“He’s not the Messiah he’s a very naughty boy”
… said a previous CEO to our assembled array of business development and client relationship professionals in Ireland – the avid and enthusiastic faces went blank for a moment and then slowly woke up to the fact that sales isn’t always the ‘visionary,’ ‘networking’, ‘leveraging your C-Suite contacts’ dreamboat job they’d always imagined.
I love sales – I love the hero or zero attraction of it all – and this swing can happen in the same day on any given range of activities…. Well, I love it on the hero days… on the zero days I climb into my Samsonite mobile cellar and wait for the nuclear winter to depart… although over the years I realise that getting back out into that nuclear winter radically increases the chances of survival in the long term. And no, I’m not a cockroach… although it has been said by some mean competitors :).
Every job I believe needs their ten commandments to stay on the straight and narrow – and staying on the straight and narrow is infinitely more difficult within a sales job than in any other vertical – in operations outcome is generally dependent on a limited number of variables – meet or exceed the customer relationship and generally a pat on the back is forthcoming, or at least grudging acceptance that you are delivering. In sales however, the variables are larger, more complex, more subject to human emotion and always much more unpredictable. So, for the relentless, battered, and passionate sales professionals working out in the many wildernesses of the world here are my ten sales commandments to help get you through the Red Sea to the Commission Promised Land.
1. Worship sales, and sales alone.
You will not have any other operational gods before you. (There comes a stage in every opportunity where you have to get the sale over the line – this is the point of most pressure and generally where operations start to apply the pressure on things like margin and delivery capability. However, I would rather have a tough deal to re-negotiate further down the line than have no deal at all.
2. Thou shalt not worship all client gods just because they look ‘cool.’
Do not waste time on big brand clients where the chance of a sale is virtually zero – and understand this in as early a part of the sales cycle as possible. This is always a relative decision and also depends greatly on your penetration and brand presence in given markets.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of your competitors in vain.
It’s way too easy to abuse your competitors – but look it’s not big and it’s not clever. In addition, subconsciously your buyer audience are already starting to match you with the same levels of negativity and consciously often asking the question why they need to run down the competition…. have they nothing else?
4. Honour the sabbath and take it off.
24/7, 365… I’ve gotta max my bandwidth… and the range of other ‘Anchormanesque’ statements of the misguided sales professional. There is no doubt that working weekends, nights and bank holidays comes with the job at times. For your sanity keep one day per week free – burn out is common and more critically you do your clients an injustice. Finally, the best ideas come when you have head space … not when your head is in mangle.
5. Honour your CEO and your MD.
This one is as important when you winning as when you are on a losing streak – don’t get arrogant when you have been closing more deals than Don Draper on an amphetamine and caffeine binge. Closing deals and wining does not guarantee your future and just makes the inevitable fall that little but further. When the chips are down, and progress is slow you need the support of your MD and CEO – you are nothing without it.
6. Thou shalt not murder the customer with detail.
The worst sales pitches are 300 slide PowerPoint presentations and bids that resemble the Book of Kells – transmitting your USP’s and getting to the root of a client’s problems is imminently more impressive. Good sales are delivered with the thoughtful hands of a surgeon and a well chose scalpel – not a WWE Wrestling star with a badly chosen sledgehammer.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery with your client’s competitors.
As a service business we work with companies which naturally compete with each other – we do this with integrity, knowing that corporate reputation rests on this key pillar. We don’t steal talent; we don’t steal IP and we only work with customers with the same commitment and value proposition. Adultery might look like fun in the short term, but the long-term impacts are usually horrendous and far reaching.
8. Thou shalt steal but only if it adds value.
Your competitors will have good ideas at times – competitive advantage is only a temporary state and to compete you will have to copy and improve new approaches to your given market. The real play is to create your own ‘Strategic Differentiation’ – something which is much more difficult to copy and really sets you apart from the field for years, as opposed to months.
9. Thou shalt not be jealous of your competitors and their resources.
Grow up, man up and stop complaining – there is always someone bigger with more resources. Get clever, listen better and take those whales down. Large competitors are like lumbering whales, and they beach easy if you are using the right tactics in the right water. If you are small be faster, high touch, more tailored in your approach. If you are larger squash the little guys with brand strength, market share, client testimonials – use your chess pieces available in the most efficient way. But stop complaining about competitors… no one cares.
10. Thou shalt not covet the payment of commission.
If you have a sales team pay them the commission they are owed. Stick to the clearly defined rules – nothing causes disarray and de-motivation more than a sales executive not getting their commission. Equally don’t overpay them – they have a tendency to get lazy or worse still set up in competition. Fairness is the key. So, there you go. For those of you on, or about to embark on your own the sales journey I wish you well. Don’t wear socks with your sandals, choose a good strong staff and for goodness’ sake if you see a burning bush don’t talk to it – it’s hard enough for people to understand why you wanted to go into a sales job … don’t make the sectioning process a ‘fait-accompli’.