The dividends of business efficiency are crystal clear for Nicolas Caron! Passionate about the Sales sector, in 2003 he co-founded the sales training and consultancy business Halifax Consulting. Every year, they work with thousands of sales professionals from international market-leading companies all over Europe, Asia and North and South America.
Once we had seen his book «Lève-toi et vends!», (Get up and sell!) – which is both very funny and to the point - we were keen to meet Nicolas in person… It’s a book that all sales professionals – and non-sales people too! – seeking to excel in the field should read!
In your latest book you write that «the best sales reps are the ones who actually do what the others don’t have the time to do». How do they do it? What is that extra thing they are doing?
This is something I have been saying over and over again ever since I started in this business. It’s self-evident: in any company, while the market is the same for everyone and clients are quite similar, some sales reps succeed and others do not. And it doesn’t come down to a question of «talent»! It’s exactly the same in the world of sport: we are bowled over, in the event of victory, by the «talent» of the player who has just won, when what should really be the reason for our admiration is all the work that has led to this victory, which we tend to overlook.
Today, in most sectors, competition is not between business A and business B, but between the sales rep in business A and the sales rep in business B.
It’s no secret: the sales reps who succeed are those who consider their business to be a real career, who make the effort to prepare their actions carefully, and who always ask what added value they can bring to their clients, who take care to ensure they don’t waste their time, and who, for all these reasons manage to make their mark with their customers. Because at the end of the day, in most market sectors today competition is not between company A and company B, but between the sales rep in enterprise A and the sales rep in enterprise B. When, having been seen by two such sales reps, I say to myself «this company is ace», in reality it is not the company I am thinking about, but the sales rep.
To sum up, the best sales reps are those who do the hidden part of the work thoroughly. You can compare them with ducks: you have the impression they are smiling and gliding forward effortlessly, but beneath the water they are paddling like mad! For these sales reps, it’s the same thing: the «best» of them are positive, good natured, good fun to be with, but they are paddling beneath the surface – and they pedal more than the others. It isn’t apparent that that’s what they are doing, but they work hard and they do whatever is needed to stay on top.
These «better» sales reps, who have more impact on customers and potential customers, do they manage their time somehow differently than the less good ones?
Yes, absolutely! These are people who organise their time with great rigour and deliberation. Aiming to be at the right place at the right time as often as possible, this is what effective time management is usually about. Preparation is all, and the serious reps do more than the others. And the opposite of good time management is to fall prey to constant dispersion, zapping, butterfly mindset….
The sales reps with the extra edge apply three simple principles:
The first, and the main one I think, is to abide by the rule of only moving forward in a logical stepped sequence. Nothing can be progressed seriously without a minimum of concentration. So we need to set aside a reasonable amount of time to work on one subject rigorously, preparing an in-depth project proposal setting out the steps needed: it shouldn’t be the end of the world to sit down and do this. However, what IS the end of the world is to fail to switch off your mobile phone! People must relearn what it is to concentrate. Proper concentration will allow you to achieve many more things, and succeed where others will fail, because they have not allocated the time needed to succeed in this respect.
The opposite of good time management is to fall prey to constant dispersion, zapping, butterfly mindset…
The second principle is: do the basic things well. You don’t need to look far to see that there are many people who are doing the basic things to perfection, but these may be things that don’t add any value, and that don’t have much impact, nor yield any kind of return on investment in business terms. You also need to know how to distinguish between what is just pleasurable to do, and what is really effective and useful to your business objectives.
The third thing is that people hate to spend time on their own. So they come and look you up! It’s well worth considering how you might protect yourself from this kind of ‘anchor drag’: being sociable is a very good thing and has its place, but there comes a time when you need to set limits and turn down invitations to socialise that could be distracting you too frequently from the task in hand.
The pressure of technology tools is not going to get any less… What will make the difference for the sales reps of tomorrow? Tools, or something else?
I wouldn’t call it «pressure» of tools. Tools don’t prevent our achieving our goals in business. What is problematic is if you use them superficially imagining they are going to change your life. Today we have so many wonderful tools that allow us to do things we could only dream of, and that we wouldn’t have dared to do, or couldn’t do in the past. In our training business, for example, the basic principles that we are putting in place today were already in my mind 20 years ago. But 20 years ago, I couldn’t deploy them. We need to embrace the tools on offer, and use them fully and meaningfully.
In businesses where the impact of artificial intelligence will be felt most strongly, it will be general knowledge and business culture that will give a sales rep the edge.
We often hear managers say «our young sales reps don’t have enough general knowledge». Do you share this point of view?
Yes I do. And I think this does not only concern sales personnel. In businesses where the impact of artificial intelligence will be felt most strongly – and let’s face it, AI is going to revolutionise many businesses – what will make the difference is exactly this: general knowledge, a sign of being a cut above the rest. What AI will be replacing are the technical manipulations and operations that machines do much more quickly than we do. But general knowledge and culture, that is the power of discussion, of empathy and understanding, grasping the nettle when it comes to a challenge, all that will remain in the hands of the sales rep, and in the hands of the equivalent personnel in other businesses. This happens through adding perspective, taking a step back, and adds value if you like to the technical expertise. It is not one or the other, you need both.
If I understand you correctly, the tools have a supporting function but don’t change business fundamentals
Tools on their own are not enough. This is true in every domain. Recently, my daughter wrote a thesis on Japanese architecture. It was called «Between tradition and modernity». When I saw her title, I said to myself «but that’s exactly the same for us!». Today, to do business is to sit between tradition and modernity: not to hold back, but to fully embrace the tools on offer that can help us move much faster on certain functions and tasking: and then not to forget about tradition, that is the fundamentals of sales, and of business. Tools alone cannot do anything without our input, without our knowing how to optimize their use. But for any of this to happen, we need to have both the basic business reflexes, and also general knowledge, social skills, passion, enthusiasm and then the drive to carry through on our business strategies to see them succeed.