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  www.salesbible.co.uk

*If you know the details but want a handbook of reminders, go to http://sellersbible.com/

*If you know the details, and don’t need any reminding, go to Confucius  http://www.compellingselling.net/confucius-and-co.htm





‘It could only happen to a salesman’

SALESMEN GET UP EARLY. They have to catch trains, negotiate motorways, get to meetings on time. It’s part of the daily sales task.

On this day, I was on my way to Kings Cross to catch a train.  The time was around 6.30 am, maybe 6.45.  I live in London on one of the wide, leafy, neo-Georgian streets north of Marble Arch. It was a beautiful late summer morning:  blue skies, sunny clear light. No-one about, no cars. ‘Not so bad to get up early on a morning like this’ I thought as I locked the front door.  I turned to walk down the street towards the station.  As I walked, I noticed a box van parked on the yellow line opposite the car parking bays.

The van advertised things like bread rolls and pitta bread from Park Royal.  Park Royal is just down the A40 from London and professes to a number of small bakeries. The headlights were full on. No-one in the driver’s seat.  ‘He won’t start that up in a hurry if he doesn’t get back soon,’ I thought.  But as I walked towards the van, I saw it move. ‘He must be in the back’. I walked round the back.  Surprisingly, the shutter blind was pulled down leaving only a small gap, perhaps 9 inches. I bent over and looked in.

What I saw, I have never seen before or since. It was the driver, a tall, slim, good-looking chap with dark hair.  He was crouched, reaching forward.   The thing about him was he was stark naked.  Not even socks. He also clearly didn’t need any Viagra; or he had just taken a couple of tablets. He reminded me of the Bayeux Tapestry, the scene of the returning soldier. I couldn’t see the object of his desires who was (hopefully) hidden amongst the bread trolleys.

He turned his head towards me.  ‘Your headlights are on’.  ‘Thanks mate’, he said and he gave me the thumbs up.  I continued on my way to the station.  I didn’t want to miss the train.

As walked down the pavement and away from the van, I mulled over what I had seen.  Why there? Who could the girl have been?  At least the bread trolleys seemed empty and the buns delivered!



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


‘It could only happen to a salesman’

I began my sales career by joining Xerox UK as a trainee salesman.  As a trainee salesman, I received the same money as a Centre Group Economist for Viyella International which was taking over much of the English textile industry at the time.

The Xerox office was in Great Portland Street, a modern 4 or 5 story building, just north and to the left of Oxford Circus.  Between Great Portland Street, and in and around Berner Street, lay the heart of London’s cut-and-make garment industry, small blocks with a myriad of fashion shops on the pavement side while behind them the infill of cut-and-make, low level sheds with sloping, black-felted roofs.

As a trainee Xerox salesman you were only allowed into the office on Friday afternoons to hand in your call reports and orders and to chat with your managers & sales colleagues.  Salesmen tend to be very good buyers.  They see the value benefit in all kind of things; so a lot of the jokey conversations was around ‘what did you buy this week’ followed by screams of laughter as the humourists pointed out the disbenefits.

So there I was in the office every Fridays afternoon, usually after 2.00pm.  With time to pass until the pubs opened, I would look across at the higher rise offices the other side of the block and look down at the sculptured effect of the shed roofs as they interwove with each other.  One day I looked across to the adjacent office buildings and` noticed something rather strange.  It was a low, narrow window with sight obscuring glass.  What was strange about it was there was a blob of purple pressed against it with what, as I focused on it, seemed to be shoulders.  Now I could see, above the colour, the longer hair of a woman.  Yes.  It must be a woman with her back pressed to the window.  There must have been a basin under the window for her to sit on.  Then, as I looked, a face appeared over her left shoulder; and, yes, the whole thing seemed to be moving up and down, not a lot but definitely moving.  It is difficult to remember how long it took until it went away – maybe 10 minutes, maybe more.

I didn’t say anything to my sales colleagues but, when I came into the office the next Friday, the same thing happened.  The blob of colour was there, sometime purple, sometimes blue.  Always about 4 o’clock. And the next Friday.  Obviously someone was collecting seigneurial rights before returning home for the weekend and the wife.

This went on for about four Fridays before I told my colleagues and, for a couple of Fridays, the office picture windows overlooking the sheds were filled with Xerox employees enjoying the break after a hard week.  Obviously people in the cutting sheds became aware of everyone looking out of our windows and they too came out onto the shed roofs to see what was going on.

I will never forget the last Friday.  It was a beautiful English day, clear, blue skies with the sun turning golden towards the later afternoon.  It looked like a scene from the Sermon on the Mount; or the Feeding of the 5000.  At 4 o’clock precisely the roofs were covered in people, hundreds of them,  looking up at the magic window.  They were dressed in vivid colours with a preponderance of black and the very white, white shirts and the white of their cutting aprons. A magnificent sight. The stars took their position. Slowly and purposefully the purple jersey and the 2 heads gathered and began to move rhythmically together. But clearly, for the face looking out the window, the colours had changed.  Instead of the sombre black roofs, there was a kaleidoscope of colour, of people laughing, pointing and talking with each other, drinking drinks and eating the odd leftover sandwich.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was gone.  No more Fridays. Only the memory.  On both sides no doubt.


Instituting the right reporting process is an absolute key to fast lane sales success; and the key document is the Hot Prospect List. The rigour with which the information is gathered is a must in forecasting accurately the seller’s monthly turnover as well as the demand on production. The definition of the candidates for the list is critical too.  They must be decision makers who have said YES they will buy but haven’t signed the order for a reason out of their control, for example a meeting for Board approval or budget allocation.  So the list will include the company name, the decision maker’s name and telephone number, the item to purchase and its value and, finally but critically, the date of final approval  i.e. the day after which the seller can phone to confirm the order. Unromantically and rigorously run (i.e. excluding the temptation of wishful thinking) 60% of the value on this list will come to fruition.

The second most important list is the Good Prospect List which is the feeder to the Hot Prospects.  These are candidates who have been met, have expressed a strong interest and who, the seller has a strong ‘feeling in the water’, will develop through to a final decision. The list will contain much the same information as the Hot Prospect List except it will also show future actions to be taken by date and expected date of order.  Again, unromantically run and with strong criteria, 35% will come through to fruition.

How these two lists work together is simple.  The Hot Prospect List will show for each month the expected sales.  The seller will work out the number of names it takes to meet budgeted sales.  If the names are not on the list for this month and the next, the seller is unlikely to meet his/her target sales.  He knows clearly what he has to do to fill the list immediately to meet his budget. Maybe, in a normal month,  the seller will exhaust 6 names on the list to gain the 4 he requires.  These need to be replaced.  They will be replaced by names on the Good Prospect List or from the effort to build this list.  Let’s say he loses 12 good prospects to replace the 6 Hot Prospects he has lost. So the sales task is clear.  The seller has to do enough new calls to feed the Good Prospect List and well as find prospects who will go straight to hot or sold.  In this case he must find 12 new Good Prospects as well as 6 Hot Prospects to feed the order rate. So do the top sellers grow the stick they use to beat their own backs with.  Top sellers have one defining characteristic.  They have discipline, discipline in adhering to the framework of their sale; and discipline in the way they to plan and manage their daily activity.

The third equally important document is the Weekly Customer Contact List.  This will show the breakdown, by number only, of the range of calls he has made in the previous week.  These will be physical face-to-face meetings.  Likely categories are new calls, follow-up calls, demonstrations, customer calls, technical calls and so on.  The key call is the new call. This is the first call to a new or existing customer where new business is discussed for the first time only.  This is a key definition.  New business comes from new calls.  It’s where growth comes from.  The list will form the basis of the conversation between the seller and his manager. After the 3rd week of conversation, it becomes impossible for the seller to perpetuate any ‘white lies’ as to activity. If he/she is spending too much time shooting the breeze in the comfort of customers’ offices, it will be picked up and noticed.   The higher the number of new calls, the more successful the seller.  You should be looking for at least 6 new calls per week.

The final document is the Monthly Expenses Schedule showing expenses spend, with receipts, by day.  It gives important information like where the seller has been, how much time is spent travelling and whether he/she is using expenses to make up short-falls in earnings.  But be generous and open minded. Finance Directors who take off the cost of an umbrella bought to replace one blown away at a meeting causes annoyance for small value; and he can rest assured the charge will appear invisibly somewhere in the future!

You will see, looking at these lists, they are lists the seller should be producing for himself to manage his territory properly.  In conjunction with a diary, they will clearly show whether the territory is being managed well now and in the future. The view should be the seller is running his own business on the territory and needs the support of sales management to facilitate his success.  He/she doesn’t want the feeling of fighting for the company in the field and against the company on return to the office. Clearly, with a manger who is giving him this full support for his activity, he will only too happy to share and discuss the information in the search for different and better ways to close more business. If the manager thinks there are customers he must interfere with, it is better he makes these (few) house accounts and off-territory.







“It makes you want laugh…. & cry”

Selling in a foreign language is never easy, never easy when you have to feel your way through to find the words.  French is no different.  Maybe, like me, you have had French hammered into you for years.  You have an immense vocabulary hidden away somewhere. You can conjugate and decline endlessly. But the words you want just don’t spring to mind when you need them most. So you rely on different devices.  You can say the same thing again, but louder, in the hope that a glimmer of understanding appears on your respondees French face. You can search your memory for synonyms of the word you are seeking, often synonyms with a faintly ancient feel or sound to them, and say these with a heavily French accent.  Many English words ending –ation lend them to frenchific-ation; or you can go to the verb and remove the –r in the hope you find the noun. In this story, this is what I did.

I was running the sales operation for a UK based truck-mounted recovery equipment company.  We had grown rapidly and were setting out to conquer Europe. We were at the Paris Motor Show. We had already just been to the Barcelona Motor Show.  We were exhausted. It was the third week on the trot. Our inner tubes were burnt with orange juice and late eating.  We had had enough. Perhaps we had become flippant.  Humour doesn’t always translate well into different languages either.

Selling car recovery (depannage) equipment in French isn’t the easiest either.  There is no international vocabulary available in this market. There are words like winch (treuil) and bodies which slide back (glisser) to know.  And the French use different concepts to the English in the way they choose words (one French agent suggested it was better to translate the English into Chinese first before finding your way to the French) In English we have the word the word ‘light’ (lumiere). Then we have all the lights: we have traffic light, headlight, rear light, flashing light and so on.  For the French, they have different concepts and words for each – feu rouge, phare yet feu arriere; & rampe.  And so the amateur linguist’s vocabulary must extend with no obvious connects.

So here we are at the Paris Motor Show, Tony the owner and me.  Exhausted.  Slightly bored.  We had to be there.  We were not doing much business.  Our customer group was the French vehicle recovery industry.  They come in two sorts.  Short, fat, bald-headed men, with fingers like sausages and the black, oily grime of years staining under and around their nails, still wearing their blue overalls and their steel toe caps shining from their boots.  Or they are well groomed, with tailored hair, leather jackets and imitation crocodile shoes.  I was in an interesting and interested conversation with one of the latter.  He was accompanied by his overpowdered wife, spreading rather too far into her 40’s for the tight fitting black skirt and jacket she was wearing, dyed hair worn bouffant style to accentuate the height of her 6” stilettos.  She was accompanied by a miniature Yorkie with the liitle bow on her forelock.

My visitor in due course left the stand to look around. The routine of demonstrating the equipment to the ‘tyre kickers’ returned; and so, about a hour later did my friend with the wife and the crocodile shoes.  He looked like an interested buyer for the equipment on the stand. We were interested sellers.  We certainly did not want to take it back to England.  We regreeted one another.  The stand was full of smiles. We talked for a while, the specification, the chassis constraints, and so on.  Then he held his own counsel for a few moments before he asked (in French) ‘What will you give me if I buy one of these?’ This is what is called in selling is called a buying signal.

In the car recovery trade, as you can imagine, conversations can become very basic.  All men together kind of stuff. So I launched myself on to a humorous, sale closing response.  What I tried to say, when translated into English, was ‘I will give you a discount of 20% and maybe even a kiss’.  But, sad to say, in my French it didn’t work out quite this way –

‘Je vous donnerez un remise (discount) de vingt (20) percent et meme peutetre un…’kiss. What is kiss in French?  Baiser to kiss. Take off the –r. Baise.  That’ll be it …et meme peutetre un baise.’

With these words, his femme (wife) swung round on her 6” stilettos and was gone. He lent forward, looked me hard in the eye and was gone too.  Not a single word. Never to be seen again.

That evening I phoned my Belgian agent, Michel a Walloon.  I explained what had happened. He laughed. ‘You didn’t say what you intended, Philippe’.  ‘What did I say, Michel?’ ‘You said you would give him a 20% discount and, how do you say it, sex.’  ‘Does the word you’re hesitating to say begin with an  -f, Michel.  ‘Yes, Philippe. It does.’  ‘Oh dear’.

Well.  Let’s face it.  I didn’t take the order this time but I did learn a bit more French.




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.



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


Management Consultancies love to capture the import of what they do in a single word or phrase.  They hold internal brain crunching sessions to find their way to the real ‘meaning’ of their consulting practice; and then to find the word or phrase that captures it.  Usually it has something to do with the wondrous depth of their analysis.  As with most internally generated ‘buzz words’, they mean more to the Consultants than to their client audience who, of course, were not part of the originating meeting.  Nor is any attempt made to adapt the concept for the listening ear.  Silence and misunderstanding are the usual outcomes, in this case sheer, unbridled amazement if not horror.

This story concerns a consultancy based on the South Coast of the UK.  They too thought their analysis was primus inter pares. Rather like an MRI scan, it revealed all, every detail including the unexpected.  That’s what they did.  They revealed all.  A bit like opening your dressing gown; or your kimono.  That’s it.  We open the client’s kimono for him to reveal all, all he needs to know to fully understand the length and depth of the issues facing him.

I again ran the sales operation for this consultancy.  It was a pleasure because the consultants really did deliver on time the project benefits and more.  On this particular day, we were visiting a small, medical equipment company situated in what are known as the Home Counties near to London.  We thought we were in with a good chance here.  We had already met with the Managing Director and he was interested in what we could do for him.  This meeting was with his Operations Director within whose responsibilities the hoped for project would take place.

We arrived in reception full of hope.  My colleague was a gruff, tough talking Scot, the type you would want to scrap with in the Gorbals. Let’s call him Hugh. He was one of our Directors.

The Operations Director turned out to be a woman.  She spoke aesthetically, sharply and directly.  Middle aged, pale and severe in appearance, the first impression was, if she hadn’t been an Operations Director, she would have been a nun.

The meeting went very well (though I say so myself).  We reprised the ground covered with the Managing Director and identified the areas he felt would benefit from our intervention. We sought her opinion and what she would like to achieve.  We discussed likely cost benefit outcomes and timescales.  She was clearly very interested.  The next step was the next step. How should we bring the programme together? Her thin, lined face was framed in fair, greying hair which accentuated the severe line of her chin and the paleness of her cheekss.  She smiled.  “Tell me” she said, “describe for me in one sentence the essence of what you can do for us?”

This was clearly Hugh’s moment.  He had been silent far longer than he would have chosen.  His face lit up.  He had just the line for her. “We will help you to open your kimono” he said.

For me the pale image of an aging nun standing there, rudely awakened from her slumbers and naked except for her kimono which was open, sprang immediately to the mind’s eye.  But I shall never be able to describe adequately the look on her face. Disbelief was soon replaced by a stoney stare. For her, humour had no part to play in such innuendo, sexual or not…  Clearly the last thing she wanted was to open her kimono publically.  In particular she did not want Hugh’s help to open her kimono.  That was it.  In a nutshell.

I tried desperately to return to the previous ground we had covered, to happier times.  She was just not interested.  The door was closed.

As we took the long road home, Hugh was unrepentant to the end.  Something like “Silly cow.  I wouldn’t have given her one even if she had begged for it”.

Another one for the history books.




“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.