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 again.
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 different times.
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 blooming.
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 growth.
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 brass'.
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.