Archive for February, 2013

You would have laughed if you hadn’t cried (with laughter!)

We were a consultancy presenting to a pharma company, a pharma company also heavily involved with  OTC (Over The Counter) healthcare products.  They were in a period of change and were interested to know what we could add in the way of speeding and adding value to the outcomes, at the least making sure that the outcomes actually transpired. Consultants often argue that change is better managed by consultants.  It’s like surgery and surgeons, they say.  A surgeon can always operate on himself.  It is generally much more messy though.  It is much more painful and the outcomes can be uncertain.  Better to rely on an expert.  There were 3 of us and maybe 5 of them, each heading up different departments that were partners to the change, fortunately, as it turned out, an all-male conclave

The aim of this first meeting was to set the field for future discussions.  We would hear from them the areas they were looking at, their approach, their methodology and timetables; and the deliverables they were seeking to deliver.  We in turn would learn from this to make our PowerPoint presentation relevant.  We would talk through our approach and methodology and give examples of the types of projects we had run for similar companies in similar areas, the deliverables we had achieved both expected and unexpected; and the likely return on investment.  Our USP would be that we would undertake a short review of the nominated areas to identify and agree together the level of benefit available.  Then we would take ownership of the project and personally manage the benefit delivery to time schedule in conjunction with the internal teams.

Our desired endgame for the meeting was to identify specific areas where we could facilitate project outcomes before meeting separately with the divisional heads to agree the way forward in each situation.  The Financial Controller stood up and went to the white board.  The company had decided to divide itself into 4 Divisions each with its own Divisional MD and structure: Sticking Plaster, Wound Management,  Orthopedic Casts and A another (the name escapes me).  All serious stuff.  We sat there mulling over the words written on the white board.  Then a voice.  “Which Division will the tampon business be attached to.”  Silence.  Then a nervous giggle from the table.  Then another as the implications of the question became clear. Then uproarious laughter.

Anyway, the meeting did continue when the laughter had died down except for an occasional chortle as the situation was remembered.  The good news is that from now on all inhibitions had gone.  The meeting came to a successful conclusion. Projects were identified and, in due course, successfully delivered.

It all points to the power of humour in the sales situation (though some of us might have preferred a better subject!)



“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


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

I ran the sales operation for a management consultancy.  One of my roles was to develop the sales skills of Managing Consultants.  Managing Consultants, if you know the breed, think they are good salesmen. Their position is epitomised by the statement “I am a very good salesman though I am not very good at setting meetings”.  Martin was the Managing Consultant this time round.

This day Martin and I were visiting a successful paper company in the Birmingham, West Midlands.  We were meeting the CEO.  Good start. At least we began with the chance of a decision.  The CEO was a Sikh, urbane, charming, very English, clearly with a very good grip on his company.  You get Sikhs like this in the UK. His name was a Sikh name, he wore a turban – he was clearly a Sikh and Sikhs originally emanate from India, and India is a land where the Hindhus pay homage to the cow.

I introduced the meeting – who we are, the issues we tackled and and why we thought a meeting could well be valuable.  Over to you,  Martin.  It was Martin’s turn.  I had suggested to Martin on the way to the meeting he should rely on questions to draw out the information needed to position his sale. Preferably open questions, preferably questions beginning HOW, WHY, WHAT, WHEN and WHO. And to move the questions from the general to the specific.  So he started.  Questions about the customer’s market, his competitors, his turnover, what  the CEO felt were the issues he would have to face (good).  All a bit awkward and without a sense of direction.  But the CEO was smiling and as urbanely English as ever.

Well Martin, having covered the first part of the sale for better or for worse, began to dry up.  He didn’t understand clearly that a sale has a framework; and he didn’t understand how to move the customer into the negotiation.  Silence fell.  I struggled not to interject, to save the day.  Martin had to find his own way.

He sat there pondering his next step.  The customer sat expectantly.  Suddenly the tumblers fell into place in Martin’s head.  All the impacts of the meeting came together.  The words poured out:

“Are there any sacred cows in your company?”

We sat there in amazement as the implications dawned. We knew what he meant. Were there issues in the company that would make change difficult?  But he didn’t say that.  He chose the cows and with the cows, without redeeming humour, he chose certain death. The meeting wandered on but the moment had passed.  We bid our fond farewells and left.  Fortunately, on the way home, Martin did not say how well felt the meeting had gone or that we would be doing business together sooner rather than later.