What has been the biggest sales lesson you have learnt?
I was employed by an aggressive US-based company as a fairly young salesperson. One day I met with a prospective client and delivered a hard line sales pitch that basically slaughtered our opposition. When I came to the end, the client informed me that he had little doubt that my product was better than our competitors’ but that he was nonetheless going to teach me a lesson I would never forget. With that, he called security to escort me off the premises and told me that he would never do business with my company again.
I was mortified, but in hindsight I am thankful for what he taught me that day – never put down the competition. In doing so, you are inadvertently advertising their products, while doing nothing to promote your own.
Do you do whatever it takes to get the order?
Don’t make the mistake of believing you can go over someone’s head to get the order. I did that once with an obstinate prospect. But the person you sidestep is usually the one who ends up using your product and that will make for a very difficult relationship. They will forever do everything in their power to bury your product. Remember too that they may be promoted some day and that could mean the end of your relationship with the company.
Do you do try and have the last word in a sales pitch?
Winning the argument at the cost of the sale is just not worth it. I was at a meeting with all the divisional GMs of one of the big banks. We were discussing a contract and there was some dispute about the facts with one of the GMs; he was essentially reneging on our agreement. I eventually lost my temper, tore into him and won the argument. That was eight years ago and only now am I starting to win some business back from that organisation. My outburst cost my company a lot of money.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
To have built a successful business as we have done continues to be a great motivator for me and it has always been extremely rewarding to see the difference we are able to make to our employees’ lives. Many have grown with the business and have moved into management roles. To mentor and empower people is hugely gratifying.
How are you approaching the cash crunch?
In an economic downturn you must grow stronger while everyone else is weak so that you can seize market share more aggressively. When times are tough buyers become more discerning. Paradoxically, this gives you the opportunity to gain a bigger foothold, provided you are selling a high-quality product. Now is the time to be on the attack.