For some of you this will be a meaningless question, given advancing age and complete comfort in one’s skin. For anyone else earning their crust, you need to grasp the importance, if you haven’t already, of being able to sell yourself.
Some things stay with one for a long time, such is their very fundamental impact. One such occasion was sometime in 1993 when I was working for an Australian company called Morgan & Banks. All the London Office consultants were gathered around the boardroom table, on which there was an old fashioned telephone. The ‘Sales’ trainer said he was going to ask one of us to make a cold call; a ‘cold call’ being one to an unsuspecting company, when you tried to interest them in the services your company offered. For those making the call it was the rump of the sales process, but very necessary; for those on the receiving end it was, 99 times out of 100, a nightmare.
You could see the outward behaviour of those around the table go onto a rollercoaster. For some, the head went down and their mind was screaming: “Don’t chose me!”; for others they simply looked neutral – for no one wanted to make the call.
“OK! John. Here’s the number.”
John reddened and he felt his heart beat faster; the others visibly relaxed. But just as John picked up the receiver to dial the number, the trainer said: “I’ve changed my mind. Tim, could you do it?” Our emotions went haywire!
So why do we dislike the process of selling so much? My parents’ generation had a very firm distinction between the ‘professions’ and ‘trade’, and the salesman was very much part of the later, personified by Del Boy as a fast-talking archetypal South London ‘fly’ trader in a television series ‘Only Fools and Horses’. Fortunately we now all realise that ‘selling’ is as important to the manufacturer as it is to the lawyer. But as I grew up I never realised the importance of selling ‘myself’. Performance during one’s military career was marked annually by the Confidential Report, charting the highs and lows of one’s military career and I reflect I didn’t feel the need to ‘sell’ myself. At Short Brothers, despite a sales role, essentially I was approaching foreign governments with an offer to give a presentation of the weapon system. I hoped the system’s functionality and performance would sell itself.
I just had to include this historic photo from 1909, showing the three Short brothers with aviation pioneers such as the Wright brothers and a Mr Rolls and a Mr Royce!
But then I got made redundant and had to set about selling my skills and abilities. Being one of life’s eternal optimists I always imagined there was someone out there that needed me! Three months later I joined Morgan & Banks. Geoff Morgan and Andrew Banks, the two Australian owners, had built a hugely successful recruitment business …… by selling its benefits through us consultants. The system was focused, tough, and very results-driven. It was not unusual for Andrew Banks to call your desk from Sydney around 0830 (UK time!) on a Monday morning to go through your previous week’s activities; there was nowhere to hide.
Which brings me to the boardroom and the sales trainer. I was never very good to statistics but, roughly, for every 100 cold calls you made you might get a positive response from 10, which might be converted into one piece of business! The only way to succeed was to embrace the sales process at every turn. There is a large library of books covering ‘sales’, but none better that one that dealt with the psychology of sales ‘Call Reluctance’. The authors suggest there are twelve different behavioural traits that inhibit one’s ability to sell oneself.
If you are really interested, read the book (SPQ*Gold) or take a course with Dom Waters (See Note one) ….. but ………
There are those of us who are never ready to sell themselves, always wanting more time to prepare (the ‘OverPreparer); those who always imagine the negative response rather than the positive one (The Doomsayer); those who spend so long developing their ‘professional’ image they have no time for actually selling (The HyperPro) (note two); those for whom the idea of giving a sales pitch/presentation is a complete anathema (Stage Fright) (linked to the negative behaviour) and those for whom the idea of making an actual telephone call is too emotional to contemplate – and too easy these days to hide behind emails or texts (Those with Telephobia). These are all learned behaviours and can be unlearned! (If in doubt, talk to me!)
I remember trying to win business from the Human Resources Director of Manufacturers Hanover, a now defunct bank. After six months I managed to get a meeting and took along one of the search consultants. Our imagined one hour meeting was immediately cut to 30 minutes, so we both explained what we could offer to Malcolm at breakneck speed. Then it was over; hands shaken, gathering papers, I just had to ask the all-important question: “So when will I get some business from you?” My colleague later said that took courage!!
Another person on my list was the HR Director for Freemans, a large mail-order clothing company. After months of frustration, I telephoned them after the PA had gone home, and got the lady herself. “Can I have 5 minutes of your time to explain what I do?” “OK! You’ve got five minutes!” So I launched into my sales pitch, having put my watch on my desk. After 5 minutes, in mid-sentence, I stopped talking.
“Hello? Are you still there?” she asked.
“You’ve had 5 minutes. You want more?” I cheekily asked. We set up a face-to-face meeting!!
In addition to embracing the results of SPQ, I did a NLP course. So much came out of this but for those anxious to simply get on with someone quickly, try some rapport building, especially a technique called mirroring. You simply copy whatever body language the other exhibits.
Aware that a Departmental Director was very uptight and unwelcoming to new ideas, at my ‘sales’ pitch I simply copied his body movements; it took a while, but after 10 minutes he suddenly opened up and became very receptive! It was strange, but our subconscious likes people like ourselves!!
Richard 18th October 2019
PS I ran my own executive coaching business for 16 years – and like everyone self-employed, had to sell the product before I could deliver it.
Note 1. ‘Earning What You’re Worth. SPQ; The psychology of Sales Call Reluctance’ by Dudley & Goodson. Or contact Dom Waters at paulwatersassociates.co.uk (01635 202750)
Note 2 One of the behavourial traits of these types is to have a hugely flashy signature. Such as: