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TitBOne of the key things we talk about during the commercial workshops is why people buy. Understanding this is critical and we’ve tackled the subject before in previous blog posts, but the story below shows how trust can be communicated in many forms. At face value the central premise of the story can seem a little superficial, but the interaction between the sales function and customer is different and unique in each scenario.

“A while ago I worked for a paper company about an hour north of London. The business was predominantly a channel sales and distribution company. We bought in bulk from paper mills and manufacturers the world over, ‘finished’ the paper to order and then supplied book makers, graphic design studio’s and packaging manufacturers in the UK. It was really successful and within it was this one guy who was by far and away the most productive salesman. Except there was a design agency in London, bang slap in the middle of his territory, who refused to buy from us. They knew everything about the product and I know that the guy was trying everything to get the business; consultative approach, good price, aftermarket support, the works. But still he couldn’t get ink on paper. As a bit of background, on Fridays the sales team came into the office to complete their admin and plan for the following week, catch up with the internal sales team and have some face time with the sales director. It was a relaxed day, everyone came in wearing jeans as opposed to their usual sales uniform of suits and shiny shoes. Often we went out as a team to the pub for lunch. It was hot this particular day, our man, whose shoes were consistently shinier than everyone else’s when he was dressed for battle, came into the office wearing cargo shorts and a short sleeved patterned shirt. I am highlighting his attire, because, well, you’ve probably guessed the punchline already, but I’ll walk you through it. About 11 am, his phone rang (desk phone, this was the late 90’s) and he answered the call to his own personal windmill. The design agency he hadn’t managed to land. Their usual supplier had let them down, they needed a particular stock, it had to be there that day and wanted to know if he could help them out. Of course he jumped at the chance, ordered the stuff from the warehouse, asked for it to be loaded it into the boot of his car and told them he would be there within 90 minutes. “I’ll have to apologise for the way I’m dressed”, he said, “I’m working in the office today, so I’m in casual clothes.” They laughed and said it didn’t matter, they just wanted the paper. He got back later on that day with a regular, repeat order for one of the companies premium ranges. He wore an incredulous look on his face and told us that whereas before the conversations had been stilted and awkward when he went to visit them, they had chatted for hours after the stock had been delivered and he was able to get the sale that had eluded him for so long. The key difference, the only thing he could think was the way he was dressed. When he asked them about it months later, they confirmed that they always thought he was a bit of a ‘stiff’ and didn’t want to do business with a ‘faceless corporation’, who ‘wasn’t looking after their best interests’.”

Whilst it’s easy to dismiss this as ‘judging a book by its cover’ the key message here for me was that the sales guy wasn’t taking into consideration the environment in which he was selling. You can scoff at the fact that the customer was fickle and didn’t take the time to look at the entire proposition, but the simple fact of the matter was that they were presented with the image of a sales professional that didn’t fit with their culture and they were not inclined to listen, or at least explore the rest of the solution that was being offered.

Does this resonate with you in any way? Or do you believe that a sales approach stands on its own merits, regardless of how it is presented?