(and maybe become a better salesman at the same time)

Is there anyone you have a relationship with, who tells you that you said something when you know you didn’t? Sometimes you know what is was that you actually said but the other person has distorted what you’ve said to win an argument? Or maybe they just never understand what you are trying to say in the first place?

I used to have a colleague who physically twitched when I was speaking because they were so desperate to get their point across as soon as I stopped talking. What I was saying was irrelevant to them. It was very frustrating.

As Steven Covey says in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” Stephen Covey.

But of course, if other people do it to us, the probability is that we are doing it to them. 

My favourite literary character of all time is Atticus Finch from the book To Kill a Mockingbird. I would probably never have read it had it not been compulsory reading for the 1983 O Levels but the book and even more significantly the character of Atticus really struck a chord with me.

The quote of his which explains his underlying philosophy the best is “You never really understand a person until you see things from his point of view…. until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”

Seeing things from someone else’s point of view seems to have become pretty unfashionable in the past few years as various major countries have voted in leaders whose very success is based on divisiveness. All of this is then compounded by people taking sides on social media not to mention all those Russian bots intent on spreading false stories and dividing us even more.

But the last seven weeks, in amongst our own worries, we have all started to see things from other people’s point of view as well. Perhaps we’ve just had more time to do so or perhaps we now have a common invisible enemy.

Although Atticus Finch was a lawyer, I like to think he’d be a good salesman even if his personality is the complete opposite to what we would expect of a salesman. 

That’s because people who are successful at selling aren’t the pushy types trying to get you to buy something you don’t want. They are people who ask potential customers the right questions to find out what those customers need and want and then listen. 

I don’t know how many sales books you’ve read recently but most of them all tell you to do the same three things in the same order:

  1. Identify needs and wants
  2. Present solutions
  3. Close

Identifying needs and wants

Sometimes people tell you these from the outset. Other times they unwittingly hide them and you have to probe a bit more.

One of the best people I worked with at doing this was an IT consultant called Phil Scotford who sadly passed away in 2005. Phil was one of those forces of nature who always wanted to help his clients in whatever way he could. 

In 1996 we were moving into offices in Longfield that had been empty for many years. I told Phil I needed him to put a network in for our computers. I was quite pleased with myself for this request. Most of our industry hadn’t networked their computers by then. It was 1996 after all.

“Why do you want to do that?” said Phil. 

Actually I hadn’t really thought about it. It just seemed like it was what we should do. The answers were sort of obvious but actually the detail wasn’t. Phil’s question forced me to think through my IT strategy. 

The solutions presentation

When I explained what my ambitions were for the business and the software which was important to us, Phil then told me what I should do. 

This included getting the electricians who were re-wiring the office to put the computer cables in because “they’ll be a lot cheaper than me”. He said he’d tell them where to put all the connections and he’d turn up at the end and connect them all up. He also told me where to buy the computers to get the best value for money.

He actually talked himself out of some profit which meant that I trusted hm completely from that point onwards.

The close

This is where salesmen get a bad name. No-one wants to feel they are being pushed into something they don’t want. 

But it is still important to have a closing technique of some kind. Someone I know just says “so do you want it or not?”. He’s never offended if people say no and he believes it saves him loads of time and rarely offends. 

Back in the noughties we had a little side business selling a software product we’d developed for ourselves to other accountants. 

Trust me on this – selling to accountants is a thankless task. They (alright “we”) are cautious buyers and closing a sale verged on painful. That was until we started asking the accountants what their concerns were. 

They were very polite of course and there were some of them who knew in their heart of hearts that they would not find the time personally to do the things they needed to do to benefit from the product. That was useful to know because there was no point us continuing the sales process. Better to just pop them onto the database to send occasional emails and they might buy from us when they’re ready. 

But by far the biggest reason was that they were worried that there was a better product out there doing the same thing or similar. 

To counter this, what we did was tell them about all the other products from competitors. 

It was a very successful strategy. Some people just decided that if we were confident enough to tell them about the competition, then our product must be good so they bought. Some went away and researched the other products and decided to buy from us. Some didn’t. Overall though, it worked.

In these difficult times, it may be that our customers’ needs and wants have changed. People we thought were affluent are suddenly not. As Warren Buffett is fond of saying “you only know who’s been swimming naked when the tide goes out”

But they are still your customers. If you’ve served them well for many years, there’s no reason you can’t serve them well again even if the products and services they buy may dramatically change. 

Although their fortunes have taken a bashing recently, the company Saga who used to be purely a holiday company for the over 50s, found its biggest success came from realising that one of the wants of their customers was insurance that reflected their experience and lower risk profile. Off the back of that knowledge they created a hugely successful insurance company which was more successful than their holiday arm.

Ok; so it’s unlikely that you are going to build a brand new business out of the current situation. But some people will. And many others (including you perhaps) will find new sources of income that might just help them survive until better times return.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend and look out for our email on the implications for business of the easing of lockdown on Sunday night.

Read our next article in our the Seven habits of highly effective people series: Synergizing in difficult times.

Contact me today!

Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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