If you’re an aspiring salesperson, Jeremy Jacobs is someone you want in your corner. With his significant expertise, insightful views, and focus on mentorship and culture, Jeremy’s views on sales are wise and clear.
Exceptionally well-read, and continually adding to his library of knowledge – which you can find at https://www.
You can read Jeremy’s full biography Jeremy Jacobs – The Exceptional Sales Career
Jamie: Jeremy, just to begin with, in terms of your careers in sales and sales mentorship and presenting, what have you found most fulfilling thus far?
Jeremy: I think all of it. The answer I would give at twenty-five years of age would have been a different answer to the one I give now, at over fifty. I think in those days, it was about the money and the freedom. Nowadays, it has been many years, and it is about helping other people. The one lesson you learn in life, Jamie, is that somewhere along the line you have got to leave your ego at the front door; what I mean by that is in the case of presenting and speaking, you just have to be a little bit humble. It is the same when you are seeing customers in sales. A lifelike selling and presenting, life is never about you, ever; it is always about the customer. As long as you get that, I think that is why I like it; I think it is probably one of the biggest lessons anybody could learn.
Jamie: When did you learn that lesson that you need to be about others?
Jeremy: I just think it was probably over several years; which probably started a year into my first job – sometime in the last century – that is this thing called listening. People do not listen enough in business, and in sales, I mean really listen. Sometimes, this was not said rather than what is said. I think the biggest lesson that salespeople of any age can learn is to really listen to the other person, really listen, the telephone is off the hook and just really give someone your full attention; that is the big, big lesson in sales and I guess you never stop learning.
Jamie: What is the best thing about choosing sales as a career?
Jeremy: I could not do anything else. All these high ideas about becoming a lawyer or a doctor or something, out the window. I did not like administrative work when I first left school. I mean, you did not go to university in those days. You went to school and work, and that is how it used to operate. I think the ones that are forced into sales because you can get a regular income find it challenging; I think a lot of people go into sales for that, but those things are not necessarily enough.
Jamie: What is the worst thing about being in sales?
Jeremy: As long as you are a reasonably fairly balanced, well-balanced person, you’ll be okay, if not, then, it can affect you very badly. I have probably been through the ups and downs in sales for all sorts of reasons. Quite honestly, Jamie, that is for the worst thing, but the good thing about that is having the mental strength and the sense of purpose and the resolve to get out of the mess you are in and move forward.
Sales is a metaphor for life, really. If you can put up with the slings and arrows of misfortune as you go through your career, then it will make you a more rounded person, a better person.
Jamie: What are those characteristics that you would originally suggest someone look for in themselves to want to stop that journey?
Jeremy: I think being slightly crazy helps.
I think the one thing across the board you have to have is to really put yourself in the other person’s shoes. A high degree of empathy is number one on the list. You need a very high understanding of their business. Not only understanding of their business, understanding of their client’s business, and who they engage with. I think you need to have this wonderful thing called EQ, emotional intelligence, to a very high level.
These are three things: determination, dedication, and discipline. Plus, like any other profession, can, and ensure that you do invest in yourself. What I mean by that is that you do a part-time degree or you do a part-time course in something because I know it will help you understand the business. Some people take public speaking lessons. Some people do some other modes of study, mathematics or something, or economics so they can understand things. The more you learn about the business, and the more you learn about your client’s business, the better you will be. So, you can have all of that. You can have an inquiring mind, obviously. I suppose as someone told me years ago, “Do not take no for an answer,” but sometimes you have to, you cannot win them all. If you have got that in mind, then you will be well.
Jamie: If you had to pick the biggest thing that you saw and the differences between unsuccessful and successful salespeople, what would they be?
Jeremy: The absolute number one thing is the ability to pick up the phone. I am saying that slightly tongue-in-cheek, the ability to pick up the phone every day and prospect every day.
The biggest reason why people fail in sales is probably because of a lack of prospecting. It is almost absurd. You must not stop, day in, day out, relentlessly searching for new customers.
Jamie: Comparing a physical products sale person versus an enterprise B2B salesperson. What do you think of the difference in skill sets needed to do those jobs?
Jeremy: Again, this is broad brush strokes. As long as people understand the difference between selling enterprise and selling one thing, selling to the existing clients, and being a new business salesperson or if you like, a disruptor. The techniques you have to use for those are different. I do not want to go into them now, this is part of what I do, but sales has moved on, and the understanding of people has moved on.
You have to be a little bit subtle and more nuanced nowadays. Selling to an existing customer or selling to a new customer is a different thing altogether. You have to take a different approach, and I think that has become much more marked nowadays.
Jamie: You mentioned the EQ element and the empathy element of a good salesperson. Is there such a thing as having too much empathy?
Jeremy: You do not want to be a grovelling person, but you also cannot have enough empathy with that surrounding, that is, an understanding of their business. You need the spirit of wanting to help people, not in the social worker sense or having a good bedside manner like a doctor necessarily, but it is just being of good service. If you are like that and if you are enthusiastic and “authentic” to quote that overused word, I think you will do quite well because people like salesmen who know their stuff. If you take an interest in someone, they will automatically warm to you because that is human nature. I think it is the same in sales.
Jamie: Let’s imagine you are hiring for a business, what are you looking for in a CV generally, and in terms of extracurriculars?
Jeremy: I think if you are hiring someone, and if you are looking for extracurriculars, I think I will be looking for someone who is a bit of a giver. Someone who gets involved in a local amateur drama group or runs the scouts or something or is a member of a political party and organizing things or putting on events. Someone who has got a calculating, and methodical mind who can get things done it is those sorts of things, and team games as well.
If you are looking for leadership qualities, then choose someone who is quite good at sports. I would be wary of people who play golf. They are very selfish. People just blindly say travel and cinema, yet I would question unless they are heavily into a particular genre of films. Many people now, of course, if you have two kids, you might have other things you want to do and family life. It is not easy to sort of necessarily balance everything, but the point is that it is just getting that determination done. I think a willingness to succeed also helps.
Jamie: Why should salespeople have a mentor, and how can they go about finding one?
Jeremy: They can call me, obviously.
Why should people have a mentor? Because if you are constantly in a situation where you are working with one person, like a sales manager, they may not have the time to mentor you. They would have the time to coach you and take you through various techniques and help you in that area, whereas I take on a different role. I take a more long-term role, and I would look at people’s outside interests. I would look at their life as a whole, not just the sales job they are at the moment.
When I first see someone, I say to them, “Look, you are twenty-five or twenty-six years of age, where do see yourself in five years or more importantly, where do you see yourself in twenty-five years?” It is amazing the stuff that comes back to you, and then you filter down, “Well, how are you going to achieve that?” That is not necessarily appropriate in a sales coaching or sales management type role. What I want to try and do with people is guide them along with a structure, because the work you put in at twenty-five or thirty years of age will pay off, at fifty, sixty, or seventy. It is looking at a whole life and the long-term rather than an individual coaching situation.
Jamie: A lot of young salespeople would not have mentors because they might not know the first step on how to reach out and get one. What advice do you have in that scenario?
Jeremy: Look up the Internet. I think I have a responsibility to put myself out there. I would ask if a young person is concerned currently about their job and career, and I think many will be at the moment. I would love to reach out to all the people in there, between eighteen and thirty years of age and say, “Look, I know what it is like at the moment.” I have been through recessions in the past. I think by this time next year it could get a bit more serious. I hope I am wrong, but now many people could be quite distressed about their careers and what they want to do; so it is really helping people that I’m interested in
It is about asking around, going on to the Internet, looking at LinkedIn, reading books, and ask around some more. It really is as simple as that, and there are people out there. There are lots of people forty-five years of age and class who are willing to help. Eventually, if you are determined enough, you will find someone.
Jamie: What elements of culture make a sales organization successful?
Jeremy: Culture eats systems for breakfast. I think that is very true. I think where you are and which countries you are in will determine it. I think you got to have good leadership. Someone asked me the other week, “Who was your best teacher at school, Jeremy?” There was a guy, Mr. Dalleson, who was so enthusiastic about geography and countries and it has given me a lifelong interest in countries, rivers, and political geography and it is all because of him.
I think if you can find a manager who offers to help people or a series of managers who understands sales, understand life, and really take an interest in you as an individual, that is ideal. You are not going to get that in the archetype or transactional-type place, “You do this, here is your target, get on with it”. You want a more transformational environment where people are allowed to grow and feel and can ask for help.
I think the more you treat your staff – particularly sales staff – with respect, kindness, and decency, you will get a lot from your workforce. It is quite simple in that respect. My colleague, Gloria Moss, has studied and written books on the subject. It is all about looking after the people.
I think it is terribly important to speak to the marketing people, whether it is through official channels’ “What is it you want us to do?” It understands what the aims of the marketing team are. How often do you go out with the marketing people? How often do you go out with your service team? How often can you speak to product support or product development, including manufacturing? Get to know your business, encourage a chat between different departments, and that will help you as well. In broad brushstrokes, it is about having a flat, open hierarchy, and a transformational environment rather than a transactional one.
Jamie: How would you go about finding out whether or not you are joining a transformational organization?
Jeremy: Do your research. There may be some great things spoken about that company, look at their reviews on Amazon, look at their reviews in the trade press, look at their reviews elsewhere, and look at their financial reports. You can get a feel of the company and an organization by how they treat their customers. Phone them up; what sort of response do you get? Not surprisingly, you will find that the biggest, clunkiest organizations out there can be some government departments.
The larger the organization, the more problems you are going to have, typically. Sharper, leaner, and more aggressive type of companies are great, though they can have a particular problem of having one crazy entrepreneur at the very top leading everything. See what their customers say; that is always a good starting place. I think there it was a book about the top twenty-five companies to work for.
At the time, Marks & Spencer and Reuters were in the top two or three. It may have changed now over the years, but just try and seek them out. This is the same as researching a client strangely. Go to the business libraries, go to the British Library in London, go online, and go to your local reference libraries. You are not going to get a company that is going to give you seven weeks paid holidays, a company car, and everything under the sun. Life is not like that, but the point is that you got to spot – you want the most nurturing environment that you could probably, possibly find.
Jamie: Do you have any specific advice for someone who is interviewing for a sales job?
Do your research. I would go back to this the whole time. If you are looking for a sales position, do your research. Who are their customers? Why are they successful? What is it about them that their customers like? Can you see an opportunity? Are there any gaps in their offerings? What does their website look like? Is the website easy to follow, or is it clunky, or has it got strange colours? Again, find out about everything.
A company that knows their worth will have a decent website which is easily accessible, which is easy to read, and easy to follow through. You will find that, oh this company looks good, they have got this a bit right and I like this, I like that, but I do not like that. I could ask questions about the website, or I could ask questions about their products and try and sort of dovetail it in with your existing or previous experience.
Try to find out people who work for that company, what do they like about it and why do they approve of this company. I mean, I made that mistake years ago. I did not do enough research about a company, and it was quite embarrassing, and I could have done better. Then when you get to the interview, get there fifteen minutes earlier and go to the gents or ladies toilet, because it is amazing how people just open up in the toilet.
Again, when you go into a building- who is there? Are people smiling at each other? If it is in retail and you were to check a place out, and it is a retail sales job or something or B2C, what are the people like there, are they happy? You may have an event space or a hotel or something, what is the environment like, how clean is it? Again, I go back to that word “research,” Research and ask questions.
Jamie: What is the single biggest piece of advice you would give someone who is starting out in their sales career?
Jeremy: Why do you want to do it? Years ago, Jamie, there used to be an advert in the London Evening Standard. One of those old adverts said, “I have got three houses, two cars, this and this and you can be like me, call now!” That is what sales in the seventies, eighties, and nineties used to be like.
You have this aggressive, “close, close, close,” money or incentive thing. The point is that you do not go about in that way anymore. You do not go after the short-term, get-rich-quick type of deals. You would go for the long-term. Go through the long-term, advising customers logically and methodically and build a reputation.
I was involved with an organization called the Association of Professional Sales. They want to try and turn sales into a profession, like medicine or the law sector.
Look at it as a long-term profession, not just some sort of gig where you flog – that is my biggest bit of advice. You can just flog stuff, and you might be successful, but eventually, bad things will happen.
Jamie: If you had your career again, what would you do differently?
Jeremy: Probably everything. I think I would take more time to do more research. I think I would apply myself a little differently. One of the sales books I have got here that I have been reviewing, they talk about Warren Buffett. He reads five hundred pages a day, allegedly.
The more you learn in your twenties, thirties, and forties, the better off you will be. Perhaps we should all read two hours a day. An education will give you a job. Learning on the job will give you a career.
Jamie: Can you tell me about a specific time when you did not make a sale, and it hurt, but it taught you something?
Jeremy: There was one situation, and this goes back to doing research, there is an old saying, “The job is not done until the paperwork is complete.” When I was working for Canon back in the eighties, I took a very large order for an online company. I was responsible for doing my own research. Several machines were then issued to the company, who we trusted, and they signed for them on credit. We were sorting out the leasing arrangements for these machines. In those ten days, the company went to receivership. My branch of Canon not only lost the equipment physically and the revenue but also the bottom line profit, and we are talking about a lot of money. It did not cost me my job, but it cost the job of the divisional sales director. It cost me a trip to Brazil and several thousand pounds worth in commission. I can assure you in the nineteen-eighties, that was a lot of money.
The lesson is about thoroughness before the sale, thoroughness after the sale, and this wonderful word: “communication.” Sometimes, these things are just unforeseen. I did not know whether this company was going to bust, but that is what happened. Even when you get an order, the order is not complete until the money is in the bank; that is the number one lesson.