Amanda Gome Publisher, BRW and Smart Investor

Amanda Gome is publisher of BRW, Smart Investor and Asset for the Financial Review Group. She has previously been CEO of Private Media.

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Amanda Gome: Don’t learn the value of your sales guys’ skills the hard way

Published 26 August 2013 11:46, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35

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Amanda Gome: Don’t learn the value of your sales guys’ skills the hard way

Amanda Gome learned the hard way that some things are best left to the experts. Photo: Luis Ascui

When I started my own business, I was lucky. The first salesman I took on was one of the best I ever met.

But our first client meeting was a disaster. Off we went to see a big corporate to sell some advertising on our new digital media site. My sales guy was sporting his lucky gold tie and wouldn’t let me out the door until I had wiped the lipstick off my teeth.

He had lots of rules. In the taxi on the way over, the only conversation allowed was a giddy-up, hi-five chat so that when we arrived our positive vibe would infect the client. In the elevator, we were only allowed to speak about how great the company was just in case the morose-looking junior slumped in the corner of the lift suddenly revealed himself to be the chief executive.

But in the meeting I ruled and it was marvellous. The marketing executives were remarkably frank: their strategy was stuffed and they needed a completely new direction and rebranding. I had lots of suggestions, pointed out how we could help, and after I told them our prices they expressed great interest.

I could barely contain myself. “What a success!” I yelled when we finally cleared the building. “How would you know?” he replied. “After they told you their strategy you didn’t shut up.”

And then he told me what we still didn’t know . . .

  • We didn’t know how much money they had so we had no idea how to maximise their spend when we responded to the proposal.
  • We didn’t know when their budgets were handed down or how long their budgets were for, so it was possible they would come back and tell us, “It’s a deal – next year.”
  • We didn’t know where else they had been spending their money or what had worked and what hadn’t, so there was every chance we would return with an idea they had already tried but hadn’t worked, which would waste their time.
  • We didn’t know whether there were other pots of money in the business labelled for other activities that we could access to get them a better return.
  • We didn’t know how much of their budget they had already spent.
  • We didn’t know how they were going to measure our success.
  • We didn’t even find out who the final decision-maker was or who would sign off on the money.

“In fact,” he grumbled, “I found out nothing useful except how wonderful you are – and I don’t mean that in a nice way.” And that was my big lesson: that entrepreneurs are great at selling what they love and understanding a client’s needs and strategy. But closing a deal? That requires a finely honed set of skills and a great deal of focus.

Does that mean entrepreneurs shouldn’t close? Absolutely not. In a perfect world, the entrepreneur opens the door and then shuts up while your salespeople close. But the entrepreneur will be hiring or overseeing the hiring of many salespeople over the years. And you need to know how to hire closers to get the cash in the door.

Some people found my great sales guy unfashionably aggressive in an age where selling is about forming deep relationships over time. But his key strength was that he, like me, cared passionately that the client got value.

And he did not see why a strong sense of urgency diminished the potential to build strong relationships. We are all going to be really happy with the results, was his motto. So let’s just get on with it.

Amanda Gome is the publisher of BRW and an entrepreneur who has started and run media companies.

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