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How to be great at the stuff you hate

By Nick Davies

In recent years, especially in the sanctified world of mortgage advice, the term salesperson has been much maligned.

In 2009 Michael Coogan, the former director-general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, irked mortgage brokers when he accused them of acting “more like sales people interested in cashflow rather than the customer’s interests”.

But as Nick Davies points out in How to be great at the stuff you hate, if you look around your home or office, every object has been sold by someone, somewhere, to someone else.

Selling is how companies hit their bottom line and keep their employees in work. It has a positive role in society.
But many people have negative feelings about sales people. Davies describes how when he gives sales technique talks, he asks what the first words are that come to mind when they hear the term sales or sales rep.

’Smooth (not in a good way)’, ’doesn’t listen’, ’dodgy’ and ’making you buy something you don’t want’ are some of the most popular responses.

But these are all examples of bad salesmanship. When Davies asks the same people for words to describe a good salesperson, ’polite’, ’knew their stuff’ and ’able to give advice’ are the top terms.

It confirms the mantra often cited as the secret to selling – find out what someone wants and give it to them.

Davies’ book then serves as a guide for people who haven’t necessarily had to sell anything. They might be great at making bread, or coffee, or painting, but the business of actually selling what they do is a foreign country.

The same applies to mortgages. While Coogan’s comment was criticised, many brokers said they were were proud to be described as sales people.

Selling mortgages, especially in the boom period of the past decade, was relatively easy. People wanted a home or a remortgage and for many, brokers helped them get what they wanted at the best price.

Then, peripheral products such as protection or general insurance, the hard stuff that consumers might not want but actually needed, were not touched on because they were hard to sell.

Davies’ book functions as an excellent guide to the dark arts of selling. He deals with everything from making an initial connection to networking, following up leads and initial meetings.

The section on dealing with objections is particularly illuminating, as is Davies’ advice on the importance of small talk in putting people at ease.

Davies recounts meeting the head of a national law firm at a conference, where they started talking about films and then shoes and clothing.

Some 20 minutes had gone by when Davies explained that he was actually at the conference to talk about the importance of such chitchat.

This prompts him to mention in the book that small talk had invariably won him work, rather than his technical ability as a lawyer.

“I have won clients because I play tennis, because I have an interest in men’s fashion and because I have a house in the South of France, but never solely on my knowledge of the law,” he comments.

It’s vignettes like this that make the book, and for those still reluctant to call themselves salespeople, or conduct anything that feels like an over-sale, this is a good place to start.

Review by Robert Thickett

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