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Paul Naysmith

Quality Insider

A Week in the Life of a Sales Professional

We quality types must also be adept at selling difficult and strange ideas

Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 12:53

Sales professionals, according to some circles at least, aren’t all that different from us quality professionals. I once believed they were two-faced liars, because they’d sell their mother to get that precious sales commission. However, as a systems thinker, I like to get my facts straight before drawing conclusions. I’m sure you do, too.


The following is an excerpt from the week of a typical sales professional. It’s built from my collection of conversations with a mystery sales professional—who shall remain anonymous—and as such is written in the first person.

Sunday. With the knowledge of the meeting tomorrow with the sales and marketing manager, operations manager, and vice president, I have to prepare the presentation. A PowerPoint masterpiece, with analysis of past performance and future opportunities. I must break down the different product groups and target opportunities... that would easily give me more slides.

Spreadsheets are open in multiple windows on my screen. Data are being pulled from the costs tab, the profits tab, and the customers tab. I select rows upon rows of these little white boxes, the little black dollar signs are being copied and pasted. I’ve created a bar chart. I have inner turmoil: Do I choose 2-D or 3-D bars? I figure 2-D is better; however, I must color-code the bars to the VP’s favorite sports team. (Who puts mustard yellow and pink together as a uniform?) Regardless, these are the colors I must use to win him over.

Realizing that the time will be short to convey my big message, I must also keep the presentation short and to the point. I’ve trimmed it down from 67 slides to 64.

Monday. Meeting is at 11 a.m. My shoes are clean, USB pen in my pocket with the presentation; I am prepared. It’s going to be great. I need to sell my ideas to the VP and clinch that sale. It’s now my turn to make it big, and for the senior people in the business to remember my name.

I give the presentation. I’m flawless in my delivery. Questions are posed, I respond immediately, and where I can’t answer, I don’t lie or hide that I don’t know some answers. They would easily see past that sham, so I need to stick at what I am here to do: sell.

I can’t read the room after the delivery. It’s like a world poker-face tournament. Have I won them over? Have I made the sale? The sales manager jots a note. The VP glances at his watch. The second hand on the clock is the only sound I hear; do I break the silence? No, I’ll let them fill the silent void. “You’ve got it,” declares the VP. He confers with the sales manager and agrees on a target for this opportunity. “Your target will be 10 percent higher than the projections,” he says. He gets up and leaves.

I did it. I figure that it must have been the chart colors that sealed the deal. I celebrate with a 30-minute lunch break, but then it’s back to work.

Tuesday. My day starts early; the alarm calls me awake at 5 a.m. My first thought is to make that winning pitch today to the actual customer. By 6:30 I’m waiting in a coffee shop ordering nearly $50 of mixed doughnuts and pints of coffee. This is my route into my external customer’s world, the people paying for our services. The plan is that by arriving early, I can use these treats to get the full attention of some key players at my customer’s office.

I get there with my boxes and tray of delights. I find that the door swings wide open for me, and I’m in. There’s no getting rid of me now. I make small talk with some tediously dull man, who can’t get my name right. That, I don’t have issue with; however, come on, dude, I bring you coffee and doughnuts, and you can’t find the courtesy to say, “Thank you?” I will take a moment later during my drive home to think of ways I could make that coffee taste unpleasant.

I now see the project manager for our ongoing project walking through the corridor. She see’s me. A scowl at first recognition. I’m going to change that to a smile and get her to agree with what I’m about to say. “Hey good morning... and before you ask me to leave, I’ll trade you a latte for 10 minutes of your time.” I’ve got her full attention now.

We talk at length. I pitch my idea to her, this time without a PowerPoint. She is the type of person who doesn’t work with slick presentations. I think that she responds better to an emotional state of mind. It is a win-win proposal I’m making, and I am sharing a future image of mutual benefit. Layering it on thick with “how things will be,” I tell her how the proposal will make her project easier. She buys the idea, and I get the work as a result. She asks me to send her the “numbers” over by email, for review later.

I call the sales manager with the news. He congratulates me, then as a reward, lets me know that I’m playing golf on Friday.

Wednesday. Knowing that the operations department will soon be posed with a new challenge from the customer, I need to relay my news to them. Operations, I know, are a bigger challenge to influence. The volume of work with clients is currently high, and making a change may be as welcome as a fart in a submarine. I must work hard at making this a sell to the operations manager.

The operations manager takes it well. In essence I’ve told him that we’ve got a new opportunity, and he’s going to have to make some inward investment. However, when I told him that the customer will pay for that investment, he was receptive to the notion. I think I’ve now tallied three sales this week, with 100-percent achievement.

Called the sales manager, tried to move the Friday golf to today. He said no.

Thursday. Negotiation training has been on my training list for some time, and it’s today. A slick outfit of consultants are preparing for the day with a stack of papers in the corner. I’m one of 12 in the room, part of a mix of supply-chain professionals, operation managers, and sales. The consultants start off with an ice-breaker in mini-groups of three, and I’m teamed up with the office deviant and the only girl from supply chain. We had to “draw” an interesting fact about each other. With my group, it felt more like protecting the U.S. president than breaking the ice.

The trainers then handed out an assessment, and 30 questions later we draw a chart with our “negotiation profile.” One of the trainers looks down at my chart and comments, “It’s almost a perfect match to the ideal negotiation profile.” Any small ego boost for a Thursday is very welcome.

The training runs through a variety of scenarios, some role-playing and group exercises. The team I’m in comes out on top each time. I found that I’ve gotten more out of the training that I thought I would, and a better understanding of the people I work along side.

Friday. Golfing today, or specifically, this afternoon. I start the morning reviewing the marketing materials and all the many emails I’ve missed while I was out training. The tee time arrives quickly, and I’m ready to play. I purposely pull some shots and allow the customer to beat me.

Saturday. It has been a long week, and I need my weekend off to rest. However, my wife has greater plans for my time, revolving around her assertion, “I need to go to the mall.” I assume my traditional role, that of chief bag carrier. There, in the poorly lit building, being led around each identical store, I’m embarrassed by the other sales professionals. Being asked, “Is there anything I can help you with?” in a store where only 18-year-olds would be able to fit into the clothes. I’ve hit the point in my life where elastic features are a selling point for my pants selection. I couldn’t stop myself and had to respond to that question with, “Kid, let me teach you a better question. One that may help you make your personal targets for today.” But at that point my wife overheard my intervention and made at me with a coat hanger. “Can you please stop improving quality?” she groused. “It’s your day off.”

By now you readers will have realized that the week in a sales professional’s life I’ve just described was my week. In quality we must be adept at selling difficult and strange ideas. Many of the skills I’ve learned the hard way came about due to the way I approached an influencing opportunity. My skills are no different than a sales professional’s: I need to convey an idea, I need to build business cases, I need to meet and entertain customers. I need to sell quality every day; otherwise, we will stop moving forward.

Influencing is the art of selling, and although I would not recommend getting hung up on job titles, if you work in quality, you also may have to consider yourself a sales professional. You’re selling the art of doing things better. If you’re considering your training plans for next year, why not think about attending any sales training that is available? Like me, you may learn better ways to speak to someone, and get them to buy your quality ideas.


About The Author

Paul Naysmith’s picture

Paul Naysmith

Paul Naysmith is the author of Business Management Tips From an Improvement Ninja and Business Management Tips From a Quality Punk. He’s also a Fellow and Chartered Quality Professional with the UK’s Chartered Quality Institute (CQI), and an honorary member of the South African Quality Institute (SAQI). Connect with him at www.paulnaysmith.com, or follow him on twitter @PNaysmith.

Those who have read Paul’s columns might be wondering why they haven’t heard from him in a while. After his stint working in the United States, he moved back to his homeland of Scotland, where he quickly found a new career in the medical-device industry; became a dad to his first child, Florence; and decided to restore a classic car back to its roadworthy glory. With the help of his current employer, he’s also started the first-of-its-kind quality apprenticeship scheme, which he hopes will become a pipeline for future improvement ninjas and quality punks.