Nervousness and a faltering voice show sincerity in a sales pitch, writes Anna White.
Sweaty palms and a shaky voice can be all too familiar for entrepreneurs trying to peddle their inaugural consumer product to blue-chip retailers.
In a company’s infancy there is no spare cash to hire a professional sales force to cold call supermarkets or present to buyers.
But, according to some of Britain’s small business leaders, this can be an advantage for small suppliers.
Peter Grainger is co-founder of CafePod, selling coffee capsules compatible with the Nespresso machine. He worked in the City and never saw himself as a salesman until he started his own company.
“Every time we have an idea, a vision, or suggestion, we need to sell it to the people we are communicating with in order for it to be accepted,” he says.
“What I learned from this was that if you show belief and passion for something, selling becomes a more natural process. It’s more about getting people to buy into your thought process than selling.”
When he and fellow South African Brent Hadfield started CafePod neither of them had any sales training or experience but they needed to secure listings fast.
“Whenever you’re talking to anyone about selling anything, their first thought will always be ‘what’s in it for me?’ As an entrepreneur you need to train yourself to always start your thought process at this point – how can what I’m about to propose benefit this person/ company,” Grainger says.
Hadfield agrees: “You need to demonstrate that you care that the outcome of the conversation will benefit them as well as you.” Start with the end in mind, he says.
“Always know what you ultimately want out of the conversation. This allows you to ask the important questions that will move you closer to your end goal.”
While selling is not about false confidence, there are easy steps to take to bolster sale performance.
Grainger recommends improving communication skills to sell more effectively, such as taking a course on public speaking.
CafePod, based in south-west London, was founded three years ago and is now stocked in all Tesco stores.
However, Shaun Thompson, chief executive at Sandler Training, warns against “over-selling”. “Unfortunately, when it comes to sales, desperation is not your friend. It brings out the worst in sales people and the prospect can smell the anxiety from the car park.”
Although people love buying, they hate being sold to. Simple personality traits, such as a positive attitude, are vital to successful selling.
“The buyer isn’t doing you a favour by buying your product or service – they are buying it because they need it and it will add value to their business. Go into meetings with a positive attitude, with the understanding that you are both equals,” Thompson says, advising that networking is vital to generating leads while simultaneously upselling to existing customers and working hard for referrals – to keep the pipeline full.
He cautions not to associate good sales with the amount of information given out, otherwise known as “free consulting”. The key skill is listening, so that you can assess how to meet their needs and where the niche is, and showing empathy.
“Use third party stories of businesses that were also in their position – by looking at the issues from the prospect’s perspective you’ll demonstrate empathy and prove that you care about the issues you are solving, not just how much you are selling,” he says.
For Julie Deane, of Cambridge Satchels – launched from her kitchen table to pay school fees and now selling across the world, effective selling is not about technique or targets, it’s about sincerity. “This will sound corny but it’s easy to sell something you honestly believe in and feel passionately about,” she says.
“It’s usually quite easy to see when someone is spinning a line and it’s uncomfortable for both sides. A genuine and honest person is very engaging and that’s what you need to be a good sales person.”
Anna White is enterprise and property reporter for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.