bookmark_borderFocus on milestones and progress targets

The next thing that a lot of senior people came up with concerned the objectives of meetings. Fundamentally, most business people do too little in terms of preparing the exact objectives of a meeting with a client. I formed a team with an excellent salesman and we sold sales training into large companies. He was the account manager and, of course, if we got the business, I did the training. The way we planned calls was very detailed. We actually sketched out precisely the one or two sentences or phrases we wanted the client to say at the end of the call. This gave us terrific focus for the call. It also gave us a lot of merriment. If the people actually used the words it was quite hard to keep a straight face.

A lot of managing directors and Chairmen talked about focus in meetings. Partly, perhaps, because their diaries tend to be a series of relatively short meetings and they want people to get to the point, and partly—this is back to my theory of the specialist salesperson being uncluttered by expertise—because the people at the top of an organization tend to have become general managers rather than experts.


The biggest single frustration with doing the job of the customer in a role-play is the feeling that someone has just popped in for a chat. Sales trainers spend a lot of their training time in role-play. They play the customer while the salespeople simply set about doing their job as salespeople. The biggest single frustration with doing the job of the customer in a role-play is the feeling that someone has just popped in for a chat. In the debrief at the end of the meeting the salesperson would say that they thought the call had gone pretty well; whilst the customer had no problem with the call, just an empty feeling that they had wasted their time. The cure for this is to have a single-minded focus on a sales objective and the use of good closing technique to find out if you have achieved the objective or at least whether you are on the way. So the next three great sales ideas are the essential techniques involved in doing this.

There are many ways of trying to remember this focus and to use closing questions, but I have found these three to be the best of them—ABC, STEP and SMART.

bookmark_borderNever interrupt a customer to make a point

The top idea was top by a country mile. A huge percentage of the replies made reference to it either by example or by using the actual word. The skill they spoke about most was listening. Active listening some of them called it.

Here is the art of listening going wrong for an architect. He had the job of advising two new homeowners on how they should use the space and carry out the refurbishment of an old run-down property they had just bought. Unfortunately there was a hiatus between the carrying out by the architect of the survey and the first meeting with the new owners. He used the time to speculate on what they might want to do with the house. What did it lack, in his view, and what would they have to do to put that lack right?

When the owners arrived for the first meeting they had prepared a list of their requirements for the property. Despite this the architect went ahead and presented the ideas that he had already sketched. After all, that is human nature. We all want to show our original ideas off since they feel so right to us. The architect was in fact interrupting the customer to make a point. When the customer eventually tabled the list, it was very different from the first thoughts of their adviser. They now had a situation of the customer not wanting to make the adviser feel bad, and the adviser feeling the need to defend his work. Despite all that went after, the relationship never got over this appalling start.

In any aspect of sales technique—including listening—I am not really comfortable with the art of selling being allied to the art of war. After all, it cannot be right to have the customer, play the role of the enemy; clearly the enemy is the competition. On the other hand there is an element of struggle about it. The customer is trying to probe the salesperson’s defenses of integrity and truth to discover inaccuracies. The customer, with the best will in the world, recognizes that the salesperson has another agenda apart from helping the customer to solve problems or be happier. They are there to take orders of the right products (from their point of view) at the right time (also from their point of view).

Consider, too, the change in the relationship between a salesperson and a customer when the sales campaign is over and the salesperson has the order. Before the order the relationship is mutually interesting and the salesperson is working hard to engage the customer’s liking and respect. After the order the important thing becomes the salesperson’s company performing to specification. Now that can become a battle and the customers know it at the time of the order. As one of the contributors put it, ‘The relationship is never the same after the first successful sale by a salesperson to a new customer.’

Customers can be forgiven for feeling a little like landed fish. So maybe war analogies do have some merit. Here is a version of the listening idea from a man writing about war.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

To get to know yourself and your enemy takes the art of listening, the top sales idea of all time. –Sun Tzu, The Art of War.