Nick Beresford was one of my favorite bosses (or more accurately, boss’ bosses) because he knew how to think big, and he knew how to have fun, and he knew how to galvanize teams, as he references below.
From a draft of the book itself: “My favourite organizational goal that I’ve been a part of was set by Nick at P&G. Our sales channel (basically the “other” channels that weren’t the declining major supermarkets) was worth about £350m in “NOS” (a proxy for profit) at the time, and Nick was determined to get it to £500m within 3 years, a huge goal deemed unlikely by others in the organization. Nick set up a pyramid of “bricks” of additional £1m of profit, and if a team member contributed £1m extra, a brick was added to the wall. The entire team – perhaps myself especially – took huge pleasure and pride in placing these bricks. When we finally accomplished this goal (nine months early) there was a party involving a Scottish castle and fireworks, the like of which was rarely seen at P&G. It was a seminal moment in my career, and convinced me that I always want to be part of huge, shared goals.”
Jamie: Nick, first of all, what have you found most fulfilling about your career in sales and leadership thus far?
Nick: For me, it’s always been about getting the sale, getting the deal done and that’s always given me enormous satisfaction. When you’re working on a big sale, a big deal and that gets assigned to you. There is this buzz of the sale, that’s always been quite satisfying, and then probably in a similar way, working with teams, colleagues, and other people to deliver bigger goals or bigger things together. Those are probably the two things.
Jamie: Is that true in your current role as the CEO of Enertor?
Yes. It’s a very different role for me, coming out of a commercial role in a big corporate and then going into an entrepreneurial role. You have to do everything; you think you did a lot of things in a big corporate but your bandwidth was very narrow. The risks and the rewards are that much higher in a startup, so if you do a big deal in an entrepreneurial business then it can be life-changing, but equally, when things go wrong, it can also be life-changing. That same boost of doing a good deal hasn’t changed though.
Jamie: What have you found the best thing about being an entrepreneur thus far?
Nick: Having your destiny in your own hands, as it were. You learn a lot more about the real world while making lots of mistakes that you can learn from, and I quite enjoy that. One of the things that I’ve learned is that even at your lowest point in the business – you might have a legal problem or a massive cash problem or you’ve lost a big client; there are all sorts of things that can kill a small business – it happens to all but the risk is greater for small businesses – actually that setback is about your choice; you could choose to keep moving.
There’s always an option, and the only time a startup dies is if you just stop and give up. There’s always an avenue, and there’s always a way out because you’re the master of your own destiny. There’s always an opportunity. You can be having a conversation with someone, and you could go in a completely different direction. When you’re in a corporate, you’re very limited to your scope of what deals you can do. As an entrepreneur, it’s unlimited really, what you can do. It’s just trying to pick the right things.
Jamie: What have you found the worst thing about being an entrepreneur?
Nick: It’s probably just the heightened level of stress and that it is all-consuming. Your family gets a bit sacrificed. You can easily burn yourself out. You can work abnormal hours. The day can never end. It’s the same in corporate roles, the same in any role; there’s always work you can do, but it changes when it effectively means whether your business thrives. You push yourself probably that extra bit and that ultimately has trade-offs in other parts of your life. I’ve had lots of sleepless nights, for instance; more than I did in the corporate world.
Jamie: You worked for quite a while in the corporate world in a big company before making that jump. Would you recommend that to anyone who wants to be entrepreneurial: to start big and then go small?
Nick: I don’t think so, necessarily. I think the big corporate world definitely teaches you lots of the right core set of skills, like how to build a sales presentation, how to manage people, the basics of marketing; all of these core business skills which undoubtedly have been really useful. If I look at P&G, they taught me how to sell. As an entrepreneur, being able to sell is important. I’d say very important, as in the fundamental core skill you need to get your idea, your product, or service, whatever it is across, and get people to pay money for it.
But I don’t think you need to have a long career in a corporate to be an entrepreneur. There’s plenty of examples of people who have started at 16 and done really well, and they haven’t gone to university.
I don’t think it’s that core part of the skill set and they always some say that there’s never a really good time to start your own business. You’re either too young and too in-experienced with no money and then in the middle of your life, you’ve got a lot of cash needs; you’ve got kids that you’re trying to educate or whatever else. When you finish that, you’re too old, so there’s never a good time from a life point of view.
I chose that point just because of the opportunity, but it’s been quite tough paying for your kids to go through private school while in a startup, on a shoestring budget, when you’ve got mortgages and all those things.
Jamie: What was the moment when you decided to make that leap of faith?
Nick: I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I think I always want to prove whether I could do it; it’s always something I wanted to do and just trying to find that right moment. In the end, from a life point of view, it was probably exactly the wrong moment that this opportunity came along. The corporate world would have been a much easier way of doing it. For kids and schools and mortgages, it was probably a bad time for that point of view; it was just a good time in terms of the opportunity that presented itself.
Jamie: What drew you to consumer goods as an industry to sell in the first place?
Nick: To me, it was more about Procter and Gamble, the company rather than necessarily wanting to be in the industry. The company was doing well, had a good reputation, and provided training. I was an engineer by background, but I wanted to be more on the commercial side of things. I did an internship, learned the front end of business development, and P&G seemed like a good opportunity, so I took it.
Jamie: Would you recommend the consumer goods industry to any aspiring salesperson?
Nick: Yeah. I think so. It will teach you how to classically sell well, how to negotiate, and any of those big companies will spend a lot of money on training their salespeople. The force of pushing people through the system, promoting from within, and not being able to recruit at a beta stage meant they had to train people well. It’s not a bad thing.
Jamie: Do you have recommendations on how organizations should best compensate and incentivise their salespeople?
Nick: There are different models – the classic bonuses and commissions model, which a lot of companies do; it’s the easiest way of incentivizing good performance and keeping people interested. I think the problem from my experience of paying people through that scheme is that it’s quite hard to actually make it very clear as to which individual did the most – the team, or the business, or the marketing, or whatever it is. It’s always quite a difficult arrangement. Personally, I think I preferred the P&G model, which is more team-based, and salary-based.
Jamie: Using P&G is an example, they weren’t amazing in terms of pay in the market, but people would often stay there their entire career. What do you think that they did really well that kept people around for so long?
Nick: I think it was due to some of the training, the investment in people, and the thought that that one extra step is still a good thing, and then one more step, and then you get to that next step, then you can “cash-out” in the marketplace. They were quite good at keeping people in on like that and always tempting them into a new opportunity and a new challenge. For me personally, I almost left three or four times in the process, but it’s tough to pass up that next promotion.
Jamie: What elements of culture would you look for in a new job?
Nick: I think businesses are changing as well, and that the ones that have a sense of fun, and a sense of giving people broader base skills rather than just very good pay. I think to travel, just to experience other things – I found that great at P&G. I was able to experience different cultures and work in Asia. The world is becoming more global and giving people that opportunity to travel is more important so that they experience more than the microcosm of whatever culture or place they’re from.
Jamie: You’ve suggested that you would always pick the company to go into rather than the industry. Is that fair?
Nick: Yeah, I think so. I think some people pick industries that are fancy, but you talk to people in sports media instead of mainstream media, and I think they end up getting paid less for the same job just because of the glamour.
Jamie: Can we talk a little bit about goal setting and how have you gone about setting goals for the teams that you have managed?
Nick: I’m always fairly ambitious. All people set goals for themselves or businesses that are below what’s actually possible and most people will think, “Whatever, that sounds like a good number,” or “I’m not sure that I’m capable of that.”
You look at these ultra-marathon runners and at one stage, somebody had never run more than 40 miles in a race. There were only a handful of people that had ever done that 30 years ago, and now there are a million runners. It’s cases like Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile, it took 60 years to break it, and then within six months three or four people did it. It’s just about expectations and believing that you can break it. The classic best goal was John F. Kennedy’s “Go to the Moon” by the end of the decade, and those sorts of things which most people didn’t really think were possible.
But once you’re clear about it, it is possible – nine times out of ten or 99 times out of a hundred, those things are possible. It’s just that you haven’t found a way to do it. For me, the most important thing in goal setting – either for yourself or for your business – is to be ambitious, and not be too careful and realistic.
Jamie: What differences have you seen in your teams from setting those ambitious goals?
Nick: It changes the way you approach things. The whole idea of setting big team goals that people can get excited about and because it stretches everything; it stretches the team, it stretches the individuals to do things that they probably wouldn’t have thought about and to go for huge sales pitches or business plans, rather than a few points of incremental growth. For me, that was one of the frustrations about P&G, it was built on Wall Street which needs 3%-4 % growth year-on-year and doesn’t really need anything more than that.
When you’re trying to push the envelope too hard, you’re pushing against the system that doesn’t really want it. It doesn’t pay, and shareholders don’t want big spikes, they just need steady growth. Whereas being an entrepreneur, you don’t have those barriers, and you can just go for it.
Jamie: How important is the physical manifestation of those goals?
Nick: Really important. It’s the basics of having a very clear goal. Clear scorecard, and a clear thing that people can actually see. If you’re near the overall thermometer target, if you’re near to the manifestation of competition, you want to have your name there as a little bit of ego.
Having things like that; I think it is important because then everybody knows where they are.
I think people naturally like to solve problems. They like to stay around, they like to achieve things, and they like to see the puzzle completed. Therefore, by putting your goals there and downloading them onto a physical tracker, it helps galvanize people to help you achieve those things.
Jamie: What advice would you give to aspiring salespeople?
Nick: Spend time focusing on your own development. That’s obviously the biggest, and the biggest thing in selling is really listening. It’s very hard to always do in practice, but most sales you can achieve by almost saying nothing; just by listening, and trying to find the problem that you can solve. It’s very rarely about your product; it’s much more about understanding. When people feel understood, there’s a natural tendency to buy, and therefore the focus should be on developing the skill of listening.
Jamie: If you had your career in sales again, what would you do differently?
Nick: I probably would have developed other skills. I would have insisted on doing a role in finance, in legal, and in marketing to develop a broader skillset. Most businesses will go, “Okay. Look, you just go through life and be the sales guy,” but I think I would have pushed harder to get that broader experience. Even if you don’t progress as quickly, I think getting that broader knowledge is much more valuable than just sales. It’s particularly important if somebody’s got ambitions of running companies – you do need to have strong financial knowledge, and legal as well. Knowing about contracts becomes a lot more important. In a big corporate, you have a legal department that covers most things.
Jamie; Could you tell me about a specific time when you didn’t make a big sale, but it taught you something really valuable?
Nick: There was a company called Break Brothers, and we were going in and pitching this whole new business model as a premier P&G product portfolio. We’d spent eight years on the presentation and got it down. It was all done right, all well researched, and it was a spot-on presentation. I got there, with the main commercial director and one of the buyers, and I threw myself into the pitch: I went into all the data, and all the insights. I thought, “Yeah.
” When I got to the end of it, and they both said, “No, no, and no! ” and kicked me out. It was a classic case of just going in and not asking any questions, and not really understanding what they wanted.
What I thought they wanted, but they didn’t want that, because they were in a completely different zone. That’s an example where I definitely got that one wrong.
Jamie: Can you tell me about a time when you made a very big sale, and it showed off all of the skills and abilities that you’ve learned throughout your career?
Nick: We were pitching to Wilkinson at one point to become their premier brand on all categories; a sale that would have involved marketing, and celebrity endorsements, etc., and would have also delivered us a great share of shelf and a great share of category. We sold it internally on one sheet of paper in a half an hour meeting. The numbers were so compelling, even if they were slightly wrong. The head of the UK sales division said, “No brainier;” he’s thinking, “It doesn’t need to be like those numbers to be great. Yeah. Just do it,” and then very quickly, we made the pitch back to Wilkinson because we knew they needed lots of money and athlete endorsements for their categories.
This conversation started actually with them coming – in a classic retailer way – and saying to their suppliers, “We’re going to need a whole lot more investment from you, or we’re going to kick you out,” and we were very quick and came up with a plan that was bigger than they were expecting. Rather than going back and saying, “Here is £100k or £200k to hold the line,” we were very quick and said, “Okay. Well actually we can probably give you £1m, but we need all these things.” They were quite surprised as to how fast we reacted, and we completely took the rug from under Unilever and Reckitt Benckiser because they couldn’t move quickly enough, and we won this massive business. It was a big win for us and also for also the parties internally.
Jamie: What advice would you give about that internal selling?
Nick: I would say, be bold on the plans. Plans are usually a bit incremental and small steps to growth – all businesses need the rockets of growth and to set some big expectations internally and pitch to get the resources that you need to deliver. I also believe in keeping the numbers simple and never making long recommendations.
You mentioned the goal-setting part. Another thing that we pitched at one point was called the 70% value share Fairy plan. Fairy liquid had a 50% value share of the UK dish-washing market for 30 years and just would not shift. It’s a great brand, but retailers didn’t want to support it further as it wasn’t profitable for them. We came up with this 70% share plan, where we gave then some margin and investment in exchange for premium listings and display, and sold it internally. When I came off the brand, we’d grown ten share points in two years to 60%, and then two years later, we actually did hit the 70% share, which for a big brand which was well-established already was amazing.
It’s another example of not being afraid, being bold on your ambition is what makes it an easier sell than, “Let’s try and get the 51% share or hold the 50% share,” instead of asking, “What would need to be true to get to a 70% share?” That was compelling externally, but perhaps more importantly, internally.
Jamie: Do you have a favourite story from your career?
Nick: I don’t tell it much, but my favourite story is probably the one about the 500 million NOS goal. Working with that team to get to that target, and having a big party, that was my favourite career moment. It was great working with everybody and doing that together.
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