"But isn't selling a dirty word?" Any of you who've done any sales training will know that the golden rule is you can't sell to anyone unless they have a need; and that the key to successful sales is to prove to your target that your offering is the best way to meet that need. And in a market where repeat business and long term relationships with clients is the aim, (ie swathes of the professional services market), swizzing customers that you're the best when you're clearly not won't get you very far. So if you don't believe you're the best solution for a client, don't pitch to them; turn the business away. And maybe improve your targetting so the next prospect you're in front of is someone who definitely will benefit from what you have to offer.
Ok. I'll climb down from my soapbox now! I do sometimes get a little bit evangelical about this, I know - but I have very strong views! So imagine my delight being introduced to David Tovey, Chairman of Principled Group which includes Questas Consulting, the business growth and sales consultancy and Valuable Content Ltd, the content marketing specialists. David has devoted his professional life to coaching and training people in "principled selling". David is a seasoned professional services marketeer, having worked at PACE Partners for some 12 years, latterly as managing Director of the international business. He is shortly to publish a book entitled "Principled Selling - How to Win Business Without Selling Your Soul", published by Kogan Page.
Over a very pleasant lunch we discussed the "crisis of trust" in the business world - how the phone-hacking, MP's expenses and Libor scandals, and the banking crisis generally, have shown the cracks, (and in some cases gaping holes), in the pillars of our establishment. Our perception of our financial and political systems, and the integrity of media, will never be the same.
"There is a global crisis of trust and increased level of cynicism never before experienced." David tells me. He doesn't pull his punches. "This crisis of trust is making it harder than ever before for salespeople to win clients over in today's cynical world. But this creates an opportunity too: if you can set yourself apart as a person to be trusted, you will have clients coming back to you for more. You will have improved client retention, more repeat business, expanded business from existing clients and you'll benefit from increased recommendations by clients to others - a sustainable and profitable way to develop business. Being a trusted advisor can give you a distinct point of difference from competitors too."
I also love the emphasis David puts on "listening" in the sales process: "The assumption is that an archetypal will be very good at talking, ie will have "the gift of the gab", and possibly be quite self-centred, even cocky. In fact arguably the more important skill-set in the sales environment is the ability to listen and to empathise with others. "Principled selling" means developing a deep understanding of what your client really needs and the particular context in which they will be employing whatever it is they're buying. The best (and most successful) salespeople recognise this and will work with this in mind. It's about being focussed on the person you're talking to and their interests more than your own. And in any event, a salesperson who does all the talking and doesn't listen comes across as having their own self-interest at heart, which actually makes it harder to win a client's trust - making the sales job harder, not easier.
So selling is all about being interested in others, about deep empathy and building trust." Well, these are most definitely not dirty words.
Click here to pre-order your copy of Principled Selling from Amazon.
The highlight this week of course was the public outcry against Royal Mail for their plan not to honour Paralympic gold medallists individually with their own stamp in the same way they did for the Olympians - and the company's subsequent u-turn.
Great we all got so stirred up about this! It will be the first time ever any host country has issued gold medal stamps for its Paralympians. Shocking when you think of the inequality over all those years. But a real positive that we've finally come to a time when we just won't stand for treating people as second class citizens.
Learned more about the "burgeoning Scandinavian comedy scene" from this year's Edinburgh Fringe. Have to confess I didn't know there was such a scene, let alone that it was burgeoning. In recent years we have become quite used seeing Scandinavian thrillers in our bestsellers and awards lists for book, TV and film, thanks to Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy and Henning Mankell's Wallander. It has been said that the Scandinavians' rise in popular culture is having a positive knock-on effect for Scandinavian brands in the UK. And now we appear to be witnessing their expansion and diversification into different media.
Names to watch are Daniel Simonsen, Magnus Betner and Carl-Einar Hackner. A range of styles here, from Simonsen's comedy of social akwardness and failure ("it's always good for comedy when your life sucks"), Betner's dark humour that wouldn't be out of place in a Larsson thriller and Carl-Einar Hackner's ridiculous vaudevillian buffoonery complete with spangly Abba jumpsuit costume.
At the time of posting videos of their 2012 Fringe performances are not yet up on youTube, but chek out this delicious clip of Hackner's flat-pack Ikea-style collapsing guitar. Enjoy!