Build or burn?

Invite a salesman in you want a party

What is the essential ingredient of a good sales person?  A good sense of humour.  Take a random sample of business people that have never met and observe them together.  It is the sales person that gets the party going.  He or she will speak first.  They will ease the tension for everyone else by cracking jokes.   Their laugh will be loudest, their body language open, and they will give eye contact to everyone in the group, even if talking mostly to just one person.  Their personality draws people into the conversation.  Few of us are natural salesmen.

A successful salesman once candidly explained his sales technique to me.  ‘No matter my opinion of you, you will like me’, he said.  This particular person moves as easily between Glasgow council estates and the villas of millionaire businessmen.  He is good fun on a night out.  Being good company builds relationships quickly but other traits are just as important to sustaining long-lasting relationships: trust, constancy, integrity.

Even if not a natural sales person, like many other skills, building relationships can be learned, although it drains the emotional batteries quicker.  Beyond the obvious communication and social skills what are the other skills involved with sales?

Invite people into a private world

Whether male or female, a sales person will physically touch you more frequently than is common for their sex (which, in Britain, is almost zero).  They’ll use your first name.  Ask you lot’s of questions, and pay attention to your answers.  They make you feel included and important.  They will take you to lunch or dinner.  It’s a seduction, of sorts. They will compliment you, in a gentle way, by saying something like, ‘You’re like me…’, and then say something you agree with; or, if you ask a question, they will say ‘Good question’ and answer it fully.

Make bold assertions

An effective technique is when a sales person asserts something on your behalf.  ‘You will love this’ or, nodding in your direction, ‘David knows this already..’, followed by a statement you may or may not agree with.  This is my favourite skill because it can sometimes be dramatically effective.  I had a boss who made outrageously bold assertions that you felt he must know are wrong.  It was amazing how often he went unchallenged.  He explained his technique thus, ‘I keep going until someone tells me I’m wrong’.  It turns out that, surprisingly often, people won’t tell you you’re wrong.  You see it in restaurants when the Maître d’ expresses such pleasure at seeing you again that you mirror his friendly reaction, even if you’re sure you’ve never met.  It’s not deceit; more a super-concentrated confidence.

Be attractive

You don’t have to be good-looking to be a good sales person, but it helps.  There’s a reason sales people dress smartly.  Whatever the dress code of your industry, a sales person will be more expensively dressed and better groomed than his or her peers.  Their appearance will create a good impression.  If you’re not good-looking, have an attractive personality.  The aim is to get people to want to give you their business.  Even in the dry, objectively-scored world of public procurement, you’ll hear the comment ‘I like these guys’.


There’s a delicate moment in sales, just before the commitment is made.   It’s a transition between flirting to something more serious.  It’s called closing.  The opportunity can be missed for simply not finding the right words, often out of awkwardness or embarrassment.  This would never happen to a professional sales person but there are plenty of entrepreneurs and business people that have to learn sales skills or they are not going to get very far in their new venture.

If you’re not naturally funny, work on these other skills because you’re going to need them.

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