Archive for March, 2013

“It would make you laugh if it hadn’t made you cry”

Again, I was running the sales operation for a management consultancy.  It had an unusual product range and a huge chief executive.  His management philosophy was based on the answer to this one question: “Where does the 2 tonne gorilla sleep”.  Answer “Anywhere it effing pleases”.   He never ever changed his mind.  He’d ask for a decision, accept it and, some months later, you’d find you were doing what he had suggested in the first place.  He also had the strange habit of employing higher level people who had failed in their primary career.  Maybe he thought they would renew as stars in his firmament.  They never did.  I was with one of these for this meeting.  His name was Michael.  Ex-advertising, foppish hair, not too tall but arrogant in tone.

The Consultancy had just had an internal think tank meeting.  What exactly are our USPs?  They had reached a key decision in their consultancy way.  The key advantage of our consultancy lay with our ability to carry out analysis to levels no-one else would wish to go; and we would identify key parameters that others might think better forgotten ie, and in the vernacular, we would dig through the shit and we would dig up the shit.

You can see the strength of this concept.  But, I am sure you would also agree, it needed some refinement to make it a persuasive sales message.  Not so with Michael.  He had stopped at the idea.  He hadn’t worked through to the way it should be delivered, advertising background or not.

So there we sat, Michael and I, in the London Office of a large division of ICI, the ICI that was.  I remember it clearly.  ICI offices always seemed to look as though they could double as government offices.  No real creature comforts.  It was Michael’s meeting.  I was in harness, to support and develop as needed.  Our client was a senior Director.  Pleasant.  Modest in self-presentation. Nice smile.  No fool.

Michael set off.  No real questions to understand the client company, the client need or positioning.  It was all about who we were, what we did and how marvellously we did it.  Michael loved it.  He held the stage. The client listened attentively or perhaps politely.  Then Michael got on to his main theme: SHIT.  How we dug shit up, how we shovelled it, how we dug through the shit, all the things the client would have difficulty finding anyone else to do.

But Michael.  Can’t you see the implication behind what you are saying?  Are you suggesting the client company, ICI, a major chemical company, is, in fact, full of shit?  Who knows?  But the client didn’t catch on to the theme with excitement.  So we left the meeting with a “I’ll call you if I find something which requires your skills”.

Not the shitty comment Michael could have drawn.  But we never did do business with this company. That’s shitty enough.




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