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James Newell of Clear Sales Message: “Be sure to have talked about the range of your offering”

I don’t think it’s intentional, I think it’s just that sales is viewed as transactional rather than relational. We’ve all been “sold” the wrong imagery when it comes to selling and you only have to run a Google image search for “sales man” or any “sales” term to see the negative stereotypes that persist. From […]

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I don’t think it’s intentional, I think it’s just that sales is viewed as transactional rather than relational. We’ve all been “sold” the wrong imagery when it comes to selling and you only have to run a Google image search for “sales man” or any “sales” term to see the negative stereotypes that persist. From estate agents to car salesmen to the Wolf of Wall Street, there are NO positive role models when it comes to selling.


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 James Newell. James Newell is a sales consultant — he quite simply teaches people how to sell. From creating a Clear Sales Message™ to developing Selling Confidence™, his methodology is not only licensed to educational institutions like UCL, but also used by hundreds of clients and students globally.


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?

Of course! I started my company in 2017 when I wanted to leave my 12-year career in sales. I was outwardly “successful” but felt quite unhappy and unfulfilled and was searching for something that I could be passionate about and devote my life to. I ended up speaking with a “coach” before I really understood what they were or what they did and this person very simply and very quickly came to the conclusion that I DID actually enjoy what I did, it was just working for other people that was stifling me. He concluded that I should “teach people how to sell” and seek to decode my experience and success so that I could teach others. I started that journey in 2017, launched my business full time in 2018 and “the rest is history”.

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?

The biggest lesson happened at the start of my journey and was actually how the business came to be. I didn’t really have a “set plan” as to what I was going to do and, as such, I began by experimenting with some trial clients for free.

I knew I would be helping people to sell more, but wasn’t sure what my actual process and deliverable would look like, so I decided to let the market tell me what it needed.

It was only when I spent time with those first few trial clients and started to explore what they were selling and how, that I realised that people have two main issues when it comes to sales:

Firstly, it can be difficult to actually explain what you do (as flippant as that may sound). Answering common client questions such as “what do you do?” or “How does it work” can lead to incomplete and longwinded answers that leave the buyer feeling unconfident and potentially damage the latter interactions.

Secondly, it became clear that most of the small business owners I worked with had never been taught how to sell and found the whole experience intimidating and unpleasant. Your buyers are looking for confidence, certainty and expertise when they are buying from you and the natural lack of confidence that afflicts most people when it comes to selling is a considerable impediment.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am indeed! I’m currently writing a book entitled “How to name something” which looks at how to name a business, product or service for maximum commercial viability — it’s taken 3 years so far but it’s a labour of love.

The second project which has just launched is a short book entitled “Scared to Sell” which deals head on with the fears and misperceptions that exist around selling. I’ve got enough ideas and things on my wish list to keep me busy for the next 5 years or more I suspect (!).

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?

Absolutely. There are two people:

My wife has been behind me from the very beginning encouraging me to follow my passion and even helping to name the company (she helped me decide on Clear Sales Message). Without her support and love, none of what I do would have been possible.

Tim Dingle is the other person that made everything possible. He helped me understand my skills and to experiment and find product/market fit before I left my career to pursue this as a business. Without Tim I would still be a deeply unhappy, but seemingly “successful” account manager…

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

I’m glad you asked, there’s nothing more frustrating than a self-appointed “expert” or someone with seemingly no credentials.

To start with, I have a £600M 12-year record in sales as an account manager working for Daimler Mercedes-Benz.

I have written 4 books so far on the topic of messaging and selling behaviour, I have 5 online courses, a monthly group training programme and since 2017 have helped 100+ clients to create a Clear Sales Message™ and developing Selling Confidence™.

In addition to that, I license my methodology to UCL for their entrepreneurship incubator and I also work with London & Partners (the Mayor of London’s office). When it comes to “proof” surrounding my consultancy and training, I have 300+ LinkedIn recommendations and 75+ articles on LinkedIn too.

I am always stressing the importance of “social proof” and tangible evidence to my students and like to lead by example.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I was involved in the 2004 Asian Tsunami where I very nearly drowned inside my bungalow and I lost a parent to suicide at age 19 so I am no stranger to anxiety, depression and the importance of talking therapy, medication and support.

I think the real impact of COVID-19 will be the mental health issues it’s brought to many who until this year had no experience of such feelings.

From a personal perspective I advocate speaking to people in your network every day for no reason and with no agenda, other than to make sure they are OK and to gain some human connection. When someone takes the time to check in on you, it makes them feel cared for and important — two very important factors that the isolation and lockdowns have damaged.

From a business perspective, back in March I uploaded a video to YouTube entitled “24 ways to adapt to selling in a crisis” to provide much needed ideas and strategies to help businesses adapt to these unprecedented events. 2020 will certainly be a year to remember…

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?

I don’t think it’s intentional, I think it’s just that sales is viewed as transactional rather than relational. We’ve all been “sold” the wrong imagery when it comes to selling and you only have to run a Google image search for “sales man” or any “sales” term to see the negative stereotypes that persist. From estate agents to car salesmen to the Wolf of Wall Street, there are NO positive role models when it comes to selling.

Many of us have never been taught to sell. (myself included) and as such, you are left to either replicate the pushy behaviour you have seen (surely this is how it’s done…right?) or you go to the other end of the spectrum and find it hard to ask for the business as you become “friend zoned”.

If selling was understood for what it is — communication — and that was taught in schools, we would see a vastly different society and selling landscape.

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?

This is the stereotype that persists, but from my experience it’s incorrect. Being “pushy” will do more harm than good, but it’s the “only” strategy many of us have to use so we opt for it, thinking anything else just won’t work.

For me, selling is just a conversation with money at the end. When you approach it with that mindset and focus on providing information and opportunity to your buyer, then you ensure no-one feels pressured. The reality is that not everyone will buy from you… and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you “can’t sell” or that you’ve been “sold by the buyer”, it just means something wasn’t right. When you approach selling with less pressure it’s better for everyone, place your urgency to “sell” into finding more prospects, rather than pressuring those you are already speaking with (don’t chase them — replace them).

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?

My ”secret sauce” (if you could call it that!) is to create a Clear Sales Message. Many businesses have names, website addresses and messaging that does nothing to help buyers UNDERSTAND the offering — let alone ENGAGE with it. For me, and I am biased, everything starts with a Clear Sales Message. Your buyers need to understand what you do at such a simplistic level that they can guess and fill in the gaps. All of your sales communication should be written in such a way that it can be read and understood by a child where possible. Too many sales are lost purely because people don’t understand the offering they are presented with. My maxim here is “If they don’t understand it. They can’t buy it.”

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?

The main strategy involves identifying the trigger point that causes your buyer to need you. Many businesses have an “avatar”, but are talking to “ideal buyers” who have just bought or aren’t buying for a while. I would encourage anyone reading this to think about the contextual situation that your buyer will experience that will drive them to need your offering.

A simplified example here would be a leaky tap — that’s the trigger point to need a plumber. The question is; what is happening in your buyer’s world that leads them to need you? The easiest way to work this out is to look at current and past clients to understand what drove them to you. Once you understand the trigger point(s) you can then focus on finding new potential clients experiencing the same situations (ideally where they would gather in groups)

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’?

I think it’s because “objections” only add further pressure and worry to how we already feel about selling. Most objections are just questions the buyer is trying to answer to ensure the offering won’t be a waste of time or money and will actually deliver what they need. The best way to improve here is to be prepared. Think about the hardest objections and questions you get and then sketch out your responses. Most people aren’t prepared for objections and as such they are easily overwhelmed by them. If you know what to say and are ready, you will feel more prepared, more in control and thus more confident.

‘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.

“Closing” a sale is about simply asking for the business. Selling is just a conversation with money at the end.

For someone to buy from you, they need to have the information and the opportunity they need to make the best decision for themselves and this is where you should place your focus. Some simple things you can do to “close” the sale are:

1 — Be sure to have talked about the range of your offering- approximately what does it cost, how long does it take and what kind of deliverables do you offer. Too many salespeople miss the basics and lose the sale through assumption or lack of information as the buyer is too polite — or unaware — to ask for more details.

2 — Recap everything the buyer has told you so that you demonstrate to them that you have understood them and their needs.

3 — Link that recap with your offering and the positive outcome your buyer is looking for.

4 — Ask the buyer if they would like to proceed or if they have any questions.

5 — Let the buyer feel (and actually be) in full control. When we feel in control and not like we’re being pressured, we’re more likely to buy.

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?

That’s a great question and following up is something that many people get wrong. Too many people follow up to “check in” or “touch base” or “see if you are interested” and they don’t read their buyer’s behaviour. If I’ve ignored your communication then the chances of me being interested is quite low — and that’s actually OK! You just need to shift your attention away from trying to create demand where perhaps there isn’t any and move towards finding new prospects. I call this “Don’t chase them. Replace them.”

Too many people follow up believing that being pushy or persistent is all that’s necessary, but you have to remember how YOU respond to being chased or pressured… most people don’t like it. It seems crazy to me that we chase people up endlessly and yet dislike this ourselves. My maxim here is simply “if you don’t like it as a buyer then don’t do it as a seller”.

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?

Closing ideally needs to be in person or on the phone — it’s the best way to ensure you answer the right questions and give your buyer everything they need to feel comfortable enough to buy.

When it comes to follow up, I would say calling directly is a no-no as it’s too direct and may be unwelcomed. We’ve all seen a name come up on our phone and winced because we didn’t want the conversation…

To follow someone up, you simply need to think about getting into their mind in the least offensive way possible. For me, this is all about being active on LinkedIn and harnessing propinquity (exposure). The chances are that once I’ve spoken with a client, they will see my videos and posts on LinkedIn on a daily basis and it’s that exposure that helps me to indirectly “follow them up” and to be front of mind, rather than emailing or calling to “check in” or “touch base”. The reality is, if buyers are interested and the purchase is a priority (they are experiencing a trigger point) — they shouldn’t need much following up at all.

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. 🙂

I would have one simple message, which is the one I am dedicated to sharing every day. Selling is all about communication. It has nothing to do with techniques, trickery or pressure and everything to do with solving problems and providing real value.

My movement would be to encourage people to forget the cliché imagery surrounding what it means to sell and to have the courage to focus on communication and adding value. From my experience, when you do that, the “sale” takes care of itself.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best place is to connect with me on LinkedIn here — https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesnewelluk/

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

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