Archive for the ‘ Selling & negotiation ’ Category

Or don’t believe everything you read or hear, as my grandmother used to say.

We were selling car recovery equipment.  We had become the major supplier in the UK and were now looking to extend our markets into Europe.  At this moment, we were in France.

France is not an easy country to sell mechanical equipment into.  The market is split into two.  The Southerner largely do not come to Paris to buy and, conversely, the Northerners do not come South.

We had good competition in France too: Jige run by Jean Georges and the Fiaults, both Northern companies.  In addition, we had Spanish company that made simple, effective but inexpensive equipment.  To protect the guilty, let me call it Ramos; and it was run by Antonio.  As by name, he could have doubled as a Spanish waiter; but he was a pleasant, amusing fellow about 35 years old.  A lot of challenging, competitive comment would pass between us as we met at different shows.  In the end, I’m afraid, he had the last laugh.  A big laugh.

We were actively looking at a way to sell into Southern France when we heard this rumour.  There was to be one of those marvellous French Foires or Fairs in Bordeaux: ‘Foire Internationale de Bordeaux, Bordeaux.  Le plus grand rendez vous du Sud Ouest.’  It was to be held at the huge Parc des Expositions de Bordeaux Lac.  What was more the Fiault brothers would be there.  If they were there we must be on to a winner.  Bordeaux (avec les vins) would be fun too.  So we booked our stand, a cheap hotel, we loaded our demonstration vehicle and, at due date, we were off.

(A small aside here. We used to get our vehicles on loan from a large Ford dealer in the area.  We got to know the Commercial Vehicle Sales Manager there very well.  After some time he changed his job and subsequently we met up with him.  We asked him what was the big difference in his new job.  He said, I suspect half in truth, that for the first time he could now tell the truth when he met with customers!)

And so we arrived.  La Foire was amazing, thousands of people, thousands of everything. There were meats from the Ardennes, fruits from the Drome, wine from the Var.  And there stands representing the far flung colonies of French Africa: tie dyed fabrics from the Cote d’Ivoire, carvings from Senegal and so on.  There was every type of face and there was every type and colour of clothing.  There was laughing and singing. There was everything…..except. Except there wasn’t much in the way or vehicle recovery equipment there, only Fiault and Ramos.

We sat in Les Halles des Expositions for 10 days, for 10 whole days, intermittently though periods of long silence or while people sang and danced about us.  Just about no-one was interested in car recovery equipment.  Occasionally we spoke to the Fiaults, occasionally to Antonio.  Once we had lunch with Antonio and a long term woman friend.  That was about it.  Otherwise we wandered about the stands: a baguette or two with dried ham from the Ardennes; I even bought a tie-dyed cotton wall hanging of Don Quixote de la Mancha on his trusted steed, Rocinante.

Nights in Bordeaux were not good for our health either.  My work colleague, Tony, was like a ‘kid away from school’.  Everything had to be tried.  There was plenty of it.  The show ended late so we ate late.  Bordeaux wine tends to be expensive, so the cheaper end is the younger end; and the younger end, after a few long nights, starts eating holes in your stomach.

The 10 days came and went.  We hadn’t gained a single lead for a future sale.  We were lucky to sell the demonstration system cheaply off the stand at the end.  And we were both thoroughly liverish and exhausted.

On the last day, I went to one of the Fiault brothers.  Had they sold anything? NO.  Why had they come here?  Because Ramos and Antonio had come here.

So I went to see Antonio.  Had he sold anything?  No. Just about nothing.  Well, why had he come here?  He smiled.  His answer went something like this. “You see, Philippe, I have a lover here in Bordeaux.  I like her very much.  The only way I can come and spend time with her for a few days is to come to this Foire. Then my wife is happy I am away.”  It must have been the young woman he had introduced us too.

I don’t know what the sales message is that comes out of this experience and story.  It was an expensive ‘liaison’ whichever way you look at it.  Antonio was also closer to the order than we were..

My grandmother clearly knew a thing or two. I can now just about laugh about this ‘Bordeaux Episode’ in my life!










Click here -  Compelling Selling – The Lund Fish


* All skilled sales negotiations have a structure: a beginning, a middle and an end.  You must start at the beginning, handle the middle with no stone unturned, and sail through to the end, closing successfully on the enticing offer.  They are not conversations that drift around in the hope you will somehow arrive in the right place

* The 3 areas you must succeed in covering are

  1. Does the customer want your product or service?
  2. Does the customer want it from you?
  3. And how is (s)he going to have it??


* Questions give you control of the subject under discussion

* As Kipling said, “I keep six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. Their names were HOW and WHY and WHEN and WHAT and WHERE and WHO

Questions beginning HOW, WHY, WHEN, WHERE, WHAT & WHO elicit qualitative response which tells you what the customer actually thinks about it

* Questioning begins with the general and moves to the specific – the objective: Is there a market for your product or service here?  They start with the weather, or something you notice in the office (not too long but you are clearly a nice, interesting & interested guy), move on to the markets the customer competes in, then on to the area in which the customer works and manages; and finally on to the specific subject of future discussion

*Remember.  You only have one chance to make a good first impression

*Two key decsions have to be reached now. Are there issues here which your product or service can resolve?  And is the customer you are speaking to the decision maker?  Make sure he is




*With the customer’s operational issues identified, you must now determine the criteria he will wish to satisfy to remedy them in the decision

*The customer knows more about the issues; but you know more about the solutions and how they will innovate on the customer’s needs.  You continue with your same Kiplingesque question patterns.

*The customer will tell you his view of the best solutions for each of the operational needs; and with your expertise you can weight and agree the order of their importance. You can even add new solution deliveries particular to your ‘product’; and outweigh those where you are a little weaker or where your competitor perhaps has an advantage.

*If you do this beautifully, the customer will agree a description for the total solution sought which, surprise surprise, matches almost exactly the benefits your product or service deliver

*Make sure nothing is omitted: “Are there any aspects you would like to add to your list?” And then resummarise: “You said you want this for this very good reason, and also this (2) which is equally important too, and this (3)…; and you said this (4) was’nt particulary important (funnily enough, a competitor benefit too!) if you could have this (5) instead…..” etc

*Personalise your comments with YOU and YOUR

*During this phase, you must prehandle any likely objections such delay in ordering: “If the solution only sorted out this one issue, it would be worth doing immediately, wouldn’t it?

*Same with value. Value reduces cost. You must add value to the decision wherever you can: “Imagine the saving this would bring you alone”  “It would be worth buying the product or service if it only added this attribute to your operational performance, wouldn’t it? It’s a game changer!

*But never mention competition by name.  It is only free advertising.  If competition does come up, kill it with faint praise: “Yes.  This is a very good product or service and an excellent competitor.  Unfortunately (and as it happens, I am plesed to say) in your particular circumstance it would not fit in with your particular requirements.

*And then the TRIAL CLOSE: “IF I COULD show you that my product or service would solve all these issues we have discussed and solve them cost effectively, WOULD YOU place your order with me?”

*Note you have not discussed your product or service yet in any detail!!


*But you do now.  You talk about your product for the first time.  You show how the benefits that flow from the feautures of your product or service meet each of the customer’s decision criterion, one by one

*You extend each benefit with the words “which means……which means… and which in turn means” to extend the implications of each benefit as they apply to the customers criterion, so creating a benefit chain.  “This is quite exciting” says the customer

*And you add weight to each positive benefit chain by comparing it with the negative benefit chain.  What would happen if the customer did not have these benefits: “Imagine what would happen if you stayed where you are. This would happen which means your staff would be thrown into confusion which means you would suffer these organisation failures which means you would have to face these crippling costs as well as unhappy customers”

*As you handle each criterion for ordering, you check to make sure the customer agrees your product does in fact handle this particular issue: “Are you happy that this approach will provide the solution you are looking for with this particular issue?”

*Each of the criteria now handled, you must now check the customer is happy with the total solution: “You said your current system gave this major problem which is the reason you wanted to talk with me in the first place;  and you agreed that our offering more than gave you the solution you are seeking.  You also said that you have these other issues 2..3..& 5 and agreed our benefits 2..3..& 4 would create the ideal environment for you.  Are you still in agreement with this way forward?  Or is there anything I have omitted?

*Yes” says the customer. “I am extremely happy with this solution.  Your product for service is exactly what I have been looking for for a number of years.  In fact it gives me far more than I could have hoped for”

* You are now ready to close.  “Are you now happy to proceed on this basis?”

*You have shown the customer what the customer wants.  Now you must show how it can happen.


*Objections will show exactly what must be done for the order to be placed, for the ‘sale’ to go ahead.  They are ‘the signposts’ for the way to the decision

*Price is always an objection.  No-one buys things because they are cheap.  They must want it first.  They will want it if you show it to be particularly good value.  It will be cheap if the value to be delivered far outweighs the cost of purchase; and vice versa

*Price should never be discussed until now, until you have successfully showed value

*First you must check if it is a ‘sincere’ objection: “If I could sort this out for you, would you be ready to go ahead on the basis we have discussed?”  The trial close again

*I would have one if it were blue?…Where could I install it?….What are the payment terms?… When could you deliver it?…are all buying signals.  The customer is ready to place the order.  Make sure you cover off any remaining key points…..and close



*There are 5 closing techniques to keep in mind -

  • The alternative close.  You reduce the pressure by offering a choice instead of asking directly: “Would you like the big one or would you prefer to start with the small one?”  “Would you prefer a red one of a blue one?” It’s a great way to set an appointment: Shall we meet Monday at 3; or would you prefer Wednesday at 11.30?”
  • The assumptive close. Again you reduce the pressure by assuming the decision is made and it is only a question of – “Where would you like it installed?” or “When would you like it delivered” or “How would you like to arrange payment?”
  • The trial close.  “If I could….would you…?”  “If I could sort out this issue for you, would you be happy to go ahead with your order?”
  • The provisional order close. “As this has to go to the Board, may I suggest you place your order now, provisional on Board acceptance.  This will expedite delivery for you.”
  • The direct close.  “Are you happy to place your order now?” A positive negotiation, a positive agreement to proceed, a positive close.  There is nothing stronger when you have done it beautifully and, so, nothing better.

*Remeber. For the customer signing the order is an emotional moment.  It precludes any further choice.  Be sure you have made the decision easy

*Remember too the power of SILENCE.  When you have asked for the acceptance of anything throughout the sale, say what you have to say and be SILENT.  Never be drawn in by the customer’s silence to answer the question for him, to offer compensatory remarks.  Decisions take time for the customer.  Give that respect

*With the decision made, put the order in your pocket, congratulate a good decision, detail the steps to be taken to assure a good delivery; AND LEAVE.  Be a good leaver


*…is made even more enticing by the high value the customer perceives he will gain by buying your product or service


*If you want to fill in the details of the sale, go to

*If you know the details but want a handbook of reminders, go to

*If you know the details, and don’t need any reminding, go to Confucius






The truck self-loading body was miniaturised to load and carry cars and lighter equipment. It was an ideal solution for car recovery at the time as cars increasingly became automatic, ‘softer’ in the front and lower to the ground.  A ‘spectacle’ frame was added to the back so a second car could be towed. Technical advantage was all about the weight of the body and payload, the loading angle and the gizmos that could be added to facilitate the task. We were lucky to have two good design engineers, Mike and Preston, which meant we could design for safety and produce repeats of the same design suitably modified to fit the range of chassis available.  The major customer group became the car recovery operators and the car associations.  Orders from the heavier equipment operators became the icing on the cake – higher values and bigger margins.

With increased cash flow, I became the Sales Director with direct line responsibility and a share of revenue. The ‘spectacle’ frame was now redesigned to fit a 3.5 tonne truck.  A fully fitted recovery vehicle with spectacle lift would sell for the same as the bigger, sliding car body.  Revenues began to soar as our speciality sellers showed their engineering competitors the way in closing out the orders.

With the new design of cars and the threat of damage, it wasn’t hard to persuade the recovery operators to move away from truck mounted cranes.  The problem was they were all scratching around to make ends meet as the car associations lowered the rates they would pay.  So the operators tended to buy just the equipment and bodge up their own bodies and lockers.  This equipment represented only a third of a fully ordinanced recovery vehicle.

At the same time, competition started to become stronger.  They couldn’t compete on the sales skills side but they could and did start cutting prices.  The recession arrived which hit the recovery trade.  Things were beginning to get tough. We put on our thinking caps and asked those vital, market-making questions: who else could use our equipment and why. Companies and people use the same equipment to achieve different purposes. For example,  Xerox makes copies. Customers don’t want copies, they want things particular to their business copied. So there is little purpose selling to a lawyer with the same vocabulary you would use, for example, with an accountant.

The answers to our questions became clear: car dealerships.  In the recession new car sales had fallen and the dealerships were looking round for ways to increase revenue.  Why not buy a fully equipped recovery truck, which would advertise your dealership, and use it to bring in breakdowns to your workshops and accident victims to your body shop?  A no-brainer. The names of the dealerships could be clearly identified and our sales team flew around mopping up the orders. Revenues had now increased sixteen fold.

The rest of the story was really about house-keeping rules. We kept marketing spend to areas like shows and activities where we could measure the response.  We had to keep our sellers amused.  We were in constant contact discussing their activities from their returns and offering such support as we could. Generally they were loners and liked to be the one there at the time the order was taken.  And they had little respect for their colleagues when it came to selling so we made a point of keeping them all fully informed who was selling what and to whom.  Otherwise we infilled with an occasional get together at to a patient hostelry so they could share their stories from the trenches and laugh at their management.

One sales tale worth a mention concerned our relationship with a car association.  We always did good business with them until one day their orders started drying up and going to a French company (which made good equipment too).  We then found we were becoming part of a self-fulfilling prophecy: being asked to quote on a very high specification only to lose on price to the same French company who then supplied at our original specification at a price higher than ours.  We had to face up to it.  There was no point sitting there year after year losing orders to a competitor for what seemed unfair reasons.  So off I went to see the boss.  I explained the situation as we saw it and hoped the Association would prefer to place their orders with a local supplier at a lower price, all other things being equal.  After I finished, he spoke these immortal words “You seem to be suggesting my managers are dishonest.” This was answered, as a good seller should, with SILENCE.  Anyway, to cut the story short, the orders started to flow again and everyone lived happily together forever after.

There are several key sales lessons in this.  You as a seller always have the right to go to the top when the shareholders’ interests are not being served by their employees.  As a maitre d’hotel of a top London restaurant once said to me “Always speak to God, never the saved”. If you are being mistreated, you must go high and face up to the hiatus.  You cannot lose an order you haven’t got.  Finally, if there is a row, there is always a tendency for the participants “to kiss and make up”.  The thing you must be absolutely sure about though is that you have right on your side.

You now have all my secrets

Setting up a successful speciality sales team means getting the working infrastructure right.  Creating territories is a matter of applying simple logic to a simple set of rules.  Territories must be neither too big nor too small, not so big that the area can’t be fully covered in the year and not so small that sales initiative is destroyed.  Territories need to the covered geographically and in terms of customer group, product range and decision cycle times.  You need to know enough to get this mix right.  Territory ‘shapes’ are likely to be determined by the direction of the motorways; and, ideally, you don’t want your sellers driving up and down the same roads.  Salesmen sell through face-to-face contact so you don’t want them spending too much selling time sitting in their cars either. If the area is big, they should be encouraged to work it in segments, overnighting in the area to improve call rates

The commission structure must be right too. I don’t like commission only.  Salesmen should not be asked to take on company risk.  Neither is salary plus commission the best way forward.  It averages down the better sellers and averages up the lesser.  It is even worse when commission is paid on annual target set by management.  This equates to management, who should seen to be supportive, punishing the successful seller for his success with higher targets next year.

Fast lane sales growth is about creating stars in your sales team who lead by example (and maybe in their new sports car) and show the path of success to their lesser colleagues.  The way to do this is indeed to pay commission only but support it with guaranteed earnings.  It is a matter of simple mathematics.  If you think a good salesman could produce 1.0 million/pa for you at a stretch and he would be worth 100,000 to you if he did so, then pay him 10%.  This is open ended. With luck and good fortune maybe he will find the way to sell 2.0 million/pa.  Then you’ll all be wealthy.  You want success, not a payment hierarchy where sellers can never earn more than their managers. Be a little careful though. Make sure the commission levels reflect your ambitions for sales for each different class of product.  One thing you can be sure of: the seller will and should be led by the commission terms to head for the simplest ways to maximise his/her turnover. He/she might, for example, decide it is easier and more profitable to sell 10 small ones rather than 5 of the big ones.

Obviously people can’t live off commission paid every once in a while. Bills come in monthly; and there are Christmases, holidays and birthdays to be paid for.  So put each seller on a guarantee to reflect worth.  Let’s start, for simplicity, at with a guarantee of 48,000pa or 4,000pm.  Maybe you decide, because you want sales participation until the customer has the product in his sticky fingers, to pay each order 50% on order and 50% on delivery. These commissions build up and, when they surmount 4,000pm, you could choose to pay 60% of the excess, in effect in advance, so the seller can taste success for the current effort.  As territory sales grow, so individual guarantees can be increased; and, as they fall, they can be decreased.  In the latter case, the seller will make up his/her own mind whether it is better to stay or go.

You think “Well how do I convert my current sales team over to the new system”.  It’s simple.  Give them the current (only) sellers the choice:  the existing 50,000pa salary and 5% or 50,000 and 10%.  I know which one I would choose. There is usually some reservation based on conversations with the wife but, inevitably, they all join in and sales begin to soar. And, by the way, send the excess commission as a cheque to land on the breakfast table.  It won’t be long before the wife is kicking her seller husband out of the house earlier.


I am what they call a swallow here in South Africa.  I fly in for the summer.  We stay in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains where the French Huguenots settled to introduce wine growing to South Africa.   The sun, good wine, excellent food and beautiful surroundings, what more do you want?  I recommend it.

Having spent a life-time in selling, poor customer service delivery is a bête noire of mine.  A couple of examples have come up recently which confirm yet again just how daft poor service delivery appears and how crass the perpetrators who fail to rise to the service challenge. I am however thankful to them for their stories.  Just listen to them.

I think it was March 2009 when I asked the local wine retailer to buy me a case of white sauvignon he didn’t stock and to deliver it when I returned in November.  It is a good wine shop.  Extensive stock and the boss knows what he was talking about.  The instruction was quite clear.  There it was on the box label.  My name, telephone number, the instruction, Rand 420 paid.  Nothing happened; and when I returned in November I had forgotten about it too.

The years passed.  When I returned in January 2013, I had a telephone call from the shop.  They had the case of wine for me.  It had spent 3 years in the boss’s office and he had done nothing about it.  Needless to say, over the years, it had gone sweet.  Still quite pleasant but not what you would expect if you want to drink a sauvignon.

I took it back. Explained it was sweet.  The boss won’t take it back, his lady explained.  And he wouldn’t:  “I’m not taking that back. I can’t use it”. “Well I can’t use it either,”  I explained “because it has spent the last 3 years sitting under your desk and now it has gone sweet.” A small man running a small business, determined to stay small.

Breath taking stuff, isn’t it?  Fortunately his lady stepped in. She as it happens also runs a weekend catering business catering for Coloureds.  She is a Coloured herself. And as it happens, she explained to me, Coloureds love sweet white wine.”  She bought the wine on her own account with her boss still muttering behind her that he would have nothing to do with it.

Within a week I had spent 3 times the value of that case of wine restocking my home supplies, this time from the local supermarket.  Who wants to be a badly treated customer?

The next story is about a pot of white paint. It competes in its way with Tommy Cooper’s story about a pot of green paint.  I bought a pot of white gloss paint from a local dealer, about Rand 100 worth.  I had already spent around Rand 1850 with him.  I gave the painter the paint and he painted the white doors and he touched in some white panelling.  It is difficult to see white over here in the midday sun but the next morning the areas painted looked decidedly pink. I mentioned this to the dealer. Why was I complaining? The painter must have used a dirty brush.  This didn’t quite explain why the doors painted were all the same colour.  It seemed there were 3 possibilities: either the dealer had received a bad batch, or one of his staff had put a tint in the base white and inadvertently put the tin back on the shelf; or I had put a tint in myself.  It was hard to understand why I should want to add a tint when I had asked for white paint in the first place.  No movement unfortunately. His side never makes mistakes.  Here was a man happy to throw away a customer (and maybe the customer’s friends and maybe anyone who reads Trip Advisor), all for a pot of white paint and Rand 100.

It could be that the older generation in South Africa for historical reasons are reluctant to accept when they are wrong.  But at what the cost these daft decisions.  The corollary is my internet guru, Francois of, who represents the younger generation.  His view is always to do a little more work than the customer pays for.  Then he knows he will be recommended.  It seems his system of customer service delivery works well!



The company made a truck body which tilted and slid back to form its own loading ramp.  A tailgate folded down to improve the loading angle.  It was used to load and move plant like earth moving equipment, forklifts and access platforms.  It was bought by the manufacturers of these things and the companies that sought to hire them. It had been a profitable little add-on to an engineering company that had been sold.  The son, Jaime, now set out to make the add-on worthwhile in its own right.  The company was profitable but needed turnover.

The first task was to go out with the existing salesman.  The decision had already been taken on the second one.  The objective was to get an understanding of the value of the prospect list and to evaluate the sales skills. I remember it as one of the most nightmarish days of my sales life.  I had to drive a fair way and meet in a car park somewhere in Birmingham.  We then set off in the salesman’s car.  It was like a high speed car chase, revving engines, hurtling down every street, 2 wheeling every corner.  I have never felt more car sick in my life.  And the sales meetings he had set gave no respite.  Without exception they went like this:

“Hello, Mr Customer.  My name is (blank) and I work for (blank).  I am accompanied today by a colleague who just wants to meet some of our existing and potential customers.  You will remember I wrote to you last year and I have phoned you a number of times since.  I have called in today to see if you would like to place your order.”

“No. I don’t want to do that, thank you.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want one.  I have no need for one”

“What would you say if I gave you a discount of 10%?”

“I’d still say NO.  I’ve told you.  I don’t want one.”

“Are you saying you are happy to throw away a saving of £428 just like that?”


And so ended this lesson.  And the next.  And the next.  By the time we arrived back at my car, dusk had fallen.  It was dark and miserable.  I was exhausted.  I now had to drive home. Whatever else my companion was, he wasn’t a salesman.

So began the challenge of bringing together a quality sales team.  I worked behind Jaime, ostensibly as his employment adviser.  There wasn’t a lot of money to spend yet so we chose to have me in the background with Jaime as my mouth piece.  It worked well.  Not least, it turned him into an accomplished sales manager and made him sound like one too.  “Do this and say this”, I’d say. “I did but they said this back”.  “Well say this to them and, if they say this back, say this in reply”.  We ended up with a great sales team.  Without exception, they loved the chase and would work all hours for the thrill of the sale well closed.  And they were well paid for it.

Not everyone can survive the rigours of the professional sales life.  The ones that do are often one-offs, certainly memorable characters.  In particular, there was Alan I had known previously.  He took the East of England, from Nottingham shire through the Home Counties and London to the South Coast.

He was a salesman through and through.  He had walked the talk, as they say.  It was he who coined the expression “eff’em” to denote someone who was not a decision maker.  An “eff’em” would typically say: “It’s not my bloody problem, eff’em.”  So clearly not a decision maker.  If Alan ended up with the wrong person at a meeting, he had ended up with an eff’em.  If he had stopped at a Cafe Transport for lunch, he had stopped at an “eff’emry” which is where “eff’ems” ate.

Then there was Donald, a Welshman of the ‘boyo’ variety.  To the uninitiated, Donald talked absolute nonsense.  But the punters loved him and gave him their orders.  Donald always made a point of driving home to see his wife, wherever he was in the country; but he could never understand why, when he got home, he ended up having an argument.  Once too he took his new Vauxhall back to complain of clutch smell in the car. They changed the clutch and said he had been driving with his foot on it.  “It’s all nonsense,”  he said as we drove along in his car. “You see.  You can still smell the clutch now”.  “Yes, Donald.  And you’re still driving along with your foot on it.” Donald worked the west of England from Birmingham downwards.

I remember Roger too.  He worked the North East.  He taught me a valuable lesson, never again to employ someone who could not explain every year of his working life.  He had apparently spent a number of years in the SAS which he said he wasn’t allowed to discuss.  As it turned out, I suspect he had spent it in some other part of Her Majesty’s Service.

After some time, we had our agent Michel in Belgium.  He was a Walloon (French speaking) who lived near Waterloo.  I found this reassuring.  At the Brussels Motor Show, Michel refused to speak to any fellow countryman who was Flamand (Flemish).  “They’re too mean” he said. “The conversation will go no-where.  You speak to them”.  And he was right.  Almost without exception, a Flamand would go on endlessly beating you down on every aspect of the price.  Once he gets to this point he says “Now we have got to the base price, what discount will you give me?” End of conversation.  However, when I pointed out to Michel that Belgium really had no reason for existing anyway with the two communities barely speaking to each other, and suggested the country be split into two with the Flems going to Holland and the Walloons joining France, he was outraged. Such heresy!  It was he who advised me on the French translation in Sales Tales from the Trenches 6  (which will follow).

In Germany we had Hein.  Hein was a Dutchman.  He probably shouldn’t have been fiddling around as an agent.  But he had his moments.  Once at the Frankfurt Motor Show, we had two men in trilby hats and dark raincoats climbing onto our truck bodies unannounced.  They looked like spies from a cheap movie.  “Who are those guys?” I asked.  “They are probably TUV (German quality assurance licensers) men.”  “How do you know they are not Gestapo?” Apoplexy.  Gestapo is not a word you are allowed to use in Germany apparently.  Hein also introduced us to the term “ant f**ker”.  It goes like this. We had a guy deeply in conversation with Hein.  When he returned to the stand I asked him how he’d got on. “Pah. The guy’s a waste of time.  We have already sold him equipment.  We delivered it. We delivered it early.  It was perfect.  There was just one bolt missing, one bolt, and all he does is talk about that bolt.  That’s what he is.  He’s an ant f**ker: someone who bores away at small problems!”

Finally for a short time we had an agent in France.  He was memorable for a number of things.  He had been selling dustcarts to local authorities for a number of years.  And his customers were always asking for blatt, back handers.  These negotiations were always difficult. “How can I tell you what I can give you when  I don’t know the size of your order?  Is it going to be a motor cycle? Or is it going to be a house?” He said he had crossed over the Swiss border so many times the border police even knew his grandmother’s name.  He also advised, if you wished to speak French, you would get a better result if you translated the English into Chinese first; and he described sitting in the back of a French car as like sitting on an old sofa.

God Bless them all

“They’d make you laugh if they hadn’t made you cry!”

Despite folklore, SEX AND THE SALESMAN DON’T MIX.  Sex and consultants don’t mix either.  There is never a better shade of grey when it comes to this subject.  If you want the sale, messing around is a good way to mess it up.

Salesmen can get to know personal assistants or administrators pretty well.  On the phone to the boss regularly.  Get to know quite a lot about private lives. Quite easy to suggest a drink after work, particularly if you are condemned to an overnight stay in the crappy local business hotel.  Same with consultants.  They can live on the client premises for months, weeks away from home for 2 or 3 nights a week, weeks away from the wife or girl friend.  Can make the routine of project analysis quite exciting at times, too exciting at others.

I can think of 2 incidents during my business life which could or did impact on revenue flow, both in the area of consultancy and consultants.  With one, the affair began brightly enough.  A welcome break from the tedium of living away from home.  Nice to have someone to see after work.  Makes the hotel quite cosy.  The trouble is the girl wanted more, like to go back to his place, to spend the weekend together.  But this would bump into his alter life.  Not in the plan.  So the rot sets in, cars are scratched, tyres let down. A lone figure waiting for recovery trucks in the car park soon drew the attention of management.  And the story came out.  Fortunately, for this consultant whose company banned such behaviour on pain of dismissal, the client Managing Director forgave and the project continued.

Not such luck for our second consultant.  He started an affair with the Managing Director’s secretary.  It was a brilliant thing.  He loved the project.  He loved being there.  He loved the time away from home.  He even thought he loved the girl.  That is, until the Managing director found out.  The fly in this particular ointment was that the Managing Director was also sleeping with his secretary.  No forgiveness this time.  The project was ended on the spot.  He was out on his ear. And he was out of his company as well.

Here endeth this lesson.



I was top salesman at Rank Xerox UK selling the Xerox type rental agreement.  I wanted see if I really could sell anything and left to join a capital goods company selling new technology truck washing machines both directly but, generally, through a lease agreement.  I ended up running the sales operation.  There I learned how to bring people who really could sell into markets normally sold by people like engineers who were not salesmen.  Mine were high closing speciality salesmen from my kind of background, people highly trained in establishing precise needs, proving the solution within the product benefits they offered and closing for the order, if needs be over the desk at the first meeting.  So, while the engineers were away dealing with another technical query, my guys were signing up the customers.

Not many products are so technical it takes a specialist to explain (Xerox was high technology with selenium drums to transfer images and so on.  What sold the machine was the quality of the copies it produced); and, as any professional seller knows, once the conversation gets too technical, you’re on the way to losing the order. Within 2 years we had taken over the truck washing machine market.

This then became the seed of the idea I had in forming my own business.  I would contact start-up or early growth companies with the suggestion that I should run their sales operation professionally for them, take their product to market and help them establish their own particular market segment and sales culture. This would keep me in the exciting land of new company fast lane growth through highly trained and skilled sales professionals.  I could also get away from the vagaries of commission earnings by taking a share of revenue (not profit – owners can change the profits, revenue must be recorded) which reflects both past and future sales success.

The company was set up in 1969.  In 1974, Compelling Selling was first published by Macmillan and became a best seller in its field, the first book on sales/marketing to sell back to the Americans for publishing since the War.  I had found one or two lucrative contracts. Then one day the telephone rang. The call was typical -

“Hello.  My name is Jaime T.  I run a small engineering company turning over around £250,000.  I have a couple of salesmen.  I use the term loosely.  Between them they have over 100 prospective customers, all of whom are going to place their orders but none of whom ever do.  I have 20 people on the shop floor waiting for these orders to come in so they can feed their families. I don’t want to go on living like this, hand to mouth.  I have read your book Compelling Selling which I enjoyed.  It talks about selling products into truck industry.  Do you think you can help me sort out my problems?”  Thus began a business relationship which lasted for around 10 years and a friendship that lasts to this day.

Setting up a successful sales operation requires these things –

  1. Create a strong, interactive, self-motivating sales team
  2. Establish the right territories, the commission structure to motivate and the reporting that allows the factory to be planned and the sellers to manage their own operation effectively
  3. Understand who your customers are, get the products right for the market and the market right for your products; and the interactions that keep the whole thing bubbling along



“Before I went for my first sales job interview with a prestigious medical organisation in 1987 in the UK, the headhunter told me to get and read “Compelling Selling”. I did, got the job despite having zero sales experience and tough competition, and still have the engraved watch I was given for sales achievement in my first year.  You therefore had a profound and positive impact on my career development – THANKS!”  Laurence H  ‘08

“It’s too easy to be unstructured.  You have a pleasant conversation and end up believing that, if the prospect likes you, you are going to take the order. And it doesn’t work that way. Without a well structured approach to the sale you will end up having a lot of pleasant conversations going nowhere.” Tony J  ’12



“Thinking back in the mists of time, early in my conversion to a salesman of sorts under your tutelage, I remember being impressed at an early meeting with Massey Ferguson. You were keen to show me how structured questioning could lead to identifying a need and a way of satisfying it. The Parts General Mgr. did not seem interested but with careful structuring of the meeting you were able to get him to agree to some paid analysis to identify if a worthwhile project was possible. It was an eye opening experience for me and helped me along my path to sales.  Do you remember it? “ Peter B  ‘13



“Just thought would let you know after digesting your book (Keynotes for Compelling Sellers), I have scraped into the No2 UK ranking for British Gas/Centrica Sales advisors!” Ted I  ‘13


Get it right and sellers are an amazingly flexible resource. In my day at Rank Xerox UK, they kept employed someone who sold at least 40 machines net pa, that is, what goes in less what comes out. Most sellers sold between 40 & 80 machines. 8o is twice 40. The top sellers sold 120 machines. That’s 3 times 40. Same training, same base cost.

The pressure was always there. The top seller grew on the sales board in the office during the month. At the end of each month, the District Manasger and the Branch Manager would take the top seller to lunch at a good restaurant. They got sick of taking me to lunch. Ran out of conversation. But who could put up with this pressure? For how long? A year? How could a professional seller adapt to the pressure year after year? It needed thinking about.

Rank Xerox moved into duplicators while I was there. What did they do? They took the desktop 813 and changed the meter. They called it the 330 or so I think. Now, instead of a flat rate per copy, the first copies in any run were more expensive but the later copies cheaper. Clever stuff and a lesson in selling. The seller had to get his head around a difference in argument with the duplicators. It wasn’t cost per copy. It was the freedom to let people make what copies they needed without cost getting out of hand. It took time. Customers were locked into cost per copy. To reinforce the change, Rank Xerox set up a competition running over 2 or 3 months. Each group of 2 x 813 plus 1 x 330 installed bought you so many miles on your journey to Bermuda. Once you got there, you were working to take your wife or girl friend. Vans were running around to deliver to meet the deadline, engineers to install. That’s sales support for you. Would you believe it, when I got there with the girl friend, they said they had never had hail before in the history of the island.

The battle was now on to become top Rank Xerox seller for 1966/67. Between me and my friend & rival Ian. He worked a City territory very effectively. Ian had invested heavily in the gogo Poseidon Oil shares. He came second and shortly after left for Australia to spend it. I had become top man. An MGB GT was in the garage.

Now it was time for the annual review. Management by Objectives they called it then. The Branch & District Managers congratulated me for my success, thanked me profusely for taking them both to Bermuda too. They had looked through the numbers. I had sold 120 machines net plus. I had made X calls on average each week and sold a machine for roughly every Y calls. Yes. I had run between calls. Yes. The conversion rate was amazing. But did I realise that if, next year, I made X+5 calls on average each week and converted one order for every Y-0.2 calls, I would earn £xxxxxxx. I looked at them. What in the f**k were they talking about? It was a nail through the heart.

The following month Rank Xerox ran an ad in the jobs section of the Telegraph. “Be like Philip Lund. Get a degree from University and come and be our top salesman.” On the day the ad appeared, I was walking out the door.