Jason and I have been friends with the same people for a long time, though our paths only crossed a few years ago. Jason is a true student of the game – thoughtful, passionate, and enthused by talking sales.
A strong salesperson and an excellent recruiter (as shown by his Southwestern Excellence award), Jason is happy to share his secrets in this generous interview.
You can read Jason’s full biography here
Jamie: What about your sales and consultancy career thus far have you found most fulfilling?
Jason: I can probably say there are two ways to dissect this answer. One of the most fulfilling would be winning the Excellence Award in 2006 and part of the reason for that was that it was 18 months of really hard work, so it was really rewarding at the end of it to win that award. I think the other thing that’s truly fulfilling is when you see people that you wouldn’t say are natural salespeople, but work really hard, apply a lot of what they learn, and succeed.
Jamie: What is the Excellence Award?
Jason: At Southwestern, it’s given to the number one District Sales Manager, and so you’re competing for it. At the time, I was up against about 35-40 District Sales Managers, and I was the youngest. The award evaluates on over five categories, and you know one of the categories is sales growth. It’s like being the number one District Sales Manager in Southwestern that year.
Jamie: You mentioned how to deal with mentoring and the sales management side. Has that always appealed to you more in giving you more satisfaction?
I’d say it’s not only mentoring but also building. One of the things that really drives me is building something. Building a sales team, building a sales organisation, and building a company is the thing that really drives me.
Jamie: Do you feel like people who come from a sales background and a sales function have an advantage when it comes to building a company?
Jason: It depends on what kind of company you are looking to build if you’re in a services business. I’m sure it probably does but as we’ve seen probably with a lot of tech places, if you’re doing a lot of digital sales, you gain a lot traction making your sales whether it is B2B or B2C. The characteristics that you need are determination and perseverance rather than the skill of selling. One of the characteristics I think that you have to have as a salesperson is an ability to be persistent, to not bow down, and to have a good attitude. If you’re building a company or building a business, that is something that you have to have.
Jamie: What is the best thing about being a sales consultant specifically?
Jason: When you help other people hit their goals, it’s really rewarding.
Jamie: Would you describe yourself as a culture consultant?
Jason: I’ll often use the term growth consultant because the things that I do, a lot of people want, “How do I get more sales?” and another one might be more focussed on “how do I grow quickly?” They go hand in hand.
Jamie: How does the sales piece interact with the consultancy and the delivery of your services?
Jason: For a lot of people, if you’re in a service-based business like me in consulting, you are selling a couple of things. Number one as with everything, you’re selling yourself. I think that’s really key and I think what people will base the decision on is the personal relationship that they have with you; your product knowledge or expertise and then actually the value you can bring to my business. If I hire you to work on this project, what are you going to do to my business? That should be a given. Do I have a good personal relationship with you? That doesn’t necessarily mean that I will have beer or wine with you all the time or dinner all the time, or all these great events whether it be sporting or theatre or shows. It’s a relationship put together on a long-term project that’s going to take 6, 12, or 18 months. There has got to be some form of a personal relationship or at least some formal relationship there.
Jamie: Do you think certain personality traits are more suited to sales?
Jason: Yeah, I’d say you’ve got to be persistent. You’ve got to be able to manage your emotions because, in sales, you’ll have up and down weeks or months in terms of output. One of the things that we both learned at a young age was to focus on the controllables. I’m also a huge believer that the best salespeople are always learning – whether or not they have a product to sell, they’re always willing to learn from others.
I think that the top salespeople probably don’t really care about money that much. They get their real drive or passion by hitting their goals or delivering good customer experience.
Making money isn’t always the biggest driver, especially for millennials now, that’s something that traditionally people want in sales because you can make good money. I wonder what that’s going to be like in 10 years’ time because millennials aren’t as driven by money.
Jamie: So you believe that the group of younger salespeople entering the workforce are less driven by money than ever before?
Jason: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it is true only for salespeople, but people in general. When I came out of university, people were massively driven by what they could earn. But with the millennials and Gen X, it is not as big a driver for them as it used to be. I don’t know how that’s going to impact sales, but as a society, money isn’t going to be as important as it used to be.
Jamie: What kind of things are going to drive salespeople, if not money?
Jason: I think a couple of things. For one, they will have to massively believe in the product or the business. I’m really passionate about energy. It’s the most boring subject in the world, but I was really excited and motivated to help build a business that was going be different from the Big 6, from a British Gas because they dominate the market, as far as I was concerned, I wanted to be a challenger mentality type, and that’s the thing that drove me.
I think salespeople in the future will be motivated by things like what does the business stand for? Do I like their product or service? Another big one is; can I learn? Am I going to learn from my leader? People move from jobs a lot more often now, so am I going to be learning from my line manager and colleagues a lot more?
Another massive one is, “Do I like the people I’m working with?” Sounds truly corny, and it’s probably been there for ages, but we probably spend more time working now than we ever have done. Whether it be that you work late during the week, or you work at weekends, you have a really close connection with your colleagues, and you spend a lot of time with them, so ensuring you’re in an environment that you enjoy spending time with will be huge.
Jamie: What other elements of culture do you feel like businesses should be looking to cultivate to attract and retain the salespeople?
Jason: I have always really enjoyed working in environments or cultures where people celebrate each other’s successes. I’ve heard from my other mates or just from people at pubs how salespeople can get jealous of other salespeople if they’re beating them, or they’re beaten by them, or where people will be quite disingenuous to make a sale. I personally don’t like that environment, and I think that the best environments; the ones that I’ve seen do really well is when everybody’s doing things honestly and transparently, and people are happy for their colleagues to do well. If you think about Southwestern, that’s one thing that I was just so amazed by – how Southwestern did it. You’d be competing against somebody, and you’ll still be happy for them. If they had their best week, you know there will never be any spitefulness towards somebody, so I think that’s really cool. I think that’s a great thing.
A really strong vision, purpose, and mission is essential. Where is the business going, if I join this sales team where are we going as a business and how can I contribute to it? It goes back to ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.’ Where is my sense of belongingness in this business? I’m excited about the direction, and a lot of people want growth. If a business was just like, “We’re going to grow 2% this year.” A lot of people might not be that excited by it.
Having the ability to learn is key. I think that it’ll be really interesting actually, going forward, regarding work-life balance. We’ve probably been in the environment where we’ve had to go into the office, or on a client’s site, but what we’ll see over the next 5 to 10 years is that people will now work from home a lot more. For a salesperson, one of the things that we are used to is the office and feeding off each other.
Jamie: If salespeople feed off the energy, do you believe that sales organisations should require people to be in an office?
Jason: I think there are different ways you can go around it. One of the things that my business does is have a monthly team meeting, so even though we might not be necessarily working from home, but we might be on-site with the client, there is still a couple of times a month that we all come together. We have the monthly team meeting, and then on Tuesdays, we have a weekly call. So even if I’m in London, Edinburgh, Singapore, America, or Brazil, we can still hear each other’s voices and share the best practices with each other.
Jamie: As someone who’s on the outside looking in and wants to make sure that there are opportunities for growth, this ability to learn, this ability to feel connected and be recognised – how can you test for that without actually working in the organisation?
Typically, if they look after their external customers, then they’ll often look after their internal customers. You can’t deliver a really good customer experience but then deliver a really bad employee experience. Normally that is quite closely linked.
Jamie: How would you go about finding out that NPS score?
Jason: I don’t know what the John Lewis NPS score is, but I’m willing to bet you that it’s better than Sport’s Direct NPS score, and I’m willing to bet that they look after their employees better than the Sports Direct employees. For example, when Sports Direct gets described as a toxic culture where employees were scared to take time off work, to the extent where one lady gave birth in the toilets, I’d probably say that’s not a great culture. There are things that you can read. Whether it is news nowadays on the internet or you find everything by Glassdoor. During the interview process, you will typically get a chance to meet other people in the team. That’s another way of assessing what a cultural fit is like. You might shadow people, so you get to see what they’re like. You can find a lot of information about businesses now that we probably weren’t able to do 10-15 years ago.
Jamie: Do you have any recommendations on how you can make salespeople feel especially valued by the organisation?
Jason: Everybody likes having responsibility, so can you be a part of the process? For example, “Hey we’re looking at developing this product, can you guys tell me what do you think about it?” or “We’re thinking about opening up this channel, how would you guys go about it/or “We’re thinking about including the way that we look after our customers. How would you go about it?”
Jamie: As an aspiring salesperson who wants to get into sales or growth or culture consultancy; how do I go about that?
Jason: I’d say find some that you’re passionate about – that sounds so cheesy, but that’s the thing that really drives you. For me, the big thing that drives me is company growth and making great places to work. So, that was something that made me think, “How do you build a great team?” As I’ve grown up, that language has changed slightly to, “How do you make a coma great to work for?”
I almost stumbled across that by mistake, but in hindsight, if I was reverse engineering, it is that I’ve always been about having fun with people.
Jamie: What advice would you give to aspiring salespeople?
Know why you are doing it. For us, it is about; what are the emotional goals? What are the reasons you’re doing this? One must be willing to fail and learn from others around you and sell something that you believe in.
Jamie: If you were starting your sales career again, what would you do differently?
Jason: I started in sales young. I invested in Southwestern stocks, and that was good. I wish I would have paid attention more on my first and second summer.
I wish I had believed in myself more because I think one of the biggest things that separate top salespeople from the rest is their belief levels. Top performers have such confidence in what they can do, and it took me a couple of years to get to that level. I wish I believed in myself more.
Jamie: Do you have any advice on how aspiring salespeople can go about increasing that belief?
Jason: The way I used to think about it is, “Get used to hitting small goals and build that culture or expectation and your belief level and just keep on improving it.” So it could be, “Look, just get to getting three customers a day, then four customers a day, and then five customers a day.” Just get used to that.
Top performers at almost any level now, if you think about sportspeople, they build a habit, and you get used to those habits of always accomplishing things, and then that’s what builds the belief barriers.
Jamie: Could you tell me about a specific time when you failed to make a sale, but you really learned something valuable from it?
Jason: I remember – not necessarily a specific sale – but I was having a really tough time. It was at the start, one of my summers where I had a really horrendous first week and I had just come off a really strong summer, and I was really, really struggling to the extent where it was shocking. I remember my manager dropped everything, he flew out and he shadowed me, and then I shadowed him on a Saturday. He gave me pointers on how I was interacting with prospects, and that made a huge difference on two levels. One, I got some really good technical advice on how to improve my sales. Secondly, it was just that my manager cared about me and that he was willing to drop everything; sales school is really hectic, so for him, to leave sales school when he probably had bigger groups coming across then, it meant a lot to me. Make sure you have a good relationship with your line manager. That personal relationship, that was massive for me.
Jamie: Tell me about a sale that you did make, that shows off the skills, the expertise, and experience developed throughout your career.
Jason: I made a sale just recently. It was with a financial services business and one of the big things we did, that helped, is that we got a lot of stakeholders involved in the process. It wasn’t just the MD and Founder making the decision – although he was making the final decision – but he got feedback from probably about 10 or 12 other people. That helped influence the decision, and that was done over time. So, it’s making sure that we had a good relationship with the decision-maker, but also people who weren’t making the final decision but could influence the decision. Therefore, when it came to the MD making decision, his whole team was on board with it, and that made it a lot easier.