Why we are all in sales

Sales is the most crucial part of any business, according to Kordia's sales and marketing director Drew Gilpin. We should all know how to do it – properly. Oh, and it’s about listening, not talking.

Drew Gilpin dropped out of uni when he was 19 and started selling Canon typewriters (remember typewriters?). He found himself with a company car, free fuel, and a job he relished. More than 20 years later, Gilpin is director of sales and marketing for 1000-person, $300-million turnover, state-owned telecommunications company Kordia and he’s still passionate about sales – to the extent he believes a big part of New Zealand’s inability to monetise its innovation is about the fact we don't know how to sell.

Here are Gilpin's five surprising sales secrets

Sales is a profession. Learn how to do it right

When I first started selling, I was shocking, but Canon sent me on a sales training course, which gave me formal training. For example, I learnt about the four social styles – something that is critical for sales.

Because sales is often not seen as a profession, many smaller companies don’t give formal training. But a few thousand dollars for sales training is a small price to pay. SMEs shouldn’t be thinking they can’t afford to provide training, they should be thinking they can’t afford not to.

And the results are trackable. You should see the impact immediately.

The other mistake companies make is seeing an investment in sales training as a one-hit. Every other profession has an ongoing certification process. So should sales. Choose a sales training programme and apply it consistently for 10 years.

To get the best sales people, you need to pay them well

Once you see sales as a profession, you need to pay accordingly. Good sales people are hard to find, so you need to pay commission on time and willingly. Anecdotal evidence is that with some of the bigger deals in our industry, commission is negotiable. Also, if a sales person is earning too much, some companies will try to change the commission structure. At Kordia, when they are successful, our sales people are earning good money.

We are all sales people (or we should be)

I don’t just put sales staff through the sales training process – I do it for all customer-facing staff. Your reception staff – they are sales people. Your project manager, who has to present a solution to a customer (and persuade them to believe her and give your company lots of money) – that’s a sales role. A project manager who has to present a delay that’s the customer’s fault and get the customer to accept that – again, that’s selling. 

Then there’s your accounts team – perhaps some of the most important sales people in the business. At Aldridge Punter Ltd [the loss-making software company Gilpin and Lincoln Watson bought from Advantage Group, turned around, and sold four years later] we got our debtors down from 60 days to less than 30 because our accounts receivable person was a great sales person. She had her “customers” and she formed personal relationships with them and understood how to deal with them.

If you haven’t received formal sales training, you are surprised by unreasonable people. But training gives everyone a common language about engaging with customers, or dealing with conflict, or negotiations.

Shut the hell up and listen

Lots of people think if you have the gift of gab you are a good sales person. That’s completely wrong. Sales is about the ability to listen – and that’s often a skill sales people lack.

Stephen Covey (of The seven habits of highly effective people fame) said the first thing was to really listen, then you can diagnose the situation, and then communicate your solution to others.

If you aren’t listening, you aren’t really hearing what the customer needs. You are just giving your opinion, not finding a solution to their wants and needs.

Sell the need, not the feature

When you are selling, it’s rarely about some whizz-bang feature of your product. You might be selling the need to look good in front of your staff, or the desire to improve business performance, or even wanting to sleep better at night. That’s not coming out of a brochure.