“Get off your backside Philip!” he barked. It's a Sales Lesson I’ve Never Forgotten
Thirty eight years ago I was starting out as a Trainee Junior Sales Representative for a large insurance company. We didn’t sell our products direct to the public, but through intermediaries. Back then we called them brokers – today they are IFAs, financial planners or financial advisers.
I was shadowing Dennis who was an extremely experienced and successful salesman, and we had arrived for a meeting at the offices of a large insurance broking firm in the City of London. We signed in (no security passes back then) and the friendly receptionist said “Take a seat gentleman, and I’ll tell them you’re here. Would you like some coffee?”
At the ripe old age of eighteen I smiled to myself, feeling pretty important that I was being offered coffee by some big shots in the City. I moved over to a group of large, comfortable-looking leather armchairs in the corner of the reception area, picked up a copy of a glossy magazine and made myself comfortable.
“Get off your backside Philip! Always stand in reception areas. Never sit.” Barked Dennis.
Dennis was a Senior Consultant and had been doing the job for at least ten years; he was very successful and looked the part too - wearing the most immaculate suit and tie. Though the fact that he also wore Dr Martens boots with his suit was a detail I never fully understood.
My face flushed red and I jumped to my feet at his command, feeling more than a little embarrassed. The receptionist gave me a cheery wink.
“Sales is about presence and charisma Philip” continued Dennis – something he had by the bucket load. He was at least six feet four inches and towered over me. Helped of course by his boots.
“When you meet someone for the first time, if you are sitting in their reception area they subconsciously already have the upper hand. From now on, never ever sit in a reception area again – however long you have to wait.”
“Yes Dennis”, said I. And I’ve never forgotten it.
That meeting was in 1978. Yesterday I arrived for a meeting at the same office block in the City of London. They are now the offices of a global fund management firm and the reception area is a lot shinier. There’s a huge amount of security and I had to have my photo taken and show personal ID before even the prospect of being offered a coffee – though there is still a group of comfortable leather sofas for visitors to relax in before their meetings.
To this day, I remember Dennis’ words at every meeting I go to, and it’s become a ‘thing’ for me – a sort of ritual before meeting someone for the first time. (It's a bit awkward when meeting people in coffee shops, but hey.) Something has stuck in my head that by standing in a reception area, I will at least be ‘on the same level’ as the person I’m meeting.
Presence and charisma are indeed important in business – whether meeting people face-to-face or through your online activities, perhaps on video, YouTube, other Social Media or through expertise-based content that you share with customers and prospects.
Presence is something I also work on when speaking at conferences, though arguably you either have presence or you don’t. Can it be trained into sales people? Amy Cuddy’s excellent book ‘Presence’ is an essential read if you’re interested in the subject.
Sadly, somebody told me that Dennis died a few years ago, but the year that I spent shadowing him taught me some great lessons in sales. And when I stop to think about the great sales people I’ve met and known – all of them have radiated, oozed and projected presence.
Thirty eight years on, my older legs yearn to ease into the opulent armchairs of reception areas at shiny offices in the City, but I have always resisted thanks to Dennis’ sage advice.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” he had added. And he was right.
What are the best lessons that you were taught in sales?
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