SimonPurchonBabcock International business development director, Simon Purchon
Purchon’s advice to any young up-and-coming sales professional is to learn the basics and apply these to any market sector, especially those markets dominated by technical understanding and with a specific language and culture to take into account.
He said: “I do a lot of research before meeting people, and the power of the internet has helped. Networks like LinkedIn provide an immensely powerful tool you can use to find out about your clients and prospects, and fine-tune your preparation. In the old days that wasn’t available so you relied on mainly companies’ accounts to research what the key drivers of that business were before you went and saw them.
He added: “You can only win business by understanding the process involved. For example, we initially focused on government contracts so learning the procedures of selling, using an OJEU process (European journal for public sector contracts to be tendered through), was key to winning public sector business. It’s key to know how to complete each of the steps in a timely manner and always remain compliant, how to respond to key questions and learning about the commercial side of contracting.
“Selling, in the general sense, is all about understanding the customer and looking at what you are doing from their point of view. You don’t want to be trying to sell them something they don’t want to buy. What you are trying to do is to match solutions to their requirements. So, if you are selling retail products then you are peddling a standalone product, but when you are selling a service, that service should be bespoke to the customer’s needs, otherwise you are not going to secure the business.
“Learn to use open questions and try to see life from their perspective - don’t be scared to highlight their issues that you think they are trying to address. Explore the implications of those issues, the cause and effect of them not being addressed. Often, selling the benefit is not until the end.
“Sales people are there to sell, but if you can’t add value, be honest and move on!”
Purchon said Babcock encourages a philosophy of honesty both with clients and with oneself so that the least amount of time and effort is wasted in chasing lost causes.
He said: “We have a compulsory robust bid/no-bid process at Babcock which importantly filters the type of contract and organisation we need to going for, coupled with the rigour of internal governance to ensure that you’ve fully understood things. There is a process in place that takes you through all the elements to understand all the stakeholders, understand all the customer key drivers, understand what the time-lines are, what are the key requirements of the customer and to make sure that there is external review of that process.
“Most of what we sell is a team sell. So we have representation from other areas including project management, commercial and finance – sales is simply the mouthpiece of the capability of the company. Selling as a team and knowing when to bring your team players in to plot a successful course is absolutely crucial. Part of the research done prior to a meeting, that I mentioned earlier, is knowing who it is on their side of the table – is there going to be representation from procurement, from finance, commercial, etc, so you can match up your team to their team to cover all the areas they are likely to want to cover.
Purchon said that you can’t expect sales to be everything for everybody. He recognises that there’s a time and a place to play your technical experts because there will usually be an agenda - it might be health and safety or a technical ability that will be the key differentiator. Being the mouthpiece is just one part of winning the business. To be credible, you have to introduce the capabilities and ensure they have an opportunity to present an expert briefing.
“The best sales people are those that actively listen, demonstrate an understanding of the customer’s key issues, understand the implications and only then develop a value proposition. This type of people can truly help an organisation chart a successful course - whether in well-known or new waters.”