Continuing his start-up journey, this month Dickie
Wilkinson comes to terms with selling.
Sales. Selling. Salesmen. All are dirty words in my book. I am
sure we all recognise the shiny-suited, gel-haired youth who gives
the hard sell on some gadget or gizmo that does everything but the
function you require. Likewise, we pity the fraying cuffs and
stained tie of the middle aged sales manager desperate for the
commission to enable him to keep up his maintenance payments.
In short we have all probably been sold a pup, a dud, a lemon.
We bridle at our gullibility and vow never to trust a salesperson
Recently, as I left my favourite shoe shop with two pairs of
shoes, the assistant having kindly pointed out the subtle
differences of the black leather and the tiny detailing making them
very different pairs indeed, I pondered on the conversation I had
with the assistant, glad to have shared an intimate exchange on our
passion for well-made shoes. I returned home laden down with bags
but happy to have avoided any smarmy salesmen or overly
enthusiastic saleswomen and I felt satisfied that I had not
succumbed to the temptation of consumerism.
Later that afternoon I changed into a simple grey flannel suit,
hailed a hansom and ventured forth to the latest Doug Richard's; School for Creative Start-ups
talk to be given by James Dening of Finesight
Ltd. The biography accompanying the event details told me that
he was previously head of sales for Amazon UK and was a specialist
in training for salesmanship. I checked the windows of the cab for
gaps as a cold chill ran through me.
James had neither slicked back hair nor a stained tie. With his
rolled up shirt-sleeves revealing brawny arms, his casual jeans and
ruddy complexion, he appeared less salesman fodder and more
landscape gardener. Indeed I believe the working title of his talk
was 'How to Sell S**t' and certainly he came across as a man who is
not afraid of getting his hands dirty. However in the actual
presentation he titled his talk 'How to Sell Stuff'.
His enthusiasm bloomed as he encouraged us to use techniques
such as asking open-ended questions when dealing with customers to
help ascertain their needs. James also pointed out the use of
silence during negotiations to secure a better deal, something I
myself have never been good at, my constant need for verbosity
being a particular achilles heel.
I realised with a horror akin to facing one's portrait in the
attic that what I had believed to be eloquence and charm towards my
customers was in fact a hard sell no better than that of a snake
oil seller. I glanced down at my trousers expecting my face to be
reflected in their shininess. Thankfully the matte grey flannel
reflected nothing and I turned my attention back to James.
He was now explaining the life cycle of a customer from lead to
actual purchase. Not unlike the tending of a mature garden,
customers need to be nourished and will require cultivating at
A good salesman, like a good gardener, recognises the need for
preparation. Knowing your product and its USP, your market and the
channels to it could all be compared to a horticulturalist knowing
the lay of the land, the seasonal changes or spotting the summer
fruit full of juice and just ripe for plucking. James himself was
bursting with ideas, suggesting one writes down 'disruptive ideas',
the things that 'will never work' or 'will cost a million' to see
if they could actually be acted upon.
However it must be pointed out that James' green fingers comes
from handling dollars rather than daffodils and I'm afraid his
'disruptive idea for Dickie Wilkinson' rather clashed with my brand
identity such as it is. Snobbish on my partm perhaps, and certainly
those rare orchids among us who allow creative integrity to
overshadow our budding business are somewhat prone to never fully
So, have I sold more products since attending James' talk?
Well, yes and no. I must confess to having shied away from doing my
operational plan, listing the number of leads and sales I will need
per month, as I know that the figures are worryingly high. On the
flip side I have used his techniques to directly sell to customers
and his insight into the customer cycle have increased my
confidence in approaching stores. More importantly, I now recognise
that sales is not an insidious weed that suffocates all creative
Indeed it is the only thing that will make my business blossom
and that brings us back to James's original title: How to Sell
S**t. Definitely a more fragrant and fertile description than the
arid 'How to Sell Stuff'. I suspect had James Dening been a
Yorkshire man he would have called it; 'Where there's muck there's
To find out more about Dickie click here, www.dickiesays.co.uk.
To see his designs click here, http://www.dickiesays.co.uk.
To see more about School for Creative Start-ups click here, http://www.schoolforstartups.co.uk/creative.