Sales — it’s childs play

I often get asked my opinion on what is the most important skill for an entrepreneur. For me, the answer is straight forward — SALES.

As an entrepreneur I am always selling. Selling to investors, selling to suppliers, selling to customers, selling to employees, selling to partners, selling to media, selling to banks, in fact selling to just about anyone I meet so it seems. I even remember selling the benefits of entrepreneurial life to my wife some 10 years ago and convincing her to give up the comfortable trappings of a corporate existence. We’re still married in case you were wondering.

I cut my teeth in the sales chariot and spent the best part of 20 years at the sharp end, doing deals, hitting targets and coming back for more. Quarterly targets were my master, deals were my cocaine and technology was my manor; a heady mix in which to play the game.

Are ‘good’ sales people born or made is always the next question. My answer to that is that it depends on what your definition of ‘good’ is. Take the Premier League where every week you see many ‘good’ footballers preening their feathers and strutting their stuff. Some are born gifted with un-ending talent whilst others work their butts off to become the best they can be. Occasionally they blind us with their talent and we marvel at their skill but they will never be Messi, Ronaldo or Pele. Just like in football, the superstars of sales are born with a gift BUT then work their butts off to be the best they can be — these heros are few and far between but they are the Special One’s who need no introduction.

I learned how to sell through training (IBM — gold star), watching, listening, asking questions, attending courses, reading and above all by selling. I became an addict, incessantly seeking pearls of wisdom that would give me an edge. I quickly learned to dismiss the teachings of the talkers and suck dry the lessons of the listeners but perhaps the most valuable lesson that I ever learned came from a 6 year old; my own son, Joseph.

At the time, the only thing that mattered in the world of a 6 year old was a Nintendo Game-boy. He wanted one so badly and for so long but his miserable parents were not buying, despite his persistent and somewhat blunt attempts to close the deal. I had come to learn that persistence is a fundamental trait of any half decent sales person and I admired his naive approach in a fatherly sort of way.

And then it happened.

Picture the scene. Monday morning, 9:15am and I am hauled out of a weekly sales meeting to take a call from Thames Valley police. The words still haunt me today: “Sir, your wife and 3 children have been involved in a serious road traffic accident and you need to get to hospital quickly”. I don’t recall much about that drive but Marty McFly would have approved. Arriving at hospital, I parked on the yellow zone and was ushered quickly and quietly to a treatment room full of doctors, nurses, bandages, blood and activity.

It was strangely quiet as I checked on my wife, battered and bruised but more concerned about the boys. In the next bed, semi-conscious, surrounded by medics lay Joseph, awash with bandages, nurses, tubes and drips. I held his hand, gave him a squeeze and asked if he was “OK”. He stirred, squeezed my hand, opened his eyes, looked me straight in the face and uttered the killer close; “Daddy, can I have a Game-boy”.

I don’t think I need to tell you how the story ended.

Carpe diem.