m naturally a sales person and can’t stand to see a sale lost?
  • What measures do you have in place to stop this complacency in your business?

Parabottle – An Amazing New Charity

Parabottle – An Amazing New Charity

I’m not going to tell you about a new business idea today, or a piece of online marketing advice, or a way that I’ve setup a process in my business. I’m going to tell you about a really exciting new charity Parabottle, that I’ve been asked to get involved in with the hope that I can raise awareness of their objectives and even better, that some of you reading this will feel you might just be able to help with a small donation or simply telling others about this post – that’s down to you though of course.

Nick Sprague is a very successful business man in Devon (UK). A client of mine for a number of years and more recently has become more of a friend. Nick came to me last year asking if I’d like to be involved in this new charity and when he explained the concept I was hooked – I hope you will be too.

Did you know that when the Haiti disaster struck, despite being as close as 2 hours from Miami, it was incredibly difficult to get aid to the people who needed it straight away. It is my understanding that more people have now died in the time after the earthquake than the actual quake itself!!! A horrific statistic.

It was on hearing this news on the Radio one day that Nick thought to himself there must be something he can do about this. An epic challenge for someone to take on I’m sure you’ll agree.

You may well have come across Shelter Box – A Cornish charity which are doing remarkable things in the world of aid. These boxes can keep whole families alive for a very long time but due to their size and requirement for transport they can’t always get to places of need quickly. This is where Nick’s idea for Parabottle fits in.

Nick drew up plans for a bottle which contains basic provisions for aid (water, foil blanket and matches at the very least). The lid would have a parachute designed into it and within the first 24-48 hrs of a disaster these bottles could be dropped from planes where conventional aid cannot reach.

As you can probably appreciate, getting something like this off the ground is no mean feat! The first challenge was getting it through the charity commission in order to become registered, something in fact the CEO and founder of Shelter Box, Tom Henderson kindly helped Nick with.

This brings us to the here and now. The next step for this fledgling charity is to have the prototype designed and tested by Airborne Systems later this year.

Currently the new charity needs all the help it can get and is looking for people to get behind it and (hopefully) make this Devon’s answer to Cornwall’s amazing Shelter Box. More importantly, to make this a reality and start saving lives.

I’d ask you to do three things for me today if you can spare just 5 minutes:

1). Take a look at the website: http://www.parabottle.org.uk/

2). Make sure your sound is turned up full and watch the amazing video (on the homepage) which sums the concept up better than I probably have in this post.

3). Consider whether you might like to be involved personally (you can donate here: http://www.justgiving.com/parabottle/ or perhaps you’d consider making Parabottle your chosen charity).

If you are interested in getting involved then I know Nick and the team at Parabottle would be keen to hear from you – just email me your details and how you would like to help on alastair@iambanksy.co.uk

We already delighted that PWC got behind the project running a quiz in Bristol in aid of the charity and Michelmores kindly allowed Parabottle to say a few words at their recent business breakfast. A huge thank you to both those companies.

I don’t often use my blog as a platform for this kind of thing but this is something that is very important to me and if I can raise the profile of this new charity to help it off the ground then I think that’s ok in my book. You can expect my usual style post back again soon :)

How to be found in Google

How to be found in Google

When you type your name into Google what comes up?

Are you the 1st result? Are you 2nd? Please tell me you’re on the first page right? No? Really?

When I go for a meeting with anyone, when I listen to someone speak, the first thing I do is Google their name and if they don’t appear at least once on the first page that’s a report card on them I’m afraid. If your job is such that you need to keep out of the public eye then I’d understand but for those of you trying to build businesses and get yourself out there you’re going to need to get yourself out there. Let’s look at a few ways you can do this today.

1). Get yourself a blog. Don’t just add it to a free wordpress or blogger hosting account. Shell out a few pennies and have it hosted properly on its own domain. Consider buying a domain with your own name if it’s still available. If it’s not, then write a great biography page with your name mentioned in it.

2). Get active on Twitter and LinkedIn. These two sites are huge and very well respected by the likes of Google. When you signup try and choose a name which is something to do with you if possible. If not then make sure you at least give the network your full name where it asks for it. Create a biography page/section that describes you, your location (because people will use that to search too) and your interests if possible. Now get active on these channels. Engage with people on Twitter, link people to things of interest that you find and connect with people on LinkedIn – be proactive, don’t just wait to accept peoples invites and wonder what to do then.

3). Get listed on your company website – Does your company site have a team page you can be added to? Does it have a blog you could write for? Ask the powers that be how you can be featured more online and if you are the powers that be, make this happen :)

4). Write for your local paper or at least get them to write about you! Local papers are also well respected in search engines due to the amount of fresh content they are churning out and size of their sites. A few stories every now and again could see you getting listed in Google more often. If your story is good enough the paper will want it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get after all!

So there you have it, a few ways to start improving your ‘googleability’ (not sure if I just made that up or not). If you’re looking for the edge over your competitors this point should really be up near the top of your to do list.

Image courtesy of Molly Stevens

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you got any other suggestions for helping get listed in Google?
  • Have you used the search engine giant to do research yourself?