If we are to punch at or above our weight in the world, grow our businesses and enhance our lifestyles, we need good salespeople.
Britain is famously a nation of shopkeepers: but is it a land of salespeople or mere order takers?
“Behind every winning company is undoubtedly a successful salesman or saleswoman with a passionate belief”
Lord Kirkham, founder of DFS
If we are to punch at or above our weight in the world, grow our businesses and enhance our lifestyles, let us hope the answer is salesmen.
I founded the DFS furniture business in 1969 with subsequent job titles sashaying through managing director to the more fashionable chief executive to chairman. But throughout, my true operational role was that of a manically determined salesman. Together with my equally focused colleagues I sold our immense value as a customer to our suppliers, the great attributes of our business to our staff, and our excellent service and exclusive products to the consumer.
Then after almost 25 years I encouraged a host of wise investors to purchase a share of DFS through a successful IPO. Further application of selling skills by the team was necessary to later buy the business back, refinance the company a time or two and, with one final throw, allow private equity to own the organisation.
So my selling views are no self-improvement book theory or academic concept but unarguable, experience-based fact. DFS enjoyed unprecedented success as the ultimate sales organisation.
Sales pitches differ widely, from the hooker in the figure-hugging outfit to the charming vicar purveying tea and biscuits and utilising the fear and favour of God to fix the church roof. But spin, gilding, advertising, PR and blag – all forms of the art – have been key to our past prosperity and will undoubtedly remain so.
Because nothing in your business is more important than securing the order, receiving the instructions, getting the signature or hearing the magic word yes, ja, oui et al.
Sales may be vanity to profit’s sanity, but unless you sell something profit is just a word. Given that I have practised selling all my life, I feel lucky to still be treated with a bit of respect. Because generally ‘sales’ is one of those occupations we British look down on.
Yet without selling where would Tony Blair, Miley Cyrus, Damien Hirst, Richard Branson, Alex Salmond and Madonna be, never mind Messrs Clegg and Farage? Enthusiastic promotion can yield unbelievable results.
In fact, it is so vital that Michael Gove should ponder giving salesmanship a place on the national curriculum.
Famous impresario Lew Grade, one of the greatest salesmen ever, was interviewing for a key sales post.
To test the candidate’s selling skills he picked up a jug from his desk and challenged the young man to “sell me that jug of water”. The applicant picked up Lord Grade’s brimming waste paper basket and dropped in a lighted match before asking “how much will you give me for this jug of water?”
Few of us will ever have the chance to attempt such a compelling technique, but we all need to know how to sell and to support and value those in our businesses that do it well, recognise their importance and reward them properly.
Behind every winning company is undoubtedly a successful salesman or saleswoman with a passionate belief, prepared to do whatever it takes to generate business.
As our economy improves, we should cherish them – and join in by pulling on our own selling Boots without delay.
- Lord Kirkham, founder of DFS