Nazia Khan is a strong personality, of that there is no doubt, with strong and clear opinions. She has been in sales and marketing, working for a variety of top brands, for two decades, and her experience and confidence in personal interaction are visible and palpable.
Much like Nazia’s answers in this interview, I will be concise and direct, but be assured she is one to watch.
You can read Nazia’s full biography here
Jamie: Nazia, what have you found most fulfilling about your career thus far?
Nazia: I think re-establishing contact with the automotive sector. Previously, I have worked in that sector for about 10 to 12 years. I took a break to work across different sectors. It’s been good to go back and also interesting that once you’re in that sector, people tend not to leave. They go from one car brand to another. Some of my old clients, who were previously at Harley-Davidson or Aston Martin, they’re still within the same sector. Being able to use my leverage, and my network to create new openings, I think that’s probably the most satisfying and most fulfilling aspect. To pick up from where we left off in terms of relationships and leveraging those to create new opportunities, and new openings.
Jamie: If you took quite a long break from the industry before going back, how did you maintain those networks and connections?
Nazia: Seventy per cent of them are on my LinkedIn. I wasn’t using LinkedIn very actively, but then I sort of got back on it last year. I’m also working with my lead generation team. I’ve got two people that support me part-time, one day a week. So, between them, LinkedIn and my own black book, I’ve opened pretty much every door in the automotive sector within the last 12 months.
Jamie: In your previous roles, how did you make sure that you are completely embedded into the industry?
Nazia: I guess the knowledge that you pick up when you’re in the industry; I understand how the dealership model has evolved it used to be a place where customers paid 2-3 visits on average before purchasing a car, nowadays customers carry out all the research online and only visit a dealership to collect their car, it’s become a destination for the transaction, and the opportunity to transform the dealerships through tech and creativity to deliver an unforgettable experience is a given; not optional. For example, within five years, 25% of all car sales will come from online channels. It’s just identifying the different trends that are relatable to today’s market as opposed to what happened five years ago. I’m brushing up my skills and a lot of that tips sort of walking into those dealerships and mystery shopping. You see how the visitor is pitched, also whether they understand different customer needs, for Gen Y or Gen Z, and what their attitudes are towards selling a car.
Jamie: What’s the best thing about being in sales?
Nazia: I think the relationship aspects, for me. My strongest skill is influencing key stakeholders and being able to draw different people into different situations. Some people are quite difficult and being able to navigate them and ask direct questions, it helps. Is there an opportunity? Could I be on your roster? What’s the process? If there are existing agencies, that’s fine, could you at least give me half an hour of your time on a call or on Zoom, if you don’t have time for a physical meet today? It’s worth it just to hear a proposition of where we could meet the real difference to your sector, to your business. I rarely accept a “no.” I think you have to be relatively thick-skinned in sales. You really got to push it hard. I think selling through the “no” is probably the most exciting part.
Jamie: What do you think is the worst thing about being in the sales profession regardless of your salary?
Nazia: I think the internal operational teams because I live in a dream world, a creative world where I create the opportunities, and then you create the opportunities in the new sector, and then you get told internally, “We need more budget for the operational work or more time,” but you think, “hang on a minute. It’s already past all that. It’s the test phase, let’s do it. Let’s get it out the door!” I think that’s been the most frustrating thing- that we walked away from a couple of deals last year. I made a couple of brand sales in the UAE following visits out there. Two visits to Dubai to work for the German or Japanese brands, and then the operational team didn’t help to land those within two weeks, so that’s really frustrating.
Jamie: Would you say that you enjoy internal selling a lot less than external selling?
Nazia: Yes. Technical people are very much realists and critics. They don’t really share the same vision as the salespeople.
Jamie: Do you have any advice on how to be better with those kinds of people?
Yeah. I think they should be involved from the earliest stages of the selling. Basically, we involve them when we’ve got a real opportunity, so they can cost up the projects and begin the operational journey and what needs to happen internally.
It’s almost like we’re telling them what to do, but I think you should bring them in into the earlier process. For example, in a recent deal, I’ve involved the team right from the moment I was in discussions to land the deal. If you ask the right internal questions, you’ve got the right budget in place in advance.
Jamie: What do you think is the biggest difference that you see between successful and unsuccessful salespeople?
Nazia: I think success is down to flexibility and tailoring your approach and your response to be consultative. I think we need to discover the real story behind this, and the real reason would make it a lot easier. A lot of the dealers I work with are very scared of tech. They don’t know how to operate it and then think, “Oh, what if the screen gets stuck or frozen,” and they are relying on the basic product information. I think it’s kind of baby steps, of saying, “Let’s work together. Let’s test the initiatives. Let’s do it step-by-step. Pilot, then rollout, to look at big initiatives.” To get a buy-in from the dealers, the brand can’t just go there and say why we are doing this; you have to get approached. I think it is about baby steps and being flexible in our approach, particularly in the automotive sector who seem to be a decade behind the game changers like Apple, Amazon, Google etc. in truly connecting and transforming the customer experience through tech.
Jamie: Have you seen deals fail because you’ve gone too big too fast?
Nazia: In the initial days, yes. We have this great business model which is, “Think, Make, and Run”. The “Think” part is strategy innovation, and creativity and the “Make” part basically means stuff that goes into the showroom, the kit. Then, there’s the “Run” part which is the installation and the maintenance. Potentially, you could do any stage. You don’t have to do all three. If you’re trying to sell all three, you can do a lot of business, but it also means that it’s a lengthier selling process because you could take 3 years to secure a contract. It could be worth 25 million, but actually, sometimes it’s just good to pick up a project they just want. I think, initially, it was already ambitious to try and sell the whole piece being a new sector.
Jamie: Do you prefer selling products or services, and how do you go about selecting the product that you want to sell?
Nazia: Basically, in retail, it’s about convenience and experience. So, ensuring that the products that we have and the service, it complements the market’s needs. That’s where the focus is. In consultancy, it gives us a real edge, and that means there is income from day 1, and we are seen as a strategic partner of the product. It depends really on what works.
I think I prefer consultative products; the big picture stuff. The one that is very attractive too because if you are selling a piece of kit to 40,000 dealers, that’s a big contract. However, it is very difficult to build, sustain, maintain, and nurture that relationship. It has been a long process, with the CEO, the FDs, or the CMOs.
Jamie: Presumably throughout your career, you experienced a more masculine-driven culture, is that fair?
Nazia: Yes. There have been some shocking behaviour across the organization from some of the shareholders where they think that if you are attractive, that’s all you need, but actually,
to sell something, you need real substance. You need skills. You need negotiation skills. You need to be able to foster, adopt, and manage relationships. You need to be able to leverage your network. You need to be able to stand up and present with real confidence. You need to get product knowledge, and you also need to assure that the pricing is correct.
If it’s a brand-new initiative, you’re with the client all the way. It’s not about just dressing up beautifully and hoping everything will go well. Shockingly, some people in the organization believe that still works, a very old school mentality.
Jamie: How do you deal with that point of view?
Nazia: They are lucky to have these personalities that are somehow respected very well by most people in the organization, so I just laugh at them. I just dismiss them. I do not really think about it much, and try to engage with them much.
Jamie: From our previous discussions, there have been times in your career where you have needed to ask for more in terms of role or compensation. How do you know when it is a good time to do that?
Nazia: It depends. When I was assigned this role, the commission was a big deal for me. I wanted to make sure that was tied in early as possible, whereas the agency was just very keen to just do a test drive, test, and trial.
I was hired without any contracts in place. It was a very informal chat. I joined the agency. Then this commission was a real sticky point, I wanted to work from the revenue, but the agency wanted to pay me from the profits. My predicament back then was – and still is – I am responsible for winning the sales contract, but I am not responsible for delivering them. So, I should be rewarded on the win and not on the delivery because if inefficiencies occur in the delivery, then why should I be penalised for it?
Jamie: Did you get your way?
Nazia: Yes, I did.
Jamie: Would you recommend people always get jobs through their network and their reputation if possible?
Nazia: I think your works speak for itself. If you have referrals to leverage them, it works better than any recruitment channels. The last time I was interviewed for a role was back in 2003! Forming and nurturing great client relationships lead to endorsements.
I think it is all about the network. Your network drives your net worth, that’s always been my view.
Jamie: Any advice on how people could go about expanding their network?
Nazia: People need to have a clear vision. Let just say, if you want to earn a certain amount at the end of the year, or in the next three years, it depends on your personal goals and ambitions. You should use that, metrics drive hard the objectives, and you can pretty much structure any deal to support your objectives as long as you can back it up with your skills, and your experience. I was really clear when I figured what I wanted to make. I had taken a few years travelling sabbatical, and then I came back with those goals. I have this black book, I have a team, and this is how I want to run it. This is my ideal. I will deliver this if it does not work, then we can review it at the end of three months.
Jamie: How do you go about starting that strong when you join an organization?
Nazia: I work with an exceptional guy named AJ, he is very good at securing meetings on the phone – If you want an appointment with Boris Johnson or Trump, he could get one. He is very good on the phone, and he is very convincing. I asked the agency to produce a showreel, and I will share that with you. It is very strong. It is a forty-five-second movie that sums up the agency spirit, the vision, the creativity, and the tech it uses to transform retail spaces for some of the biggest names in tech, and everybody who has seen the movie has helped secured meetings for me. Fifty percent of the meetings I secured myself, the other fifty AJ secured with an extraordinary way to capture attention on the phone. AJ is exceptional on the phone while my skills are more geared towards face-to-face. We made people think, “Actually, I want to meet this agency because they are really good at what they do.”
Jamie: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to aspiring salespeople?
Don’t be afraid of job titles. Everyone is equal, and you can run conversations at any level as long as you keep things really simple, clear, direct, and you know what you are selling, your key message is clear, and you know that they could need your product or your service. You just have to be clear before you play the real game, and if you can lock in a thirty-second elevator pitch down to a “T,” you will be successful,
Get your elevator pitch to where you could just reel it off in your sleep.
Jamie: If you were starting your career again, what would you do differently?
Nazia: Knowing what I know now. I probably would have negotiated back in the early days, internally. Externally, I have always been good, but if I was asked internally, I would have made a lot more money a lot faster.
Jamie: When would you have negotiated?
Nazia: I think with the early days with the Harley Davidson account. The reliance was completely on me. My role was autonomous and entrepreneurial in spirit; I was in a really great position to negotiate whatever I wanted. I did negotiate, but not hard enough. I think because I was running my own business unit, as a Business Unit Director, but actually, I could have earned a lot more financially. However, my role progressed from senior account executive to Business Unit Director in 5 years with great travel benefits, so it’s not always about financial goals.
Jamie: I was wondering if you could tell me about a specific time where you did not make a sale, but you learned something?
Nazia: There was one project, the Harley Davidson days, where I did not win. It was not that I was resting on my laurels. I think my ambition and my drive took over, and I did not really listen to the client. If I had listened more while asking for feedback, I could have secured the brief. The clients faced a really difficult time emotionally and in their personal lives, and I did not tune in to that. Whereas now, I have a level of understanding which was not there previously. I know what keeps my clients up at night. I know how they spend their personal time. Really getting to know them outside the business world is key.
Jamie: You mentioned asking for feedback, is that something that you have done throughout your career and recommend other salespeople too?
Nazia: Yes, I like it. I will always be direct. I want people to be direct back.
Whether I like it or not does not really matter because if I do not know how things should be done differently, I won’t change them. I think feedback is absolutely brilliant.