I have often reflected on the various qualities of sales people over the last fifteen years and wondered if there was any way, for the purpose of folly, that we could be broadly categorised into different types of sales person. The solution to this finally struck me at the breakfast table…..

1) Steaming Porridge

A staple addition to most breakfast cupboards.  A reliable cereal that does exactly what it says it will do, but no more. There are few ingredients within it therefore the taste will be as expected. There is also the added benefit of being able to spruce it up a little with jam or syrup.

As a Sales Manager, you need porridge in your team. This is the person that will never over deliver, or under deliver, but delivers week in, week out. This person also has the ability to increase their performance when there is an added incentive, but as soon as it finishes will go back to the expected level. Not flash, doesn’t shout but consistent and a stable performer. Adds a core strength to your sales team.

2) Breakfast Boulders

Marketed towards the younger generation, these nuggets of ‘cereal’ are sweet, crunchy to start but are not hugely inspiring if they have stayed in your bowl too long. They also have a habit of sticking to you unwelcomingly and can turn up uninvited when you’re least expecting it e.g on your sleeve at 4pm.

Beware of the boulder. They portray great optimism and strength, however do not retain it for long. There on they become that person who clings to the sales manager with the mantra of ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’. Will be with you, through thick or thin whether you like it or not.

3) The cornflake

This has been around for decades, the goodness of cereals. Golden in colour and has an ability to delight you with it’s natural perfection. Has a great ability to adapt into desserts, can be mixed with yoghurt and chocolate.

You should be looking for the cornflake in your team and holding them up as your shining example of a ‘text book sales person’. Will never be your top performer, but always in the top 5. This is the person you turn to in tutorials for the text book answer, to lead a group in brainstorming. Naturally gifted, adaptable but will always be challenged by one or two other more capable sellers in the short term.

4) Weetabix / Wheat parcels…

For me a frustrating breakfast cereal. I never understand how they hold it together, they are so flaky. And when wet, they become so soggy. Cover them in sugar and they stick to your teeth. But, for many, this has been a fantastic aid to balance digestion and has earnt it’s place in breakfast cupboards.

Sadly in a sales context the same cannot be said. This is the person you know you should never have taken on. The one that evidenced signs of distress, weakness and lack of personality at interview but you just needed to fill the vacancy right? This is the person that as soon as you take them out of their comfort zone they flake. Pour some pressure on and they wilt leaving a bad mess to clear up.

5) Cocoa Pops / Rice Crispies

The critical mass of the cereal world, where a 5kg box is bigger than your house. This is the volume, you need a mass amount of these to have a representative amount commensurate to say porridge! The fascination of this cereal is that when dry the crispie cracks up, however when wet it seems to become stronger and slippier – still performs whilst others melt away.

Very necessary member of the sales team, accounting for a large part of your personnel and a less large, but still substantial, part of your sales results. This is the representative body, the majority, where average performances provide the platform for others, like the porridge, to expand upon. Like the crispie with it’s bowl walls, this critical mass needs rigid parameters to enable their performance, clear guidelines, clear pricing strategies and clear incentives. Will tolerate and become collectively stronger with pressure.

6) Muesli

So many varieties, so packed full of fruit and oats and seeds. This seemingly healthy cereal can pack a dark side in the form of it’s calorofic content. This is for some a guilty pleasure, for others they know no different. Divides families on opinion as to whether it’s good for you or not good for you. A heavyweight in it’s field, one not to be messed with and to be consumed in measured portions.

For the sale manager this is ‘the big risk ‘. This is someone who delivers, however delivers at all costs. Will cast aside team for personal glory, will determine the mood of all. Your customers seem to love them and keep coming back for more, however  you only unearth the real facts after they’ve gone and find out some horrific goings on.

7) Frosties

These come from the cornflake family, fantastic with ice cold milk. Hugely crispy, snappy and sweet. You just know it’s wrong but can’ t resist a late night bowl before bed.

In sales, this is the wannabe. Someone who tirelessly reads sales books to bring the latest method to the table but in fact just cannot do it. You know they should be moved sideways into another role, however you are misguided by their unswerving belief in their ability, a likeable personality and the fading optimistic thought that they may just turn good one day soon.

So what’s the point of all this – I guess it’s all to do with balance. As with any team in any business unit, you need a balance of skills and a blend of personalities. There isn’t a right or a wrong, everything has to be in proportion.

If you want to add your own comparison please go ahead and do so in the comments… this list is in no way an authority on this subject and is based purely on my opinion. Let me know what yours is…

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Why selling was for me

I first entered the world of sales at the late age of 23ish. Prior to that I had always been in marketing, however this caused all sorts of marital issues as the workforce was predominantly female (there will be a blog on this at some point). I was enthused to do this as my late father had at one stage of his life been a Sales Manager at Unilever, something that I was incredibly proud of. 300 odd staff were under his remit at one point, and in those days it was remote management without mobile telephones and email!?! So a great example to follow…

No experience required

I had seen most sales roles advertised requesting 12 months succesful sales track record needed. It struck me as odd and wondered how anyone got in to the world of selling if they didn’t have this. Surely this is is a genuine chicken and egg situation. What if you only had 11 months or perhaps sixteen? Would they turn you away? Anyway to my delight I stumbled across an advert for a Field Sales role that a) did not require experience, b) had a good basic salary and c) a company car – in those days that was utopia. No need for a pension or healthcare, if the employer was going to provide you a mobile phone and a car what other benefits did you need? So I applied, and to my astonishment was invited to an interview at the companies head office in London. The interview went really well, and my recruiter who was also to be my line manager and source of great inspiration offered me the role a few days afterwards. My first question, and one that had generated a great amount of worry was…. what sort of car is it? My need for a smart company car was satisfied with a Ford Focus (new style back then) however my good feeling was short lived as I was soon informed that this was a hire car and in fact my new car was to be a pool car,  a leavers car; a Citreon Xsara. mmmh. Never mind, I had a car, a fuel card, a mobile phone, a high vis coat, a dictaphone (not my new manager), a tape measure, a camera and a clip board. These were the tools of the trade, the kit, the essentials of my new role… Field Sales Executive, Outdoor Advertising.

On the job training

I remember my line manager saying to me, after one day in the office, under his tuition (which was really half a day) that the best form of training is ‘to just get stuck in and make that first call’. I relished this opportunity and the challenge. But I also was very nervous. I remember the first cold call really well, as if it were yesterday. I reflect on this moment a lot, and draw courage from it and inspiration too.. It was at a haberdasherie in Frome, Somerset. The shop had a great pavement in front of it, on a main road, so it fitted the majority of the criteria needed. I strode to the door, it was raining, in my knee length barbour coat, attache case under my arm and salesmans smile on my face… and walked straight into the door. It said push and I pulled. This was compounded by a bell above the door, so not only did I make a fool of myself I also drew attention to myself making a fool of myself! Laughing it off, I confidently strode over to the lady at the counter (who must have been wondering whether she was being raided by the Countryside Alliance) and asked is the proprietor available? I had been building up to this moment for some time and had gone over and over it in my head on numerous occasions. I delivered it as I had intended to and I waited to launch line two. However I had not anticipated the proprietor not being there and when the lady picked up the phone to speak to the owner in another shop I panicked as to my next action. I had not expected this. I then promptly entered into a sales pitch to a person on the telephone (cardinal sin) via a third person (even bigger cardinal sin of selling) that did not last long. As I left the shop I could feel the awkwardness that this lady was feeling on my behalf. I got back to my Focus, my source of strength and rebuilt my pitch taking into account this experience.

From adversity

My second call, was to a petrol station in Frome and it was successfull. Not only was the owner there, but he also owned two other petrol stations and promptly signed an agreement for three outdoor advertising signs on his land. To this day I carry that experience with me. Selling is about ability, it is about preparation, it is about targetting, but mainly it is about picking yourself up, learning from your mistakes and putting them right for the next time. Tenacity has no substitute. So with this in mind, I set about my monthly targets and I drove from Perranporth in Cornwall to Aberystwyth in Wales to make sure that I achieved my monthly targets by week two or three. That gave me a week or two off, although I still went out to visit new areas that I d never been to. I did this for the twelve months and took my excellent track record to another organisation. I had achieved my ambition, however in hindsight recognise that a good seller carries more than just a 12 month track record. A lot more.

A small extract of things that they will never tell you in a training session, but you learn about quickly on the job…

 

1) always follow the instruction on the door of a prospects business – if it says push, push. Anything contrary to this will draw an unneccesary attention to yourself

2) don’t arrive too late, don’t arrive too early… I was late to an appointment once, and ran to the building to get there as quickly as I could. It was summer time and there was a summer shower. I was soaking on the outside and sweating profusely too. Arrive too early and it leaves an awkward moment in reception with the receptionist.

3) know clothing styles and tastes – comment appropriately. A colleague, on a first appointment, greeted the prospect by asking her if her trousers had shrunk in the wash??? She was wearing challottes.

4) if you have to use technology, make sure it works. There’s nothing worse for both parties than waiting for a laptop to fire up, or worse having to plug into their power source on a first. Also, if it doesnt work altogether, make sure you have a back up plan to it.

5) stay physically lean or make sure your suits fit. During a bad doughnut eating stage in my career, that also coincided with me wearing Ciro Citerio suits, as I got out of my car the seat of my trousers decided to head east and west at the same time leaving a cloth canyon in between. I proceeded to conduct the appoitment and the tour of the factory with my briefcase perched behind on my butt in an attempt to cover up my predicament…. Maybe that was why they did the factory tour?

6) Choose your wardrobe warily. I remember cold calling a brokers yard in East London in a pristine security uniform carrying a plastic bag with corporate give aways in it. I felt more Gok Wan than Danny Dyer particularly after the owner and his staff had finished looking at us in amazement before saying – you’re going to protect usl?

7) Know when to back away. On countless occasions I have observed sales staff never wanting to let go of an opportunity. To the extent of seriously hacking off the prospect and ruining your companies chance of any future relationship. Put yor hands up and admit defeat, nothing wrong in that.

8) Never end up pitching on an intercom. I saw it happen recently to a colleague. Makes for awkward viewing and I am sure everyone in the office the other side of the intercom must be taking their turns to ask ‘say that again’. Big no no. Arrange to come back when appropriate.

9) Make sure you have a pen that works.  Before following this rule religuously I have tried to write notes by using the indent method on paper… it doesn’t work. You never stand a chance of deciphering what you have engraved into the paper and you also look a major pratt with the prospect who must be wondering why you are writing in invisible ink??

10) Don’t kill an open question by asking a closed one immediately afterwards. Stay calm, and be confident in your open question. Let the prospect do the talking and listen to what they are saying, don’t not listen and think of your next question.