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I was talking to the Director of one of the companies that I mentor the other day and we were talking about the new ( their first ) salesperson that they had taken on. Starting and building a salesforce is no easy task.

We got down to 2 main areas of discussion:

  1. What does a good salesperson need to know and what qualities do they have ? ( If we know this then we can check to see how they measure up against this criteria ).

  2. What is an appropriate customer sales meeting structure ( for a company focussed on ICT sales to SMB’s )? N.B.  As we shall discuss later using an appropriate sales meeting structure is one of the skills that a good salesperson would have.

I think the first thing to understand is that a good salesperson is NOT someone who talks a lot! A good salesperson, similar to a good counsellor, listens a lot and observes carefully but they often don’t say much. This principle is enshrined in the saying “ You have 2 ears, 2 eyes and one mouth and you should use them in that proportion “. i.e. Listen a lot, observe everything and say very little.

Describing the perfect salesperson and the perfect sales meeting can take books or days of training and  presentations.  Here I will describe the main features of a good salesperson and then mention briefly how these areas might sub-divide:

  1. Personality/Likeability/The Beer or Glass of Wine Test

    Perhaps the first and most important trait of a good salesperson is “ Likeability “. It is not a pre-requisite for someone to sell you something but it sure helps ! If a salesperson is weak in other areas “ Likeability “ can be the key as to why you buy something from them. This may be particularly true in the SMB sale. Generally speaking small business people buy from people they know, trust and/or like.  One of my old bosses called this “ The Beer Test “ – would I like to have a beer with this person ??   

  2. Activity

    The second area is activity. It is often said that “ selling is a numbers game “. The more telephone calls, appointments, proposals etc that you do then the more likely it is that you will get some sales. Again, we can say that people who are likeable and very active can succeed even if they are weak in other areas. In fact people who are not particularly likeable but are very active can succeed. There are ( sales ) industry standard accepted conversion ratios for the number of appointments that can be expected from a number of phone calls and the number of proposals that can be expected from a number of appointments and the number of orders that can be expected from a number of proposals.  So called “ High Pressure Sales Teams “ set their standards for salespeople around these ratios. There are all sorts of phrases used to emphasize the fact that it is, to some extent,  a numbers game e.g. “The harder I work the luckier I get” and “ In 100% of the cases where you don’t put in a proposal/you don’t bid for it –  you don’t get the order “.

  3. Knowledge

    The next important aspect of a great salesperson is knowledge. i.e. Knowledge of their company, products and services, the competition and the market. Again, a not particularly likeable person with  high levels of knowledge and high levels of activity can succeed.

  4. Skills

    The final aspect that determines a good salesperson is their grasp of e.g. selling, meeting, presentation, proposal writing and interpersonal skills. These are things like, how to structure a customer sales meeting, proposal or presentation. How to deal with certain types ( psychometric profiles ) of people. How to handle “ objections “ or “ close “ sales.

We can take these four main areas – Personality, Activity, Knowledge and Skills and, for example, rate someone on a scale of 1 to 10 for each area. How likeable ( or not !! ) are they ? How active are they ? How much knowledge ( of our area ) do they have ? How good are their skills ? It is reasonable to believe that a salesperson who is likeable, active, knowledgeable and skilful is likely to succeed. Certainly in my experience the best salespeople are good in all these areas. It is also possible to sub-divide each area, e.g. Knowledge and look at the sub-areas of knowledge separately such as knowledge about products and services. To assess this you might accompany them on sales meetings or give them verbal or written tests. A low score in any particular area might mean that you need to give them training in that area.

I would also mention a couple of other areas that are important in a good salesperson ( there are a number ). Firstly “attitude” generally and towards the idea that Points 1 to 4 are relevant and important to them.  Good salespeople are generally speaking open to the idea that there are identifiable attributes of a salesperson and are happy to “ train “ to improve them. They think of themselves as being like “ soccer stars “ who train all the time generally and specifically to become top players. I would also mention “ focus “. Great salespeople focus on their roles, and gaining the necessary skills and knowledge to be the best at their jobs.


We are now going to take a specific part of the Skills section, the structure of a sales meeting, and look at that in some detail ( N.B. It is just one aspect of one of the four main attributes of a great salesperson that we have identified ).

In proposing a meeting structure, a fairly generalised one, we should remind ourselves that we are using the “ 2 eyes,2 ears and 1 mouth principle “. This means that we are going to ask questions and then we are going to ( actively ) listen, observe and take notes ( to remind ourselves of the answers and the responses that we got to our questions when we are reviewing the meeting ). When asking questions we might remember what Rudyard Kipling said –  ” I keep six honest working men, they taught me all I know, their names are WHAT, WHY and WHEN, and HOW and WHERE and WHO “.

There would be a difference in the “scope” of the questions that we would ask depending on the stage of that meeting i.e. was it a first, second or final meeting ? There would be things that we covered at the first meeting that we probably would not need to cover at subsequent meetings e.g. our understanding of what the company does and it’s broad structure and general strategy.

In general terms our meeting structure seeks to identify the prospects ( business ) wants, needs and aspirations in order that we can provide them with a proposal to achieve those wants, needs and aspirations.

In the ICT world we are usually providing a combination of equipment ( hardware ), applications
( software ), network ( voice,data,WAN,LAN etc ) and services ( eg Project Management, Installation, Maintenance etc ) to help them to achieve their ( business ) aspirations.

The general structure of a first meeting is proposed to be:

  1. Opening the meeting/Introductions/Summary of how contact was made

    i.e. Thanks for meeting with me; We spoke about xyz on the phone; how long have you got



  1. Any specific issue(s) that you want to cover during the meeting today ?

     i.e. A catch all to make sure that we address what is important to the prospect; he might of thought of something since you last spoke; there may have been some changes

  2. Company Background and Structure ?

    Mainly a first meeting question. To understand more about them, their history, where they have premises ( single-site, multi-site? ). What departments are there – eg sales Finance, Manufacturing, Admin. Etc etc Also the reporting structure and decision makers.

  3. Objectives/Strategy of the company?

    Broadly, where is the company going? What areas do they want to grow/change? What do they want to achieve ? Are they trying to save money ? Are they expanding?

  4. Objectives/Strategy with respect to ICT?

    Do they have some particular ICT strategy/objectives? They want to change the phone system to achieve xyz ? They need to add servers because xyz ? They want to reduce costs ? They want to get better control or visibility of ?

  5. How is it done now/what using now/what is it like at the moment ?

    Here we are “ establishing the gap or needs “. It is a fundamental – “ Well we are here and we want to be here type question “.

  6. Summary of the areas for improvement

    This is really a check that we have understood the issues; we’ve got all the issues; we’ve got enough detail on the issues; we know who wants what within the organisation.

  7. So, if we could provide a proposal that would do this, solve that, reduce costs here etc etc would that be of interest??

    This is another check that we’ve got things understood and that if we can help them with these issues they are likely to progress discussions with us with a view to possibly giving us an order.

  8. Next steps and timescales?

    Having established what they want/need lets understand when they need to do this; when they need our proposals; how they need them; who is going to review them etc etc In some situations the next step would be a quote/proposal. In others ( eg larger opportunities ) it might be a step on the way to a proposal eg a presentation, demonstration etc

Subsequent meetings might change slightly because we are broadly checking the background things i.e. Questions 3,4,5,6 and 7. So, a second meeting might be:

  1. As before

  2. Check what you agreed to do at the last meeting ( We said I would come back to you with a proposal covering the areas we agreed . Is there anything else you want to cover during this meeting ? )

  3. ( 4, 5, 6, 7 ) Check that nothing significant has changed in these  areas.

8. So, you wanted a proposal that ( met your needs, wants, aspirations ) let me run through it with you. Is that broadly what you wanted ? ( Yes?Progress No? Address the issues until you get Yes ).

9. The next step might be that they make a decision on your proposal or you might need to do a presentation, demonstration etc before a final proposal and a decision. You are basically asking “ What else do I need to show you, prove to you, before you will give me an order ? “



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