I spent yesterday lunch time with a client and she told me an interesting story about her younger brother Tom who is 19 years old and who has just started his career in telesales.

The UK, like much of the US and the rest of Europe, has experienced some pretty brutal winter conditions in the last few weeks. On the worst days, people have been unable to get to work and businesses have suffered a great deal of disruption as a result. One such business was a local newspaper in York, here in the north of England. The Advertising Sales Manager, upon realising that most of his staff were struggling to make it into work, asked staff if they would be prepared to work from home (or whether they would prefer to take the days as holiday).

Four of his sales people (including Tom) opted to work from home, the rest took the days as vacation.

The guys who worked from home did not have access to the main sales database in the office (prior to the blizzards no one envisaged that they would need it) and were selling to their customers on their mobile phones and home lines. They had no sales data with them and they had to dig out the customers’ contact details from Yellow Pages and from other local business directories on line. Hardly ideal conditions, but the sales manager reasoned that this was better than nothing.

Curiously, when the sales manager reviewed the sales figures for the days that the Fantastic Four had worked from home, he found that each of them had delivered sales roughly three and a half times greater than they had in the office. This was in spite of having only limited access to sales resources and client lists.

So what is going on here, and what can entrepreneurs learn about their own sales performance?

Here are a few of my own theories;-

By asking the sales team to make a choice between working from home and taking the days as vacation, the Sales Manager has effectively identified who his top sales people are (at least in terms of attitude) The four most motivated people on the team had a whole marketplace to themselves.

The sales team were able to work free from daily administrative duties. They were unable to input each call they made into their CRM system or to follow up on the many administrations that are required to publish adverts in newspapers. All they did was sell, keep a note of their progress and then phone all the results in at the end of the day.

There were no distractions- they may not have appreciated this at the time, but having even a few hours of uninterrupted sales time is a real luxury. They were able to move straight from one call to another without the need to spend time on their CRM system or explaining their call to a colleague or being diverted into another conversation. This actually means that they can quickly get into “the zone” -that state where we feel confident, articulate and capable and the lessons learned on one call are easily transferred to the next.

The sales people didn’t have access to all their usual sales tools and resources, perhaps the fact that they had to really think about everything they said to customers produced a more authentic sales experience.

Finally, they may have succeeded simply because they weren’t being over managed, . They had proven that they had the initiative and drive to work under their own steam by volunteering to work from home and their manager had little option but to trust them to get on with the job.

What can entrepreneurs learn from this?

Make sure you create a dedicated time to talk to your customers, a time without distraction or administration. (you can always write up your CRM notes later). The only way to get good a selling is to be selling. Don’t try to fit in a few calls around other jobs. You will never get round to them.
When you hire sales people, hire attitude first and foremost. Sales skills can be taught, hire the people who want to be selling and who find themselves somewhat frustrated and irritated by the admin.
Don’t let your CRM rule the roost, the job of a sales manager is to increase the quantity and quality of sales output. Let the CRM system serve you, not the other way round.
If you find a really great sales person, get out of their way! trust them and they will reward you by using their initiative and tenacity to deliver the results you need.
And remember, selling is just talking to customers. Sales brochures, websites, research documents and presentations all help the process, but none of them are absolutely necessary. Never let the lack of one of these things become a reason not to pick up the phone.


An old boss of mine used to cover these seven sales habits, (long before I had heard of Stephen Covey) in almost every sales meeting, staff appraisal and well, every opportunity she could!
Whenever I work with a salesperson who is struggling to find their form or confidence I refer back to the list.

Success in sales should never be too complicated!

Be your own boss

Don’t let others dictate your actions. Set your own daily targets, avoid negative peer pressure. Don’t worry about how other sales people see you, follow your own plan and set your own standards.

Look after your physical well being

Sales success demands energy and energy comes from a healthy well balanced approach to life.

Stay fit, eat well and enjoy the life you have.

Focus on the customer not the order

Everyone likes to buy, few like to feel they have been sold to. Avoid the quick fixes and the “sure fire techniques” sales is simple, concentrate on really understanding the need and really finding a solution.

Convince yourself first

People can spot a script or a clever line at a hundred paces. The only way to be convincing is to convince your self of the products’ value. If you can’t, move jobs. (You will always be happier and more successful selling something you believe in).

Remember no product is perfect or necessarily the best available we simply have to believe that it is an appropriate and effective solution to someones need.

Work hard / work smart

The best sales people are willing to work hard, take risks and challenge themselves. If you are not prepared to give of your best while you are in the field, find another career.

Always focus your efforts on the most productive tasks and the most valuable opportunities.

Be ethical at all times

In the long term, sharp practice comes back to haunt all who indulge in the blacker arts of hard selling.

Glengarry Glenross was a piece of fiction not a sales training video!

Always seek to do the right thing by your client and your conscience.

Remember it’s a game

The best people get this, the others just get frustrated!


When I started my first “proper job” selling advertising space in computer magazines in London in 1986. My boss gave us a single sheet of paper to stick on our desk. She said that they were the most important rules of sales and everything useful that we needed to know as sales people was incorporated in one way or another on that sheet of paper. I was young and impressionable so I sello-taped the rules to my desk and tried to glance at them at least once a day. The rules came from Heinz Goldman from a book called How to Win Customers, published in 1958 which was still being referenced by our company in 1986!
For those with geeky tendencies Goldman was the guy who came up with the AIDA model of sales which was famously (infamously) written up on the blackboard in the sales office in Glengarry Glen Ross during Alec Baldwins famous ABC rant.

As I cleared the garage this weekend I found a bunch of old papers and in amongst an ancient training file (because sales trainers never throw away training files) was that same piece of paper.

So here for your benefit (and with a slightly nostalgic sigh) is a 1980’s summary of Goldman’s 1950’s sales principles.

1. What you sell is never a product as such but the idea behind the product – that is, the role played by the product in satisfying a customer’s needs. The product is a means, not an end in itself.

2. Every product, if it is to be saleable, must correspond with certain basic human needs. You can arouse and develop needs but you cannot create them.

3. Very few purchases are motivated exclusively by rational considerations.

4. Progressive selling is not the same as high pressure or aggressive selling.

5. Customers do not always buy the highest quality product but they will often buy the product that meets their perceived needs.

6. Price, by itself, is rarely the reason why a sale is made.

7. It is the sales professional’s task to create interest and desire for the product.

8. Selling takes place between two equals: winning an argument with a customer often means losing a sale even though the customer is not always right.

9. A sales meeting in which the prospect does not object to any of your points seldom ends in a sale.

10. Choose your words carefully. Use of language in a sales call / presentation can make or break the sale.

52 years later I can’t find fault with a single one of them.


My favourite business book from last year was Inbound Marketing by Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan. I thought that they did an outstanding job of explaining in the most clear and practical way how to harness the potential of Social Media to create a flow of inbound enquiries.
For any business, the idea of customers coming knocking on their door is an attractive one. There are many really great stories out there of companies that excel at selling millions of dollars of product via inbound marketing strategies. This is particularly the case in the software industry. Companies like Hub Spot, Atlassian, 37 Signals Red Gate and Fog Creek have all become the poster boys for Inbound Marketing.

Any entrepreneur who is serious about building a strong business, one that can generate real sales revenues quickly, should have an inbound marketing strategy.

But I am going to sound one word of warning.

I have clients and colleagues who have become very adept inbound marketeers, but many have become overly reliant on their marketing to deliver sales. They watch their bookings rise and fall with each campaign, and they adjust their marketing to ensure that they learn from their mistakes and put a great deal of effort into ensuring that their customers are happy. This means customer surveys, exclusive offers, free upgrades, invitations to join user groups etc. All well and good, and when things are going well for a business and everyone is making money there is no good reason to do much else.

However, customers who are attracted to your product, who trial it and who buy it straight away are only one small part of the potential market and in some ways they are the least interesting segment. Customers who are naturally attracted to you don’t teach you much. While they may suggest ideas for improving the user experience or alert you to bugs, they basically love you, love your product and have proven their devotion by parting with their cash. They are the low hanging fruit!

Much more interesting, in my view, are the clients who were attracted to your company and your product and who didn’t buy. They made a decision that something else was better (that something else may be another product or simply the status quo) and they kept their credit card firmly in their pocket. A couple of years ago I was discussing just this issue with a client who has developed a document management system for use on major oil and gas projects. He had produced a video explaining the benefits of the product and had generated a fair number of leads. He was in discussion with some of them and looked close to doing a deal with two or three. The people who were close to buying were all very similar, they were all working on a similar type of project (albeit for different organisations) and all the projects were at a similar stage. I asked him what he was going to do with the 60 plus leads who had seen the video but who had not asked for a meeting. He shook his head and muttered something about sending them a questionnaire.

These leads, who were interested enough to download a trial product but not committed enough to buy, are where a sales person really earns their money. Talk to these people and you will find that the reason that they lost interest is sometimes banal – “oh I like the product, I just never got round to it” (an immediate sales opportunity), sometimes a matter of timing, – “I liked the product but the project we are working on has been put back until January” (a future sales opportunity), and sometimes a problem that needs solving – “I like the product but I need to keep all our data within our firewall, it can’t be on external servers” (an opportunity for further dialogue or even product development).

These are all direct quotes from the 60 people I called on my client’s behalf. From those 60, people we created another 8 meetings. Also, some of the feedback we got helped us to develop our understanding of how the market perceived the product which in turn led to us rewriting a couple of the key messages on the website, and creating additional content for the video. We would never have learned any of this without a call.

So you should (if you haven’t already), buy the book and build an inbound marketing strategy. But don’t forget to talk to the people who like the idea of your product but who have not yet committed, they often have much more to teach you than those who buy immediately.


A couple of months ago I was doing some prep work for a new sales seminar and I decided to listen to a bunch of sales calls from a few clients. Many now record their sales calls as a matter of course and there is much to be learned by listening to what sales people actually do rather than listening to them tell you what they do.

Any way my initial plan was to do a bit of research into how effectively people articulate the benefits of their products or service. I couldn’t help but notice how quickly people started talking about their own product. A quick review of the opening minutes of over a hundred calls showed that the average time between the end of the small talk and the start of the pitch was 49 seconds. Yes 49 seconds to talk about the customer before the pitch begins.

This is woefully inadequate!

But what an opportunity for the customer focused sales person and for the entrepreneur trying to carve out a niche for themselves in a competitive marketplace. If you talk to your customers about the stuff that really matters to them for just a few minutes, then you are already world class!

We will talk about some easy hacks for engaging the customer in a in a meaningful dialogue in a future post, but in the mean time just concentrate on spending a little bit more time with the customer’s concerns rather than worrying about what you are going to tell them about your own.


Introverts can’t sell! Can they?
I have been fortunate to have been invited to speak at the Business of Software Conference http://businessofsoftware.org for the last three years. It really is a fantastic conference – the delegates are every bit as inspiring as the best of the speakers, there is a huge sense of comradeship amongst the tribe of entrepreneurs who attend this conference and every year, I leave motivated to do things differently in my own business.

At the most recent conference, in October in Boston, Neil Davidson, (BoS founder and co sponsor) in his welcome speech was trying to encourage people to mix and share stories and he asked how many of the audience considered themselves to be introverts. I think that there was only me and about two other guys who kept their hands down. 290 plus hands were held aloft. I have to confess it made me feel a little like a visitor in a strange land.

However, during the three days of the conference I spent some time thinking about the whole topic of introversion and in particular why tech entrepreneurs (who are usually introverts) rarely see them selves as effective sales people. Many also say that they hate being sold to or they really dislike sales people. (to get an idea of how tech entrepreneurs view sales people, have a look at my deeply unscientific piece of research, conducted during the opening of my 2008 Business of Software presentation http://businessofsoftware.org/video_08_pkenny.aspx ).

Most of us learned about introversion and extraversion by doing a psychometric assessment on a management course or as part of Psychology 101 at college. So we become familiar with the terms and they have moved into the the modern parlance. The terms introvert and extravert are used as labels, as if we are one or the other, and are often bandied around by people who have only a loose understanding of what they mean. As a result, the meaning that we attribute to these very specific terms has changed rather dramatically over the years. Ask people to tell you the difference between an introvert and an extravert and the usual answer is along the lines of;

Extraverts are the outgoing sociable ones, the life and soul of the party.
Introverts are the quiet ones, who prefer their own company and can be anti social at times.
These stereotypes persist, and are repeated so often that we start to accept them without question. Indeed since the rise of Geeks as the new masters of the universe, many people working in tech roles wear their introversion proudly as a badge. I actually saw a delegate at a conference wearing a t-shirt with the slogan Please F**K Off I’m an Introvert! The problem with these modern definitions is that they are inaccurate and overly simplistic and as a result, they are persuading otherwise brilliant people to accept unquestioningly that they can never be good at sales because they don’t fit a psychological stereotype.

So let’s get a few things straight, and to do so we need to go to the Grandaddy of all this stuff Carl Jung.

Preferences not personality

When Carl Jung (upon who’s work almost every personality assessment tool is based) talked about introvert and extravert he wasn’t even talking about personalities, he was talking about preferences and the Introvert /Extravert dichotomy is only one of three pairs of preferences that drive the way we perceive, and respond to, the world around us. We all have times when we feel more introverted and we all have the ability to be extraverts, we just tend to prefer one over the other. What’s more, Jung was certainly not talking about whether we are sociable or not. Jung’s definitions of introversion and extraversion had much more to do with where we get our energy from and how we form our thoughts. Extraverts get their energy from the outside world, (imagine they are solar powered), they are relaxed when they are “out there” sharing views news and ideas with the outside world. Extraverts tend to externalise their thoughts in order to work out what they think, which is why you may often hear them articulate an idea or opinion and then change it as they are discussing it. They are not being indecisive or ingenuous they are simply thinking aloud! Introverts on the other hand tend to get their energy from within and when they relax, it tends to be by finding a quiet place to think (imagine they need to plug themselves into the mains an recharge their batteries quietly). Introverts often say less, simply because they tend to work out what they want to say internally before they open their mouth. Remember though, that these are not hardwired traits but rather are preferences that we have developed early in life. As with all preferences, when we are in our most comfortable place, where we can act according to our preferences, we feel less stress and use less energy. Move out of our comfort zone and we may find it harder work, but it is not impossible to do. As someone who has a preference for extraversion, I can work all day in a seminar group without feeling the slightest bit tired (in fact I feel the opposite) but a few hours of solitary writing at my computer I find exhausting. A colleague of mine with a preference for introversion has the opposite experience. However neither of us is seriously limited by our preferences. I have worked hard at developing the discipline to sit down and create new content for my seminars. I don’t enjoy it as much as I do delivering, but I have learned to adapt. In the same way, my colleague David has become an incredibly skilled presenter, but he still has to go and recover somewhere quiet after delivering a keynote.

Summary: Introvert / Extravert is a preference not a life script!

Breaking News: Introverts can sell!

Even if you have a strong preference for introversion there is no reason not to become excellent at selling. The only difference is that you will succeed at selling for different reasons than an extravert might.

Some of the very best sales people I know are introverts, and they succeed because they play to their strengths. For example my friend and client Francois sells surgical implants. His customers are used to being wined and dined and entertained like royalty. Most of the sales people he works with are extraverts, yet he out performs them all. He does so because he has learned to prepare really well for every call or meeting. Francois does not like small talk, it just doesn’t come naturally to him, so he invests extra time researching the customer’s background and thinking about conversation starters he can use. It is because he invests time in doing this extra research, he develops a genuine interest in the customer, not in some some schmoozey shallow way and he always manages to find something that his clients want to talk passionately about. This is real interest, it cannot be faked.

Further more, Francois really thinks about the questions that he asks. He prefers it when the customer is talking, so he asks big wide open questions and just listens and notes their reply.

Finally, Francois presents with great economy, he leaves nothing to chance, he has mentally rehearsed every answer to every question that he may be asked. He demonstrates the product intelligently, only explaining the stuff that is important and relevant to his customer. His customers are busy people and they appreciate the efficiency of his pitch.

I have spent nearly twenty years advising overly extravert sales people to pause, to listen, to think before they speak. Introverts do a lot of this stuff naturally.

Francois’ extraverted colleagues are also talented and capable (they play to different strengths) but they all struggle to match him either in quality of customer feedback or in sales.

Summary: If you play to your strengths you can be every bit as good a sales person as Francois

Back to Jung

Jung argued that the process of gaining maturity and wisdom was the process of developing those elements of personality preferences which were least natural or comfortable for us. As we gain maturity we become more at ease with our under utilized assets, we find it less tiring to be out of our comfort zone. If you build a business which is designed to reduce the volume and quality of real human interaction with your customers to an absolute minimum, if you delegate all sales and service interaction to people with a preference for extraversion then you may be doing a huge disservice to your self, your customer and ultimately your business.

Summary: Development is all about getting good at the things that don’t come naturally.

“I’m an introvert” should never be an excuse to fail to engage with a customer in a sales or service conversation


I have spent the last couple of weeks catching up with clients and friends in business, partly just because New Year is a good time to catch up and partly to assess the mood out there amongst business owners and sales and marketing people as we move into 2011.

Encouragingly many are starting to think about boosting the size of their sales teams once again. Indeed some are planning interviews and assessment centres in the next week or so. During one such discussion with an old friend and recent customer, they reminded me that in many of my presentations to sales managers that I offer the following advice.

If in an interview for a sales role the decision comes down to a choice between a candidate who asked the most interesting questions and the candidate who did the best pitch, you should always go with the person who asked the best questions.

Here’s why, great questioning demonstrates potential in the following areas

Preparation: Asking great questions is a sign that the candidate is really well prepared. Intelligent and appreciative inquiry requires that they have bothered to look beyond the landing page of your web site and that they have dug around and really thought about the stuff that they found there.
Agility: Great sales people need to be adaptable and responsive to the needs of the customer, if a candidate is comfortable to ask questions and able to adapt their message dependent upon the answers you give, then they are demonstrating raw sales potential whatever their level of experience. A slick pitch can sound impressive but if it is delivered by rote it will fail to inspire your customer.
Listening: You know that someone is a natural (or experienced) questioner when they are able to gently elicit the customer’s needs by allowing the answers that they get to be the mother of the next question.
Unlocking difficult customers: You cannot talk a doubting customer into believing your pitch, (at least I haven’t seen it happen in twenty plus years of working with sales people) however you can always unlock an unarticulated need, or help a client to see things from a different perspective by asking questions that start a process in the client’s mind. (more on this in a future post).
Customer Focus: If they are really well prepared a good candidate will ask questions about your customers, (their experience and their concerns), they will ask questions about where the product is going and how it will be developed and they will ask questions about your expectations of the role and of them before they ask about the pay and conditions. This is what I call unselfish questioning, that is questioning the client’s needs before their own. (It is surprisingly rare and you should take notice if people are smart enough to focus the majority of their questions on you their customer.)
So give me a great questioner over a “pitch meister” any day!


I recently asked a group of  delegates to recommend some great presentations to educate and inspire us to deliver even better presentations. Here is a sample of the presentaions suggested.  There are some very different styles of presenter but all in my book are highly engaging  presenters who I believe have not only mastered the art of communicating to groups but who also demonstrate my number one rule of presenting.

You are the message!

Everyone of these guys has a great set of slides, but note that they have very little actual information on the slide, they use the slides to support their story.

Seth Godin presents to Google


Steve Jobs introduces the iphone


Guy Kawasaki “The art of the start”


Malcolm Gladwell at the TED conference


Hans Rosling on the Myths of the Developing World


Al Gore on averting climate crisis




80 years of research tells us so……….

I have just spent a highly energetic day with the sales teams from three local radio stations here in Yorkshire.

Our topic of conversation was how to thrive in the challenging times ahead and the purpose of today’s blog is to summarise some of the research used in my presentation to the group. But before we get into that my first thoughts are to congratulate the management team of radioaire, vikingfm and hallamfm for holding such an event when many other companies are postponing or cancelling such training.


radioaire sales team smiling through the storm

 In the words of Nicky Pattinson, a fantastic motivational speaker who kicked off  the day for us, “sales people are the only people who are going to get us out of this mess”.

My sentiments exactly Nicky!

Anyway here is a summary of some of the key research into advertising effectiveness undertaken since the 1920’s. The quality of research methodology varies across the decades but the message is pretty consistent.



Key Findings


Roland Vail report on the performance of 200 companies during downturns.

Published in the Harvard Business Review




Companies that advertise the most during a downturn make the greatest gains in sales.


Buchen Advertising inc




Sales and profits dropped off at companies that cut back on their advertising. Also after recession those companies continued to fall behind the ones that had maintained their advertising spend



Meldrum &Frewsmith




Same research same results


McGraw Hill.

Laboratory of Advertising Performance Report



The results showed that business-to-business firms that maintained or increased their advertising expenditures during the 1981-1982 recession averaged significantly higher sales growth, both during the recession and for the following three years, than those that eliminated or decreased advertising. By 1985, sales of companies that were Aggressive Recession Advertisers had Risen 256% over those that didn’t keep up their advertising.



The Billet/AGB report




During a study of 127 Brands during the 1991-92 recession brands that increased advertising expenditure by 7%  gained on average a 1.1% market share while those that decreased advertising by 8 % lost an average of 1.6%market share


Bain and Company




In a study of over 700 companies the 1991 recession The Bain Study showed that more than a fifth of companies in the bottom quartile in their industries jumped to the top quartile during the last recession. Meanwhile, more than a fifth of all “leadership companies” (those in the top quartile of financial performance in their industry) fell to the bottom quartile. Only half as many companies made such dramatic gains or losses before or after the recession.



Frankenberger & Graham




Their results indicate that advertising creates a firm asset by contributing to financial performance for up to three years in the future. Further, increasing spending on advertising during a recession leads to benefits that exceed the benefits of increasing advertising during non recessionary times.




There are endless stories of the companies that have heeded this advice and those who have not.


We looked at examples of advertisers who made most of the recession including Kelloggs, Habitat, Black Magic and Virgin. Every company has their own examples and stories of clients who have taken the longer term view and succeeded. The research is interesting and useful but it is the stories that you tell that are most persuasive.


Those of us who sell products that are easy to cut, advertising and training being two key examples, must make sure that the clients really understand the true implications of making the cut as well as the advantages to be gained in terms of sales and market share in the short term and in the long term.




I have just spent a hectic hour contributing to a web chat with around 30 software entrepreneurs on the Business of Software social networking site. Our  topic was sales and selling and for about an hour I tried my very best to keep up with a constant flow of questions and  comments on how to attract and convert prospects into customers. I feel somewhat guilty that my lack of touch typing skills meant that my answers lacked some of the detail that they might. By way of recompense I will pick out a few of the key questions and try and answer them here a little more fully.

O542-CO-049-W6166ne of the group asked what do you do when the client goes quiet, that is you have made an initial contact generated some interest and the client has gone away to think about it. If you call too soon you are being pushy, if you leave it you run the risk of losing the business.

So some rules to help with this

Always suggest a time when you will call the client. (preferably before they say I’ll get back to you..). This leaves you in control and feeling confident about calling. (you are after all just keeping a promise).

If the client says “I’ll think about it” ask “when should I schedule our next call?”

Give the client a reason for calling them back at your suggested time for example “we have some new user feedback being published on Friday I will give you a call then.

If a client insists that they will call you and that you shouldn’t call them take this as a signal that they are either not convinced or they do not have enough purchasing power to buy. Try and push your questioning a little further “at this stage what issues are concerning you” or “may I ask for your initial impressions.” You may be able to tease out any concerns and send them away in a more positive frame of mind. However still leave the call saying that you will keep them posted of any developments in the mean time.

If the client fails to take your call and then goes quiet you have a few options.

The upfront approach, “When we last spoke you asked me to keep in touch, but I haven’t heard back from you I am just a little concerned that I may be emailing you unnecessarily. Can you suggest a time to speak.”

The indirect approach, call their PA or assistant (assuming they have one ) and explain the situation and because you don’t want to leave things unresolved could they suggest an appropriate time for you to call.

In truth clients go quiet for all sorts of reasons, they get distracted, other priorities arise, or they simply need time to think. Gentle polite persistence is the right and the assertive thing to do. Clients who get angry when you call at an agreed time or keep them updated with new developments, are often just masquerading as decision makers don’t let their reaction colour your wider thinking.

So much business is won simply by being front of mind at the time the client decides to buy. If you fade into the background you run the risk of the client finding another solution while you wait for them to call.

So keep the initiative, dont worry about the really grumpy client , they are not typical of the wider population and always remember it is better to be seen to be too keen than not to give a damn.