NEF Workshop: Selling Your Ideas


Friday 7th March 2014, CCT Venues, London.

Last Friday I attended an NEF workshop on ‘selling your ideas’. The session was presented by Mike Southon, co-author of ‘Sales on a Beermat’ and ‘The Beermat Entrepreneur’.

Sales is something that I’m not too familiar or confident with. I think whilst growing up I’ve developed or rather learnt, this stigmatisation that all salespeople are untrustworthy smooth-talkers who pester you on the high street or on your doorstep and try all manner of tricks to sell you something you don’t want or need. Fast forward to the modern day and I’m now in the position of wanting to soon setup and launch my own business and I’m more than aware that at some point very soon I’ll have to face into the fact that I’ll need to be selling both my products and myself!

So this workshop couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally. I’m aware of how vital sales are to business, and I’m also no longer so influenced by past experiences or stigmatisations of sales people, I’ve since met plenty that are honest and brilliant people. In fact I’m sure we’d all much rather just identify and employ some other really brilliant people to do our sales for us whilst we sit back and work on ‘business development’ or whatever we find more attractive. But in reality I do want to learn how to sell my product and I went into this workshop with an open mind and strong willingness to learn the skill, after all; if you don’t know how to sell your own product direct to your own customers, then I don’t think you could possibly be as effective or valuable at the helm of the business.

To begin with we went round the room and called out all the things that we each struggle with, with regards to making sales. Whether it be getting past the ‘gatekeeper’ to reach the people you need to talk to, how to close a sale, how to approach a new customer or client, how to pitch your offering, etc etc.

Mike took us through some case studies of past products he had sold and real experiences, problems and solutions he had come up with.

As a group we listed out the key attributes/characteristics we feel a good sales person should have. The list included:

  • Thick skin
  • Empathy
  • Charisma
  • Honest
  • Judgement
  • Listen
  • Perceptive
  • Adaptable/flexibility
  • Confidence
  • Likeable

Of all the attributes we discussed, we quickly all agreed that being liked is vital to your success. If a customer does not make a connection with you or come to like you, they will often and quite rightly have reservations about buying from you. That’s not to say that people never buy from those they don’t like – heck, you might hate the big chain supermarkets, but if you need to eat, you’re going to buy from them! But no, being liked can really lubricate the whole transaction, put both parties at ease and make your customer feel happy, confident in their purchase, and much more likely to return to you or recommend you to their friends and family.

In the world of sales, you should always try to ask existing customers for referrals. They are so valuable and powerful.

“When you get skepticism in a sales situation – you respond with proof!”

Going into a sales pitch or talking to your customers, being unprepared is a sure way to kill the sale. If you know all the tough questions and skepticism you might face in advance, you can have a well-reasoned answer prepared in advance and can keep the discussion rolling and in your control. Don’t let a tough customer question derail your sales pitch or knock your confidence, if you know your stuff and know that your product is right and honest, prove it and win the customers trust and approval.

Mike’s 5 steps/questions for diving into a conversation with a complete stranger and trying to sell yourself; a.k.a. “Networking on a Beermat”:

1)      Where are you based? / Where do you come from originally?

2)      What is it that you/they do?

3)      How does that work (exactly)? (Gauge how it’s going at this point).

4)      Why? (Why are you doing that/this/whatever you do?). Then offer the value you can add, maybe you know some facts about their area of work/interest…

5)      Why exactly? Dig deeper. Then think “Who do I know that I could introduce you to? / How can I help this person?”

Mike argues that in all business, there are just 3 main jobs to do:

  • Delivery
  • Sales
  • Finance.

We then looked a bit more in detail at the process of making a sale, and the 3 possible outcomes – the “Yes”, the “No”, and the “maybe” customers.

If a customer says yes to your offer, job done, say no more and work to close the deal. If a customer says no, then ask why not. But if you come up against the ‘maybe’ customers – the ones who aren’t sure but might suggest they want time to go away and think on your proposition – be wary of these customers. They could well convert into paying customers at some point in the future, but equally they may be time wasters (intentionally or unintentionally) and given your limited resource and time, it’s often just better for you to just walk away.

Customer complaints. Don’t shy away from these. These are an opportunity for you to please a customer and show the true value of you/your company.

  • “Tell me about it…”
  • “If that is what happened, I understand why you’re so upset…”
  • “I will get to the bottom of this by (e.g.) 10am Monday morning…”
  • “What would it take to make you happy?”

Mike’s 3 steps to success:

1)      Treat people how you would like to be treated

2)      Always help people, without going broke

3)      Tell the truth.