It all started in the 90-ties when I decided I wanted to own a car. I was a penniless student living around the corner from the train station so it was a classic case where wanting had nothing to do with needing. However, one day, I casually wandered into a local VW showroom and after a few hours of a total memory loss, I drove away in a brand new respectable Polo in pale green. I achieved the impossible!

I was elated. Not because I now owned a car I couldn’t afford and credit check must have been down. I was elated because Mike, my visionary salesman wrapped up all my hopes with: “Don’t worry, love. We all move up in life so you won’t notice the monthly payments”. I nodded, impressed, and in that instance he sold me a dream and a brand new car I didn’t need, didn’t want and didn’t even like. In short, I’ve been “darren-brown’ed”!

Rather predictably, I continued to be a poor student and the car had to go but at least this experience sparked my curiousity about “humans in sales”.

Was Mike a brilliant salesman? Yes and no. Did he turn his prospect into a buyer with exceptional influencing skills? Yes. Did he add value after my common sense returned? No. Did I suffer from buyers’ remorse? Yes. Did he get a repeat business from me? No.

Fast-forward 20 years later

I now help with executives and their teams identify and apply the principles of high performance. Here are my 6 chosen tips for today’s sales and other executives:

  1. Know yourself to improve your performance – Harvard Business School lists self-awareness as one of the key attributes of its applicants and research by Korn Ferry links it directly with improved performance. Don’t be modest. Invest in self-awareness, learn about personality types, how to speed read the room, how to build an authentic rapport with clients and colleagues. How are you perceived? Are you convincing or pressurising? Be brave to tackle your blindspots – they impact your bottom line. The old aphorism know thyself is back in fashion!

  1. Always up your game. – Get comfortable with exposure to high caliber clients and industry peers; according to a series of experiments by Princeton psychologists, all it takes is a tenth of a second (!) to form a fairly lasting impression of you. Master your social, interpersonal and emotional intelligence skills. Become an active listener (70/30 listening vs talking), work on conversational, questioning and pitching skills. Join networking groups and industry events. Adapt to subtle rules of social groups: what people are wearing, what do they talk about etc? Tune in to their humour but choose behaviours that reveal your leadership competencies and sufficient gravitas to influence decision makers.
  1. Build your brand. – Focus on earning your reputation, respect and trust. Ask – what are the critical success behaviours to help you build a compelling personal brand? This takes time so give it time. “Transaction” means “sales” as well as “interaction between people”, therefore, create meaningful business relationships, become the “go to” person with an unparalleled service. In today’s buyers market, it’s not about chase but about choice and partnership.
  1. Don’t oversell. – When I see the late Steve Jobs’ quote “customers don’t care about products or service but (…) about themselves and their dreams” being used to inspire sales, I want to add a word of caution: provide solutions and sell responsibly and ethically. Using manipulative sales techniques to rush the closing of sales might leave behind a trail of uncomfortableness which erodes customer trust and brand affinity.
  1. Sales cycle. Buyers cycle. – Avoid chaos and missed opportunities, and stick to an easy six stage sales process which I include in my training workshops: 1. Research the Market, 2. Prospect & Engage Clients. 3. Understand Clients’ Needs, 4. Recommend Solutions, 5. Get Commitment, 6. Support & Develop Accounts. If you own the entire sales cycle, be brutally honest with yourself – which are your weakest competencies that trip you up? If you’re a part of a team, are your collective strengths used in the right way; the data guy might not be best placed at galvanising relationships…
  1. Relax – Desperation in sales is deadly. Cognitive neuroscientists at New York’s Stony Brook University proved that our scent of fear is not only registered by the brains of others but it changes their behaviour too. Your beliefs around selling and your ability to do it effectively impact on your success. Some of my clients dramatically improved their results after reframing sales as: sharing, serving others and even helping. As these three concepts resonated with their core values, they gained confidence, their networking and communication skills improved and business relationships flourished.

In summary – business is relational so enjoy it or the clients will smell a rat…