How to succeed in sales


Mention “sales and marketing” around any water-cooler and step back. The response is inevitably as immediate and violent as dropping a “thunder-flash” and the fallout lingers about as long as the cordite used to. No one is neutral on that combination, and here we are not looking at the more academic version of marketing.

Of course, sales and marketing are at the core of our capitalist system. Depending on who you talk to in any organisation (and that is irrespective of where they fit in that pecking order) you get two very black-‘n-white responses: our hard-working standard-bearers pedalling hard to keep us afloat; or the lazy layabouts, who are never around other than to claim expenses and give lame excuses for not being up-to-date with their admin.

Here, NZBusiness gathers the thoughts of four top New Zealand sales trainers with well over 100 years of top-level experience in a wide variety of fields. Significantly they all apply that knowledge, proven techniques and insights gained over the years and to a wide range of industries in their working lives, on a daily basis.

Jean Barr is Top Achievers Sales Training – although her card simply says: director. She’s been there, done that and, as she says, tossed the T-shirt. A firm believer that four hours is about the maximum time anyone can spend taking in new information, she restricts her training sessions accordingly and focuses on follow-up and monitoring of the retention of information and the translation of words into active successes.

“SMEs are my particular baby,” she notes. “Sales are the very backbone of all and any business. If you don’t have sales, you don’t have a business. If you don’t have transactions, you and your business will not survive.

“To be successful in sales you have to have a great attitude, be passionate about what you do, have fun and use every failure as a learning tool. You must have the ability to handle defeats and setbacks and bounce back as quickly as possible. You have to, really have to, believe in yourself, your goals and be determined to achieve them.”

Richard Gee, with his constant admonition to “Go out there and enjoy yourself”, has been a major presence in “the sales and marketing game” in New Zealand for just over 25 years. He lives what he preaches; reacting to opportunity in a nanosecond, offering something tailored to your specific need and makes sure you have appreciated his understanding of that need.

Gee is sales and marketing personified. Oh, and he has the full range of DVDs, the web, books and other aids available online, just in case you might think he’s a one-trick pony.

“If we accept that marketing finds the segment of customers we know we want to reach; advertising communicates our targeted messages of how and why to make contact; then the sales role of ‘face-to-face’ contact is the most important, as it completes the picture and brings in the necessary revenue,” he says.

Gee believes fervently in the value of face-to-face; listening and learning about the customer’s needs; and follow-up. It continues to work for him, no question.

Of course, face to face doesn’t mean ‘in your face’. Doug Robertson is proof that you don’t have to be loud, verbal and in-your-face to succeed at the highest level in sales and marketing. His gentle Edinburgh burr quietly wins you over with the distilled wisdom of having started life as a graphic designer (more on creativity later), emigrating to New Zealand in 1968 and a career which has seen him hold positions of national sales manager, marketing, advertising and sales promotion for a number of New Zealand and multinational corporations.

His calm manner in an often turbulent business niche has made him a great favourite at many university executive development courses.

“In my book, everybody sells: from the cleaner to the CEO, without exception. Remember nothing happens in an organisation until a sale is made.”

Robertson is horrified to hear tales of companies cutting back on training and advertising (in particular) in straightened times.

“Clearly these are people who see these essential business investment practices simply as costs. They simply must not have been through the current market conditions before or, if they have, they’ve forgotten the lessons learnt of who comes out best in the end,” he says with disbelief cloying on every word.

Living treasure or well poisoner?

Steven Saunders, with a doctorate in philosophy, behavioural psychology and self management and a number of successful books, videos and audiotapes like The Psychology of Selling and How to Thrive on Stress, is coach to a number of New Zealand’s top performing executives and sportspeople and nothing like you’d expect from that CV.

He understands all the theories, having developed many of his own, but it is his hard-boiled pragmatism and free-ranging ‘un-PC’ attitude that takes your breath away. His 20/70/10 rule on teams and companies and “why it’s important to get rid of people with negative attitudes” hits you right between the eyes. It’s what we all privately acknowledge but would never say out loud.

“Face facts, 20 percent of all the people in any sales team are the ‘landscapers’ – positive, enthusiastic, big-picture people – optimistic, hard-working, adaptable, etcetera. They are your ‘living treasures’.

“Seventy percent are the ‘lawn mowers’ – honest reliable types. When it comes to change they sit on the fence, unless they are coached and edged and counselled, and all that.

“But ten percent are the ‘well poisoners’. They will undermine management, be negative about everyone and everything, and upset their colleagues and the customers. They don’t fit. So get rid of them,” says Saunders, who believes all managers should handle their people issues at all times and not the HR function – whose role should be restricted to policy-setting and administration.

The best way for ensuring you don’t take in the “well poisoners and other misfits”, he believes, is through having stringent selection criteria at the outset and a mindset which will not tolerate the negative attitudes, which these employee-types exude – even if they are technically ‘star-performers’.

The stringent assessment process is the second “S” in Saunders’ “STEAMS” model organisation. STEAMS stands for Strong leadership (values and people-based); Training and Development; Esprit de corp; Accountability across the company; Motivation (with focus + energy); and the Stringent selection process.

One of his courses at The University of Auckland Business School introduces Betty the Bruiser, Rule Book Rodney, Dianne the Driver, Bart the Bully and others to assist salespeople to understand the reasons people are difficult, including understanding how the brain works and the influence of the sub-conscious mind on behaviour.


“Always give a choice of two options to get a decision, and always ask for that decision. The fundamentals remain the same, but you can never have too much focus.”

The psychologist in Steve Saunders cannot resist. “In tough times, it is those with bags of AQ who make it. You know what IQ is all about and these days most people accept that EQ – your emotional quotient or ability to listen, empathise and assist other people to deal with problems – are good indicators of how successful you are likely to be.

“To that, add AQ, your adversity quotient; your ability, through self-motivation, to endure the longer decision-making cycles and quickly get over the more frequent rejections of your proposals – to solving their problems, and making the sales.”

Saunders believes we all underestimate the power of the mind, citing his own commitment to not miss any of his 200 long-distance training sessions in 26 years, and he has not missed a day’s work through ill-health, in the same period.

“That’s not to say I haven’t had the symptoms; I just haven’t been prepared to let them get me down.”

Jean Barr would strongly agree. She is the great believer in having the right mindset and focusing on “the basics”, using the uncluttered KISS principle. Listen, simplify, communicate and grow the relationship with your customers she says.

She doesn’t do ‘cold calls’; she ‘dials for dollars’. Her mantra is ‘Remember, it is not about you – but what the client needs. Customers don’t care what you know; unless they are convinced you care about them’.

“By re-labelling cold calling, you take some of the fear out of it. But to call properly and with confidence, you need to understand people want to know how you can help them save money, make money, and how you can make them ‘look good’.

“Dialling for dollars, rather than cold calling, is about knowing the fundamentals to make you successful; developing a targeted script; and appreciating the difference between that and a canned speech is critical. Make a list of potential objections as part of the script and find ways to overcome them. Keep the list of objections handy – it will empower you.”

Barr believes it is essential to have a vision, goal, plan and purpose around your sales and your appointments. 

“Do your homework and know why you are going to see the client and what you are going to discuss. This control will give you confidence and enable you to handle the follow-up meeting well.”

If a client doesn’t respond, Barr suggests applying “HEAT” (H – hear the client out; E – empathise; A – act with authority and provide a solution; T – treat the client as you would like to be treated).

The last word comes from Gee: “Training can take many forms; it can be ‘buddy training’ or it could be training seminars or personalised training, on-line learning, attending conferences, even reading. But the most important thing about training is it invites people to re-evaluate where they are, look differently from perhaps sitting in the past or present, and look into the future.”

It sounds as if it could be useful to everyone else too.

Doug Robertson believes that you know you are a successful and strategic salesperson (and remember we are all in “the sales game”) when you’re described by your customer as “an important and unpaid member of (their) staff, because of the advice, knowledge of the market and creativity you provide” them with.

“To bring that off, you need to be focussed on growing their business by adding value, ideas and becoming their expert in your field – not wasting your time on day-dreaming as to how you are going to spend the commission on that one particular sale. Even if you win that, chances are you won’t get the long-term business,” says Robertson.

He warns too that increasingly products are becoming hard to distinguish objectively and service is no longer an ‘added value’; it has moved into the ‘basic box’.

“And no one wants to go down the slippery slope of competing on price. That leaves innovation plus people and relationships,” Robertson says.

Selling in a recession

What about the difficulties of selling in a deep recession? Isn’t that all about hard-sell and cutting corners?

On this Richard Gee is succinct and to-the-point. “Get more face-to-face calls in, focusing even more intently on the decision to be made. Calculate and communicate the effect on the customer of not making a change – the damage of not doing anything.

“By being proactive, rather than reactive in following-up, you have the opportunity to convey to the customer a list of 21 benefits of doing business with you, bearing in mind the Rule of Three Contacts (the necessary minimum) in getting your message across.


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