Asking isn’t being pushy. Especially if you’ve done a good job and it is the next logical step
As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fred Copestake, an author and founder of Brindis a sales training consultancy. Over the last 22 years he has travelled round the world 14 times visiting 36 countries and worked with over 10,000 salespeople. He has taken things that really make a difference in modern selling and put these in his book ‘Selling Through Partnering Skills’. These ideas form the basis of his work with sales professionals to develop their approach and ensure it is up to date and has maximum impact.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
My first job was in sales when I was eight years old. It was working for the family business at the Boxing Day sale. That’s the day after Christmas here in the UK, and I was allowed to go and ‘help’ them. I was kitted out in this massive orange polo shirt and big brown warehouse coat stood in the tile store helping people make their selections. Basically I thought it was really good fun.
I did lots of other small jobs like that as I was growing up and ultimately went to the University of Birmingham where I studied Commerce and Spanish. From there, I went and worked for an organization in a variety of roles from sales, into marketing as product manager, and eventually as a business development manager, travelling around Western Europe helping our distributors and our subsidiaries sell more.
I enjoyed the commercial aspect of that, but really liked the training element which encouraged me to go and get a job with a sales training company. I was a full-time trainer with them and lager had the offer to plan and implement a sales academy, which was the opportunity to start Brindis.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I ran the academy for Corona Extra, which involved flying round Europe helping teams to understand how to sell Mexican beer. Now that was a lot of fun. Particularly when you looked at the training curriculum, which would often involve us taking the participants out and showing them some of the promotions we were talking about in the training. As you can imagine there were some quite amusing things that happened then, but probably not appropriate to share.
Throughout my career, I’ve travelled quite extensively and with travel there are often good stories. I don’t know if it’s amusing, but once I was travelling from Sao Paulo in Brazil to Bogota, Colombia. I turned up to the airport in plenty of time, all good to go and found out I need a yellow fever certificate to make that flight. I actually had one but it wasn’t with me and they wouldn’t accept a copy or a picture. So to cut a long story short, I had to go via Chile. It’s place I’ve always wanted to visit, just not under those circumstances, adding an extra eight hours to the trip and only actually being in the country for an hour. Basically I had to walked out of the airport and then straight back in.
I guess the moral of the story is planning. Do your research and work out what it is that you need to do to achieve you goal. The analogy of a well planned journey works on many levels.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m actually writing my second book at the moment. It’s about Hybrid Selling.
Sales is always evolving and we’re experiencing more change than ever before at the moment.
It will help people because it’s going to give them a framework to develop a complete approach, It is intended to be a guide on how a modern salesperson needs to go about their role now and in the future.
They need to understand the different elements of a solid foundation in sales. They need to build on how they’re going to sell using virtual sales, video sales and social sales techniques. They need to know to manage specific opportunities more effectively and drive projects to win business by showing how they can add value to customers. They need to essentially lead customers by guiding them through their own buying process. They need to be able to expand and develop business with customers
There are lots of elements, that a modern salesperson needs to be competent in. I think that is going to be the way that sales will evolve, so I want to share the framework and ideas salespeople can use to do this practically and stay relevant.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The person that springs to mind would be a man called Alan Link. He gave me the first real opportunity as he essentially gave me my first real job.
The story behind it is that I actually hadn’t applied for anything while I was at university. I was having too much fun. But one day I was in a rugby club and I was talking to a guy after the game, having a beer, and he asked me a of questions about what I was doing. I answered and all was good.
A couple of days later, I got a phone call from my father who Alan knew and had got in touch with to say that he wanted to speak because his company had a project that was ideal for me. The company was launching a product in Spain. They wanted someone who had a grasp of marketing and spoke Spanish.
He gave me the first opportunity in that first job and also as the organization was expanding a wider international business development role was creted and he took a chance by giving me that rather than the person most people thought would get it. I owe a lot to him for being in the position that I am now and sadly he is no longer with us for me share my thanks.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I have been in the very fortunate position to work with lots of salespeople in different industries and different countries. That’s given me opportunity to identify the challenges that they face. Many are the same and can be summarized very broadly in three types, which I call ‘Busy, Busy, Busy’, ‘Olde Worlde’ and ‘Muddled Mindset’.
Busy, Busy, Busy is when salespeople are rushing around being incredibly active, doing lots of stuff, but the stuff they’re doing is ineffective. It is stressful and tiring. And because the salesperson is trying to do too much too quickly it can start to feel ‘salesy’ for the customer.
Olde Worlde is a challenge salespeople have when they’re stuck in the past. They’re doing things that don’t work anymore. And because they’re doing this, again they’re not being effective, they’re not getting results. Potentially they’re also annoying customers by being ‘salesy’.
Muddled Mindset occurs as salespeople sometimes aren’t sure what it is they’re actually trying to do. This often comes from an organizational level. They profess to be consultative, talk about being ‘solution salespeople’ and they may well act accordingly. That is until we get near the end of the month or end of the quarter and pressured to sell transactionally to get deals done. This is a change from a customer focus to one of themselves. The poor salesperson doesn’t really know what’s going on and nor does the customer who then reacts against this ‘salesy’ approach.
I’ve identified these challenges and then taken my experience and my own research and understanding of sales to establish ways in which they can overcome them. That’s the premise of my first book ‘Selling Through Partnering Skills’ and what I base my training around to share with salespeople who want a more modern, customer centric approach.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?
Don’t start me on this, it is something I feel really strongly about it!
It frustrates me that this is case. It is why I give some my time to the Student Sales Academy, which is something I’m running in conjunction with Nottingham Trent University. We help prepare students, even those not studying business degrees, that aren’t being developed in this area.
The premise is that ‘sales skills are life skills’ and they absolutely are. If we’re talking about influencing or persuading or motivating someone to do something, then everybody will need to do that in some way shape or form at some time. Even if they not going into a business,
As I feel so strongly about why these skills are not trained I am constantly trying to understand why. Maybe it’s not considered academic enough. This is crazy when you consider the amount of time and effort and research put into what really works in sales and make it more effective in the ‘real world’. I have seen a number of 4 billion dollars put on the size of the sales training market. So clearly there is a need for it
Maybe it is that sales is considered a bit sleazy. If that is the case don’t we ten want to train people so they understand what it really entail? It’s not like we’re stuck in the 1980’s or even back to the 1890s and the era of the snake oil seller. We can share best practice and break this perception
So why aren’t we educating people in it? Maybe it’s too difficult. Sales can be complex. Yet there are some basics. And really that is what we should be training people in — the basics of communication and influence. As people develop a career in sales then we can move into more sophisticated thinking and that’s where professional development takes place. But at a fundamental level everyone lives by selling something so we should help them do it better.
Maybe then it’s just too hard to do for the people currently in those education roles. In marketing for example, it can be broken down into the four Ps (that what is was when I was at uni, I believe there are nine P’s now) or the specialisms like digital, B2C or whatever. That gives a neat framework to teach it. Maybe people just find it too hard to do that for the sales. Yet I don’t think there is a lack of people who understand selling and that can simplify it. They are just not being used
I’m doing my bit to try and overcome some of that.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?
I haven’t got a problem with salespeople being pushy if it’s done with the right intent. It’s not a bad thing to be pushy.
Why do I say that?
Making decisions is hard. So sometimes as a salesperson, we need to push a little. Encourage assist, guide, lead, whatever word you want to use, for the sake of the customer. That’s the important part. It’s about the intent of why somebody is being pushy.
Now a good salesperson should have a good relationship with a customer. They will know why it’s happening. They’ll understand that they’re being pushed for their own good. They may know i’s actually something that the salesperson is probably finding as difficult as they are, but recognise it is where they can add value.
So, salespeople should be salesy — it is their job. If people understood better why they’re doing it, life would be easier. (And it is the salesperson responsibility to educate customers about this)
Now if we’re using ‘salesy’ as a bit of a derogatory word in that some selling can be manipulative and uses poor tactics, then that is a bad thing. Unfortunately, some people do still do that, which is a shame as it tarnishes the profession. This is the sort of thing that needs stamping out. Also, as with all jobs some people just aren’t very good at it as they don’t understand how to do it properly. Again we should try to remedy this.
For me, sales is all about collaboration and if we make it very clear that is what we’re trying to do as a professional salesperson or anybody in a customer facing role, then how we do that becomes far easier.
The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?
I wouldn’t pick one. I don’t think you can pick one. I don’t think it makes any sense to pick just one.
I think it needs an holistic approach. I’ve already alluded to that with my comment on collaboration and that we need to be more collaborative in how we sell. If we do all of these things with a collaborative mindset, that’s the ‘secret sauce’ and that’s how salespeople can be successful and how they don’t come across as salesy.
The way that I help people get their heads around this and do practical things to collaborate better is by understanding PQ or ‘partnering intelligence’. This is what makes up partnering skills.
It is a concept that Steve Dent developed from his research in the late eighties when he was looking at bigger, broader the collaborations (imagine when the airlines started their alliances). What he found is that ‘organisations don’t partner, people do’ and he looked at the skills that the people who partner better have.
These were then validated and verified. So PQ is like IQ or EQ in that it is something that we can measure. He identified six elements of PQ:
It involves trust. It makes sense for any salesperson to build that with customers as it is the basis for communication and relationships.
It involves having a win-win focus. Looking for mutually beneficial outcomes.
It involves being interdependent. Understanding that one’s own success is based on other people’s (the customer’s) success’
Another of the elements is transparency. So giving information about yourself and also giving feedback to customers and to people you’re working with about what they’re doing (or not) and how it allects the relationship.
People high in PQ will be comfortable with change. Now, salespeople are change agents which will often mean want to get people to do things differently. Therefor they need to understand and be comfortable with it themselves.
It involves a future orientation. Working towards a shared goal and vision andmaking decisions based on that.
I think if we integrate this thinking into every part of the sales cycle, everything is developed and can be delivered far more effectively.
Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Share information. I try to share great information and try to be generous with it. It’s about bringing customers onto you rather than forcing yourself on them. That’s how I see it.
Personally, I like to use a ‘scorecard’ or a series of questions which customers can use to assess where they are with certain things. For example. this could be how effective they currently are at collaborative selling. Then the information that I can then provide is based on their responses and it can be immediately useful to them. They can start to warm to what it is that I can do for them.
I can also use that information to see who’s the best fit for working with me. Not everyone is going to be and I’m comfortable with that. I want to have meaningful conversations with the right people based on the information they have provided so I know what we talk about is going to be relevant. That’s how I work, and I think many companies can use a similar approach.
Put useful and insightful information out there to make customers want to work with you. Capture some information about them while still giving them even more useful material. Then have far warmer conversations rather than playing the pure numbers game, which in my opinion, just doesn’t really work anymore.
In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
Stop calling it ‘handling objections’ for start.
That would be my first piece of advice as that that doesn’t really help. It gets the psychology wrong as we come to think of objection as something that we try to handle in a mechanistic way. We try to bat answers back at people.
I like the idea instead that we want to treat ‘concerns with concern’. That’s really what an objection is. It’s usually more of a concern than something a customer totally disagrees with. Perhaps they haven’t understood something, they want more information. And so if we can recognise that’s what is actually going on we treat things in a different, calmer and more controlled way.
We can understand all the things that are not quite sure about. So rather than trying to throw answers straight back, we can ask ‘What else do you need to know? What more do you need? Anything else you are unsure about?’. Then deal with those effectively.
It’s not the 1980s anymore where selling could turn into something of an arm wrestle where we’re trying to manipulate people and prove ourselves. Making it a battle of wills. We don’t want to work like that today. We want to have people feeling comfortable, feeling safe, with a desire to work with us.
If we’re experiencing lots of objections, concerns, issues, (whatever you want to call them), it’s probably because we’re not selling correctly. It is likely the earlier parts of the sales process haven’t been done effectively and people aren’t ready to move ahead.
So ‘sell better’ is probably the main piece of advice and then get the mentality and psychology right to deal with the latter parts of the sale.
‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.
Asking isn’t being pushy. Especially if you’ve done a good job and it is the next logical step.
Again, I would suggest a change of language. ‘Closing’ feels quite final. It’s like you close the door. It’s finished. If we change the language to ‘gain commitment’ to the next logical step I think that immediately starts to help with the mindset
Therefore, I don’t think we need five closing techniques. Again, it’s using selling form the ’80s. Learning The Ben Franklin, The Boomerang, The Sharp Angle, The Puppy Dog, and other canned techniques are a bit old fashioned and that is what makes things feel ‘salesy’.
However, it is about asking the right question. If you’re getting the mindset right, I believe this is based in people recognising that we want to work together. We want to collaborate. There’s something in it for both of us. It’s then about making the advancements to the next logical step to get us to the point that we can both benefit.
I came across a great way of doing this. James Muir covers this in his book the Perfect Close. He’s understood how to do this based on research and hard data. The way to ask the question is, (I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing this). ‘Does it make sense for us to…?’ where you add the next logical step
It’s interesting because you get a yes or no answer. If it Yes then ‘Brilliant, let’s move on’. If it is No then ‘Okay. What do you think is the next step?. It’s really, very clever and he explains the science behind it in his book.
So I think we need to focus on one main thing and that is ask the question. But do it well having established that is the point that we are genuinely at having sold well prior to that.
Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?
Again, perhaps a slightly different answer, but I would say ‘qualify out’.
By that what I mean is that many ‘leads’ aren’t actually real ‘opportunities’. We get this lead and we think, ‘Oh yeah, this is brilliant. This is someone I might be able to make a sale to’, but we need to ask if that is really going to happen. If it’s not the right fit, if it’s not the right match, it’s unlikely to happen.
Yet people keep these in the mix as it makes the pipeline brilliant. They feel good about all the sales that can potentially make. But it is false. So we need to be very strict on defining what is a great opportunity. Then when something comes along, we can compare it to that.
This is about deciding this is the kind of things we should invest our time and effort in. The ones it is worth getting involved in. If it’s not looking like the right kind thing we should be working on, then get rid of it, as it’s not going to turn into that. You’re going to waste time and effort otherwise.
When we do that early we get to the point that we’re moving opportunities forward naturally, the follow-up just kind of happens because we’re working with people who want to work with us. We’re going to make a difference and it just make sense to continue. So it really does it starts at the very beginning.
So, qualify out is the best piece of advice I would give to make following up more effective.
As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?
I wouldn’t avoid any of them personally. All are valid, but it depends on the person that you’re working with. It depends on the circumstances. It depends at the stage of the sale.
The sales skill is picking the right way to communicate with somebody. Just as if we’re face-to-face when we should be conscious about how we behave to do things which fits best with them as an individual. We need to be good at adapting to their personal style.
So, I think all those media are valid. If that’s what the customer wants to do, great. If they don’t like a particular form of communication then don’t use it. It is important though not to make the decision based on what we like or what is most convenient for us.
One thing I would say that is worth looking at is video messaging. So rather than video calls, which is ‘in time’ or synchronous, I’m talking about asynchronous communication.
Basically it’s recording a video and sending it. This is a powerful way to work. It’s really taking off. It helps us get the message in quite a clear way across to people. It’s an interesting way and is still quite a little bit different.
One of the reasons it works well is that we can tap into emotion more effectively. It’s a real person speaking and we can add emphasis where required. This makes it more interesting for people to share, so they can pass the video on to other people involved. We’re bringing that personal element into play and connecting as an individual to more people.
Some people think that technology has taken away the personal element. I think it’s the opposite. I think we can ‘augment the human’. We can make sure that we put ourselves in front of more customers, more often, using the tools available to us well.
Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Partnering skills — Understand you PQ and use you partnering intelligence. And I’m not just talking for selling. I’m talking in general.
If we think of these things as a means for better collaboration, then we can work on them so we can work together better. And that would be a great thing.
I use them with salespeople to get better at working with customers. And if they can do that better happy days.
But it can go way beyond that. Organizations can use them internally, so their people collaborate better. People partnering with their colleagues on projects and initiatives. Working together better. Imagine if we can generate this mindset so that we come together more effectively and as a result we can achieve so much more. That could really make a difference.
That is the movement that I would want to champion — get people thinking more about partnering and deliberately using partnering skills to work together better.
How can our readers follow you online?
LinkedIn would be the best place find me as I’m pretty active on there.
I’ve got various websites, a company website, a personal website, a book website, and all the social media as @fredcopestake. It goes with the job, and I believe in sharing information. If you go to LinkedIn, that’s the best starting place .
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!