From when I interviewed Jamie Badar, when he was working to AVEVA, selling software solutions to engineering and construction companies, he talked and acted like an entrepreneur. He was forthright about wanting to start a consultancy, and to share his knowledge on Neuro-Linguistic Programming, long sales cycles, engineering and sales process with the world.
I’m happy to say that with V2R, and Jamie has started his consultancy.
Jamie: Jamie, what industry are you currently in, and how would you define your sales?
Jamie: I’m in capital expenditure; CAPEX projects, typically projects of about £100/£150 million and above. That’s the base, and then it goes up to billions, and I provide technology to help deliver those projects quickly, minimizing cost, and time overruns. Time equals money, so it’s all about reducing the time to delivery, whether that is a new build, which is what we call greenfield projects, or expansion or turnaround or shutdown projects which we call brownfield projects. That could be in oil and gas. It could be an energy utility. It could be a water utility. It could be a gas or electricity transmission or even distribution. It’s something that serves the population on a scale; critical projects to a country’s infrastructure.
I sell a combination of software and services to help the contractors, principal contractors, to be able to deliver those projects in a more controlled and more insightful fashion.
Jamie: There are obviously big-ticket items if they have to be put in the CAPEX budget?
Jamie: The range is from as low a £100,000 pounds up to half a million. Between £100,000 to £500,000 range of spend.
Jamie: Jamie, what do you find most fulfilling about your career thus far?
Jamie: It’s a privilege being in sales. I think it’s an absolute privilege to be able to gain insights from experienced business operators, experts, and entrepreneurs, and understand what their challenges are, how they work and their aspirations are. Each conversation brings a new perspective, for example, two EPC contractors that produce a bridge but may approach it quite differently depending on the culture, and their experience and know-how. To be able to get the insight into the nuances of their business, their challenges, their aspirations, and to be able to know that my offering is able to contribute to their success is rewarding. And the higher you go up in terms of the food chain, and in terms of certain national infrastructure, you are dealing with some country-level critical projects, supply of energy to a country, for example, the more exhilarating the sales process.
None of these companies can operate in isolation. There’s interdependency, both internally for them and externally. No one works as an island, and the bigger the project, the more complicated it is – the more gears, the more cogs there are in the system. Therefore, there’s more opportunity to be able to provide value. The more complex, the more exposure to risk, and the more value you can add as a vendor. Ifs you can identify where those cuts and those leakages of value are; that is where you really need to understand the context and to be able to understand the life cycle and the value stream.
You’re not just selling at all, but you are understanding. It is the context which is so powerful and strategy and context will always win. If you are speaking to a general, who’s going to have more power in the army? Is it going to be the guy at the front line, or is it going be the general? The general is going to be interested in the context, the overall direction of where this army or the divisions are heading, and there’s always going to be a lot more value in the context.
To any new salespeople, I would urge them to understand context. Context is king in my eyes. I have seen too many salespeople jump in, learn the demo, the bells and whistles, the software, and the buttons; “look at this, and look at that!” Without respecting the client’s business. It’s pointless unless you understand where this tool you’re selling sits within the customer’s process and how they want to leverage it to achieve their goals.
Jamie: What’s the best thing about being in sales?
Jamie: Knowing that you’ve got something that can potentially add a lot of value. If we can identify that, we can be part of that project. Being helpful, contributing, and I think that it’s a bit of both- having privileged insights into these projects and contributing to these projects. People talk about money, but I’ve never really been hooked by that side of it.
Jamie: In your organization, how are salespeople treated and valued, particularly when compared to their peers who aren’t in sales?
Jamie: I treat it very much as a team sport. I think if you’re talking about it from the executive level in my organization, I think in my industry, when we’re talking about technology that supports engineering projects, a lot of this technology was born from engineers and so it’s always very been very much a technology-centric organization.
At the end of the day, buyers always want to have the specialists and the consultants, and then technology is just an enabling platform. It’s just a conduit, being able to deliver whatever they need to deliver, whether it’s a report, or whether data, whether it is a dashboard on the progress of a project or whatever that needs a project. It’s always about understanding that they’re always technology-centric.
In my organization, sales hasn’t been given the kind of emphasis it needs. We certainly have competitors that are very slick at sales, but their technology is not as good as ours. They may be able to gain more persuasion and more listening from their customers and from the market, but I think, in terms of longevity, it doesn’t serve them.
It’s good to have a bit of naivety going in and to focus on the business value. If you don’t come in with the technical value, that’s fine, but you have to come in with the business value. I think having coaching skills is so critical when you’re selling a solution, or selling anything, because it’s really when you’re listening, when you’re asking the questions, when you’re being very customer-centric and whether you’re selling a car or you’re selling books or you’re selling technology or you’re selling an aeroplane, you need to be customer-centric. There is just as much activity selling one aeroplane as there is in selling 100 small licenses a year. It’s just as much legwork, even though you’re only selling one product.
Jamie: What do you think of the difference in terms of skillsets of selling a smaller ticket item more times versus one large ticket item? What additional skills do you require?
Jamie: You need to be much more in control and have a greater appreciation of the wider perspective of your client’s industry. Larger ticket items obviously require greater budgets and inherently more risk. There is also change management of the client’s culture that you will battling with, and that requires buy-in from seniority on the clients side.
When selling smaller items, you’re perhaps by yourself or with a technical colleague, whereas when you are selling a bigger ticket item, you will likely be in a team of providing a range of components to fulfil a solution. In my experience the sales person needs to be a bid manager in control of the multi-expert team.
I think that the similarities between the two are that you’re always managing the perception of your company. You’re always the frontline of your company. It’s like a swan on the surface of the water. It’s very graceful but underneath, you’re kicking like crazy. The customer doesn’t need to know that you’re kicking like crazy underneath the surface of the water. Your office at the back may be chaos, with people screaming down the phone, it’s just bedlam, but when the customer walks through the front door, you want to have a nice leather sofa and you want to have a nice coffee machine and it’s serene. You are serene, you’re in control as a sales guy whether you’re selling a 1,000-pound license or a multimillion-pound license. It’s always going to have this chaos in the background. There is no such thing as a perfect organization. Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, they’re not perfect. In fact, the bigger the organization, the more cogs and the more chaos, because there are more silos involved, and the more departments you have to deal with; everyone’s pulling in different directions.
One very important aspect is to be able to manage the conversation with the person you’re talking to. People only buy from people they respect and if you have too low a perception of yourself, if you think, “Oh I’ve got a meeting with the CFO, CIO, or CEO,” and you’ve never dealt with the management level, then you’re in trouble.
Managing that conversation could be as simple as asking insightful questions that challenges their status-quo, or adding additional insights from their business that you gained from previous discovery conversations, or adding insights from the market. You need also to manage yourself to understand where they are coming from because you may have the solution they need. Often sales people find it hard to walk away, and develop a type of blindness to the reality of the fit between your company and their requirements. This information can only come from a honest and insightful conversation. If you can’t talk to them, you’ve lost them. You need to be able to go up and down the scale as a sales guy. It’s really important to have that skill.
Jamie: How do you go about learning this ability to talk at different levels within a business?
Jamie: There is a quick route and there is a slow route. I think part of it is gaining access to people. With experience, you want to speak quickly and start asking questions in a confident way. Interviewing basically is the quickest way. The other way is by making sales calls, learning by trial and error.
Jamie: Do you believe that a certain personality type performs better in sales?
Jamie: No, I don’t.I think the only thing is a willingness to learn, a willingness to invest and bravery to step out the comfort zone. The personality trait is someone who needs to invest in themselves. I don’t mean money, I mean time. Just be willing to make timely investment and to some, that may occur to people as a sacrifice because the biggest problem that we have in our society is being comfortable and people are not willing to go out of their comfort zone.
The good results are always going to come from that level of discomfort. People who are willing to stay within their comfort zone will not get results.
Jamie: Do you think there is a certain personality type that succeeds better in your type of engineering software sales?
Jamie: Yes, I do. I think it’s those who can really ask direct questions in an insightful and relevant way. Asking a question, almost knowing what the answer is. It’s always qualifying and knowing what that answer could potentially, be and what your response to that is going be. It’s like a chess game, and you should always be 2 or 3 steps in advance.
Jamie: Is that a large-software-specific thing?
Jamie: No, it’s not. It’s about understanding the value of your product. If you’re selling a drill, for example, you’re not just selling the drill, but you’re also selling the quality of the hole or how quickly you can drill holes. How they achieve that hole, it’s neither here nor there, really. But you know that your drill can produce that hole at a lower temperature or in a quicker time or going through fewer drill bits, whatever is important for them on the job.
Jamie: In your experience with salespeople, is there any advantage in age, gender, or physical appearance?
Jamie: Not at all, because it just comes down to confidence and self-belief.
Jamie: What do you think are the challenges in your industry with winning business?
Jamie: You’ve got things that are out of our control and you’ve got things within control. I think people focus too much on what’s out of our control such as the price of resources, or share prices of business, or cash flow.
Money is so readily available and it’s so cheap today to borrow money. I think people focus on the money side too much and not enough from the value side. The barrier to selling at the moment in our industry is focusing too much on factors that are out of our control.
Jamie: And how do you get a business to focus more on the factors within their control, and therefore buy?
Jamie: It comes down to the consultative approach. It’s a very uncommon practice for people to look at themselves to see how they can improve. They might do it once or twice a year. Getting them to take time to look at themselves to see how they can improve their business is the key. But it takes pain to change direction, right? It’s that very short sharp value proposition where you can say, “I can help you with this, this, and this. By doing this, this, and this X, Y, Z.” Whatever’s appropriate for their business or their industry. That meeting, that engagement, that insight, that is great.
Clarification is important because it shows them that they’ve been understood and people generally want to be understood. Mostly, people have this craving to be heard and be understood. “I’ve said something, but do you understand what I’m saying?” Feeding it back to them and paraphrasing it shows that you’ve actually digested the information and you really understand it. By asking an intelligent question on top of that means that you understand it and you’re taking it to another level.
Jamie: Would you recommend that any salesperson should go into big-ticket software?
Jamie: You need patience for big-ticket sales. If, for example, you’re going to sell something for £150,000 pounds, it will often become clear there isn’t budget for it in the current budgetary cycle. It may be that budget could be allocated in the next financial year. They could also approach an investor, or borrow. It can take a while so you need patience, and there are a lot of people who leave because the sales cycle is too long. There are many other skills too, for example tenacity, a deep interest in the industry your selling into, business acumen, as examples.
Jamie: How do you get your foot in the door and begin a career in software?
Jamie: Say you want to sell at Salesforce, you can start in Salesforce as inside sales or in marketing. Cold calling for Salesforce is a good place to start, I think, because you have to understand the industry. You have to start using the language of the industry. You’ve got to choose which industry you want to go into. First, start with that and then you work from there.
You always get a lot of turnover with salespeople. It’s such a dynamic role, but it’s not uncommon for people to even be in jobs for less than a year and then they move to another sales role. You see this happening all the time and I think it’s often a combination of a couple of things. One, I think salespeople get attracted to ‘Oh, it seems shiny,” or “Oh, that’s more pay.” They get sold into a job by recruitment consultants, but it’s very easy to be sold and also to move on if they’re not happy in their current role. I think you need to understand why you’re not happy in that current role, and in my opinion, sales managers have a huge opportunity here to step up. I’ve seen salespeople fall into an industry without the deliberation or time taken to discover where they would be most productive.
Jamie: What advice would you give generally to aspiring salespeople?
Jamie: Don’t be afraid to speak to those higher-ups, even your own CEO. Take your time and learn what is important for them and work with your executive level and speak to them. I would then go out and have as many coffee meetings as possible with other people from the executive level. Don’t try to sell them anything but just learn and say, “I’m new into this.” Be honest, and be open. I’d say “I’m really interested in your business and what you’re doing.” They will be impressed by you taking the time, and taking the initiative to go out and reach to them.
Jamie: Do you have any advice on how to structure that outreach for maximum effectiveness at the highest level of an organization?
Jamie: It’s about being respectful and saying, “I know you’re busy, I’m from this company, however, the purpose of me reaching out to you is X, Y, and Z. I just want to learn about what your business is doing this area. I was wondering if you would have 10 or 15 minutes just to have a phone call, or I’d really like to meet up with you in person. Would you be free for a coffee?” Everyone is going to take a break at some time. 10 or 15 minutes is worth making an hour train journey, whatever it might be, just to make that connection. You need to have absolutely no expectation to sell them anything whatsoever and just to learn about them.
Jamie: If you were starting your sales career again, what would you do differently?
Jamie: I would invest in coaching skills, NLP, and coaching skills right from the off. Not to manipulate or to use on people, but for self-management. Managing how to react to situations and to take the emotion out of situations, understand that everything is just neural, and learning how to construct a conversation to try to instigate action from the other person.
It’s a level of transparency and authenticity which actually moves and inspires someone to take action. You think of all the great speeches, they’ve all been spoken from the heart, but with incredible gestures.
Jamie: Tell me about the business you want to set up and how you want to help people with technical backgrounds get better at sales?
Jamie: The recruitment industry has got a problem in that the recruitment consultants don’t really understand what their customers need, because they don’t understand what the profile of the job is, so they don’t marry up the right contractors or people for that job. Because they’re in the middle, it’s doubly worse. It’s not like there’s only one side of the conversation. They’re handling two conversations at the same time, which is why they get paid well. They also do a disservice to the people and the companies because they can be very good at selling, but they don’t quite do the job. They could do the right job in a much shorter period of time if they had a much better appreciation of what the technical requirement is.
Jamie: Do the best recruiters in that field already have the technical background and learn recruitment, rather than the other way around?
Jamie: Yes, absolutely, they develop over the years.
I’ve had lots of jobs in my time. I don’t think that’s really going to change for other people and I think having 10+ year tenures is over now. I think that’s gone, unless you’re really that type of personality to stay in a government-type job or you find somewhere you really love.
I really believe there’s a framework to be able to achieve that knowledge. For recruitment companies, they would be better if they took the time to break that down into sales training as part of their induction. If they had the right induction framework, which is more than just saying, “Here’s your laptop, here’s what we do, here’s a database, go, and here’s a phone. Go figure.”
They’re a bit remiss when it comes to actually looking after their salespeople, which is why I think salespeople also leave their jobs too quickly; because they’re not getting the care and attention they need. They go, “Oh shit, this is too hard. I’m not getting into this.” There’s no way it would be that difficult if they were given the right steps to follow in terms of learning the industry.
Jamie: Would you recommend that engineers seek to learn sales?
Jamie: Sales is everywhere. Innovation is more needed now than ever. Engineering companies, they’re trying to do the same – or more – with fewer people. That’s just a fact. They’ve had to shed headcount. They’ve had to rationalize areas of their business which means that they need to innovate, and they need to be creative.
If an engineer, say at a low-level or mid-level comes up with an idea, that idea needs selling internally, and needs that support, but it takes that engineer to sell it. If they’re too meek but they’ve got a brilliant idea, that idea may never come to fruition. However, if they’ve got a mediocre idea, but yet if they’re quite an extroverted person, that idea may be more likely to come to fruition. The person with the better idea didn’t come through, even though it may have served the company even better in the long run. Why? Because he didn’t have those leadership skills and sales skills to be able to speak up and to be able to sell and inspire others to see his vision and see his ideas.
Jamie: So could you tell me about a time when you failed to make the sale, and it taught you something really valuable?
Jamie: I was quite a young sales guy, and I was speaking to the general manager of a pretty big unit of global manufacturing unit. I had just finished my first sales training, I tried to use it and I tried to give him some numbers that I had worked out.
“This is how much we can save you towards your ROI.” He was a proper alpha male. He just looked at me and said, “That’s bullshit, absolutely bullshit.” My learning was that it takes a bit of experience and you need to find out categorically what their numbers are. Learning about getting the right information to base an ROI on – but I was quite naive at the time.
Jamie: Tell me about NLP training?
Jamie: I did NLP coaching 9 years ago, and I just naturally brought it into my repertoire rather than using it with intention. I think it’s just something I’ve absorbed when I go into that sales engagement. I just switch it on.
Jamie: What are the specific advantages of training in NLP?
Jamie: NLP is a science of human behavior. As sales is mostly about understanding the psychology of buyers and company cultures its provides a significant advantage to understand some of the “human machinery” at play. A simple example would be when you listen to someone, you can start listening at a different level.
It’s not only listening to what they’re saying but also listening to how they’re saying it, and listening to what they’re not saying as well. You’re listening to their tonality, their reflection points.
You’re also looking at their body language. You’re looking at eye movements, you’re looking at breathing, you’re also looking at their skin tone and how that changes through conversation. Then you want to get in tune with that as much as possible.
When two people are kissing, they’re breathing at the same time. They have to be breathing at a certain time. That is one of the highest levels of rapport with somebody else. Everything else will fall into sync. Spine angle, or the rate at which they blink. It requires a very deep level type of bonding; of being in complete sync with someone.
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