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Sunday, 7 April 2019

Are All Your Salespeople Closers? Train Them to AFTO!

I have long had an aversion to the use of synonyms for sales as if the very word ‘sales’ were objectionable. High on the list is “business development”, a tortuous way of describing possibly the most important department in any commercial enterprise.


For some unfathomable reason here in the United Kingdom, Sales have been regarded as a slightly sleazy description of an honourable and professional activity. Typical is the description “used car salesman” and that says it all.


Just as bad, I submit, is the lumping together of sales and marketing, two vastly differing activities.  Marketing, per se, is essentially an analytical activity without which sales operations are missing a trick.  Market research, media research, promotional activity and publicity all come under the generic heading of marketing.


Indeed some would argue that sales is also a marketing function.   I don’t agree simply because marketing is largely a desk activity and needs people comfortable in that environment, whereas sales demands driven, determined, self-starting loners.


It has been wisely said that the worst albeit very tempting appointment that ca be made is to promote your best sales person to be sales manager. Great sales operators by definition are loners, self starters while sales managers must have the ability to encourage, develop and coordinate a motley group of loners.


Joke: A sprtsman used to go shooting regularly and always asked for a dog called Salesman because it was quick, intelligent, obeyed commands and generally was exceptional. One day he went to book the dog for a shoot and the owner said sadly:
Sorry, but he’s been ruined.  Some idiot called him Sales Manager and now he just sits on his ass and barks”.


Since the times when I spent many happy days motoring around the UK going to see engineers and helping them make technical decisions, the methods we use to get to the market have changed significantly primarily through the astonishing growth in social media .


One of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group has exploited the medium very successfully.  Apart from the replacement of print advertising by the same methods on social media there has been a growth in using the medium as a news source.


Relatively new as it is, advertising on social media is beginning to lose its impact and one hears some irritation at its perceived intrusion”.   Far more effective is the use of social media, especially those more sector dedicated, to careful dissemination of “news” stories that are more interesting and are not seen as being intrusive.


As an example, one of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group started an initiative just a year ago that has resulted in around 8% sales growth from new customers. He uses very good photography and appends an interesting story.  Crucially he posts 3 or 4 times a day and that demands dedicated resource.


Of course that initiative started as a marketing exercise that has generated direct sales and which has opened the door to face to face contact meetings classed as warm leads


There are many mantras about sales such as “Build a relationship”, “Selling isn’t telling”, “Ask questions and shut up” and so on that emphasise techniques for that crucial eyeball to eyeball meeting.  


I was under training many years ago with one of those (useless) conventional salesmen, (trilby hat, battered briefcase etc.) who merely recited extracts from the company catalogue and waited for the prospect to bite. The interview usually ended with the buyer glazing over and the salesman threatening to “see you again next month”.


A completely valueless exercise that results in the “he’s in a meeting”  response at reception. In short, he wasn’t a “closer”.


My old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the Sage of Wythenshawe, used the “ask relevant questions then listen, listen, listen” and he was massively successful. People like to talk about their businesses and listening to them encourages a positive relationship.


Methods may have changed but in general people haven’t and a great face-to-face meeting is still the best marketing tool.

Finally, be positive, helpful and collaborative and don’t forget to AFTO! (Ask For The Order)!



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Email: ivan.goldberg@vistage.co.uk

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