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interview: The Psychology of Selling with Simon Shinerock

I was interested to learn, recently, about your highly developed sales skills and knowledge surrounding sales processes/systems. I’m curious as to how this came about: and to what extent you believe others can develop this skill set? Prior to establishing Choices, you were Regional Director at AXA, where you were eventually put in charge of re-structuring the sales force to meet the requirements of the FSA. Was it within your role there that you developed (or realised that you had) this talent?

Ever since leaving University, I have specialised in sales and sales management. I think, however, though that I’m a ‘natural salesperson’. When I was five for example, I’d go door to door in our street selling apples; and during ‘Bob a job week’, I’d make a fortune! However, when I left college, my first sales job was in recruiting, and that was the first time I had had any formal training. It all made instant sense to me.

These sales principles were further reinforced when I got a job selling office equipment, and then again when I went into the life assurance industry, which is where I really learned about consultative selling. I also did a lot of reading. I was especially influenced by Dale Carnegie’s ‘how to win friends and influence people’ as well as Napoleon Hill’s ‘think and grow rich’, which introduced me to ‘the law of attraction’.

What I learned, convinced me we discovered good selling principles. We didn’t invent them: they were always there.

If you had to sum up selling in three words, what would they be?

Empathy, presentation and close. Of the 3 words; the 1st one, empathy, is 80% of everything you need to know about selling. Empathy is having the ability to be able to put yourself in another person’s shoes and see things from their point of view. It involves being able to build a relationship, have excellent communication skills and carry out a thorough fact-find, so that you know your client.

Once you have obtained that information, the second word, ‘presentation’ comes in to play. Take what you have learned during the empathy phase of the sale and apply it selectively to your client’s situation, which should summarise the good things and the bad things about what you’re proposing. Both the strengths and the weaknesses. Never miss out the weaknesses, or you undermine your credibility and risk making the client feel that what you’re offering is ‘too good to be true’.

Clearly if it’s in their interest, the emphasis will be on the strengths. Which leads you, having done the job properly, to the final part of the sale. But the sale is never complete until it’s closed. If you’ve done the 1st 2 phases right (you’ve built a relationship with your client, you know your client, you’ve given them good advice – and they understand the benefits outweigh the disadvantages): then you’ve done a good job.

So, once you have formed a good relationship with the client, attracted them to the product, convinced them that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages – and have subsequently reached ‘the close’ stage: Is that final part of the process relatively simple? What would be your approach be, for example, in a situation where the client was, let’s say, 90% convinced?

The close is usually very, very, simple – assumed consent. In the scenario outlined above, it would be necessary to go beyond assumed consent, because a that person needs a little bit of extra help making the decision, otherwise they’ll sit on the fence and procrastinate. ‘Closing’ is often an artform.

It’s very Important to remember that the art of selling is all about making sure the client feels as if they’ve won. They’ve been given something they want (that they might not even have known they wanted). All you’ve done is lead them through the process. So, there you have it. Empathy, presentation, close.

My final question is in relation to training people to sell. Do you come across people, for example, who don’t need any training at all? Do some people, like yourself, have such a natural aptitude for it that they can be left totally unguided in relation to approach (just so long as their knowledge of the product is strong)? And in reverse, would you say that there are people of average (or above average) intelligence who could never master the art of selling, however much they were coached? Or do you believe there is scope for the people who fall within those brackets (but lack that inherent skill), to become, at least, ‘mediocre’ sellers, under the right guidance?

I was taught that selling is mainly a talent you are born with, whereas sales management is something you can learn. So, there are born salespeople, but no born leaders. I sometimes say, that when it comes to selling, anyone who needs training can’t be trained – and anyone who can be trained doesn’t need training. It’s a neat paradox, too convenient perhaps – and not entirely true.

Even the most talented salesperson can benefit from the experience of those who have come before, and the principles they have established. It’s also true to say that selling talent is a spectrum. It’s not a black and white issue, which means a lot depends not only on a person’s talent: but on their motivation, discipline, and determination. It’s a bit like singing, music and art. Some people have a natural gift, and others must work hard. The good news, is that those that do, can still do extremely well.

Stephen King, one of my favourite authors, made a similar observation when it comes to writing. There are those who will never be able to write well, those who can write well if they get good coaching and lots of practice: but very few geniuses.