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The minute we hear the word ‘nonsense’ it’s easy for our backs to go up, get defensive and maybe even plot a little daring revenge. But, if you look at the word again, it simply says ‘no sense’. It doesn’t make sense. That’s the problem with lots of sales communication and especially true of much marketing.

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something” – Plato

Colour & Death
Recently, I walked around the beautiful shores of Dun Laoghaire. It was one of those striking autumn days where the sun seemed to highlight every detail. People were out in force and it was a carefree calm day. Along with the view came the memories of summer sun and a childhood bus to the outdoor pool (or ‘baths’ as they were bluntly called). I remember the excitement and the overpowering but evocative scent of disinfectant. Curiosity stopped my walk, I wanted to look in. Approaching the gate I saw a well-known paint brand sign that proudly declared its support for adding colour to the community. I scrambled up the wall and it certainly was colourful. Every inch was taken up with graffiti, rusting metal, flaking paint and dereliction. It looked awful.
I wondered if the strategist who dreamed up the partnership could see it now and see their faded sign boasted about the beauty of their product. I wondered if they were off on to the next project and I wondered if they were even aware that their brand was proclaiming partnership with this powerful place. I wondered and I left with my memories tainted by the death of an icon.

Words Will Never Hurt Me
I disagree. Words can hurt and, in business, words can do eternal damage. If you don’t believe me, let me tell you the brief version of Gerald Ratner’s story.
In the 1980’s, his retail jewellery chain had more than 1,000 stores in the UK. They were a dominant force but it was one infamous speech in 1991 to the Institute of Directors by the Chief Executive that did just that – hurt. He said;
“We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, "How can you sell this for such a low price?” I say, "Because it's total crap”
After his speech, the value of the group plummeted by £500 million. Words do hurt.

Dangerous Clichés
The danger for sales is often the disconnection between what we promise and what we do. Of course, the even bigger danger is the slogan that sounds good but simply doesn’t mean anything.
Stopped at traffic lights a white van pulled up beside me. Like most white vans, it blended in anonymously. In small black letters against the vast white background it said:
‘LPS Solutions – professional customer advice’
I’m sure there was discussion, debate and agreement. I’m sure it was signed off and I’m sure they liked it. The thing is, I certainly have no idea what they do and I’m sure you’re the same too.
Clichés might sound good, feel good or even rhyme. The question is – ‘Do I understand?’

Selling Solutions
The next time you drive around a city centre, if you’re bored, see how many brands or vans you can spot selling ‘Solutions’.
It might be tempting to position yourself as the custodian to these secrets but my question will always be two fold.
First; ‘A solution to what?’
Second; ‘Do I have that problem?’
In reality, most sales people are focused on the sale. Sometimes, like a hunter, they are so focused they fail to use their peripheral vision. It’s dangerous because that focus might just block out all the other factors that needed thinking. You see, if you get too focused on providing the solution, you might just miss a far better approach – selling the problem.

The Art of Selling
In 2014 I was asked if I’d write a book on ‘How to Sell’. It was interesting, flattering and then daunting. I’d never written a book and I’m not sure it was even on my horizon. However, the idea planted had taken root, I met the publisher.
We talked this way and that and I left excited by the idea but uneasy about the concept. I mulled it over and then I called him. The more I thought about selling, the more I realised just how very complex it is. Like humans, each sale has its own DNA. There are emotions, goals, problems, solutions, questions, dynamics, politics, power, agendas, and games, on it goes. What book could capture that? I wanted to do it but I couldn’t be ‘that person’ that owns the secret. It’s not possible. I was stuck.
My own sales career was littered with failure and secondly, the idea of a book with a title ‘How to sell’ was a myth akin to any book bearing the title of ‘How to Live the Perfect Life’. Instead, I suggested writing an initial chapter of true stories that were neither prescriptive nor scientific. The reader could make up their own mind.
I did and a book was born. My point? It is foolish to imagine that successful selling can be achieved by reading one book. Life (and selling) is not that simple, it’s far more complex and, more importantly, you’re often leaving that key skill in the hands of someone else.
Selling is as complex as you want it to be and as easy as you want to make it but before you attempt to master the art, maybe look inwards first and ask yourself some straightforward questions. Here’s a few to get you thinking;
- How are we doing? Do we know or think we know?
- What’s a good reason not to buy from us?
- How well do our people know our brand and can we test that?
- Have you a pirate in a position of power?
- Do any of your people let their emotions stop the sale?

The Outcome?
‘Most of us would rather be damned by praise than saved by criticism’
Get your marketing clear, sharp and easily understood and the environment to sell will be simple, effective and measurable.
Remember, investing in learning, in developing and in your people is the greatest route to long term growth.
Fast sales live only at the races.

Conor Kenny is Principal of Conor Kenny & Associates Ireland’s leading independent training, learning and professional development company for the hospitality and service industries.
He is the author of 3 books:
Sales Tales – True stories of how great sales happen (2014)
Dancing at the Fountain – In conversation with world leading hoteliers (2016)
It’s Who I Am – In conversation with 14 prominent Irish people who discovered their purpose and passion (2017)

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prestige award 2020
eu business award 2018

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