“Money back guarantee if not absolutely delighted!”

If you are familiar with advertisements for novelty domestic gadgets (See ‘B List’ TV channels around 3:15am) you will also be familiar with the hyperbole that accompanies everything from the sale of magic cucumber peelers to clockwork vacuum cleaners. The fact is that if one wants to return the ‘guaranteed’ goods (Through a paucity of ‘absolute delight’) it is notoriously difficult to find out how to do it (not to mention the cost of postage) despite much dissatisfaction. Therefore we feel ‘conned’: rather like the frozen ready-meal which always looks much better on the box than it does on your plate.

Therefore despite much ‘purchaser disappointment’ returns for this so called “inertia selling” technique are a very tiny percentage of sales.

Well, now a confession: WE always offer a ‘no quibble’ money back guarantee too for all our bespoke training programmes (In other words just about everything except public open conferences)!

We do this because the only judge of whether some of our training (or product or service) is valuable to a customer is ‘you’ the customer. It’s not about whether WE think what we’ve delivered is good or even faultless…. If you are dissatisfied you’ll tell 10 other people, whereas (alas) if you’re happy you’ll tell only 5.

Many friends and colleagues constantly warn us that we’ll be ripped-off by unscrupulous customers who just want a freebie; “Look mate it says there NO QUIBBLE so come on money back”. Well I’ll wait until it happens. We are not the cheapest sales trainers out there…not by a long chalk! But in over a decade and over 150 full programmes delivered, we have never had to give any money back….not a penny…although we certainly would.

‘Value= Benefits minus Cost’ and provided the customer feels they are getting value for money (ie at least the minimum they paid for and usually a lot more) they show no inclination to short change us.

But many businesses are still being very defensive and take each customer complaint as a possible direct fraud. One case in point in UK when my elderly mother took a little box of eye-shadow back to a well known UK High Street ‘super’ purveyor of drug type substances. Her complaint was that when she got it home she discovered the box had already been opened. The ‘manager’ was having none of it. “We wouldn’t sell you anything like that…they’re checked every day” So my dear old mum left the shop…went home and called me. That afternoon we went back to the shop together and I went through the same routine with the manager and she raised the same defence. Meanwhile my mum was busying herself examining other a little pots in the same display rack. Suddenly she said “Look here’s another one opened…..and another one” . The manager was adamant “We check each of ‘them’ little pots at the checkout. I know the one we sold you would have been sealed so I can’t give you your money back.” Naturally I remonstrated with her once more and she replied (And this is verbatim because I wrote it down.) “Look you don’t understand! [Almost shouting now] This shop wouldn’t make ‘no’ money if we gave everyone who complained their money back”

I left (with my Mum) found out the name and location of the owners of the chain (in Germany) and wrote to the CEO quoting precisely the words used to me. Not only did I get my money back but a lot more besides including a big apology. The ‘manager’ was not there a week later.

So could my Mum being quite old at the time have opened the pot and not remembered doing so? Quite possibly…although quite unlikely.

So whatever complaint your customer brings you make it easy to locate you (or whoever you make responsible for handling complaints) and instruct them to ‘let the customer be right.

That is the real route to absolute delight.

(And a lot more money in your pocket afterwards)

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]



“Oh no please NO!!!……not The Canned Presentation?!”

When the Spanish Inquisition (as reimagined by Monty Python’s Flying Circus) wanted to torture their victims into confessing to heresy there was only one thing for it….the comfy chair! “Oh NO”, Screamed the victim, “NOT the comfy chair!”.

In the modern selling profession despite all the courses, research, seminars and coaching over the past 40 years, most sellers still resort quickly to the selling equivalent of the comfy chair…..”the canned presentation”.

“Why ?…well it’s easy isn’t it? …it’s effective……I mean it looks professional”

These -majority of sellers- can’t wait to get out the laptop, or iPad and show/ tell their customers all about it. They don’t seem to realise that this is the point at which it all goes ‘pear shaped’. For every prospective client or buyer I’ve ever spoken to, sitting through the canned presentation is absolute torture; because it has nothing to do with the prospect.

For example a few weeks ago I was in buyer mode for an expensive piece of equipment and called up two or three suppliers. They all arranged for a sales executive to call round to see me. After a bit of cursory questioning and some quite sophisticated objection handling (Well done guys) they all eventually reached into their bags (Oh NO!!!) with a, “….OK Mr Etherington that sounds like a very interesting project…..Let me just show you how we…….” (and out came the laptop….and off they went into their parallel universe). In every case I tuned-out in about 30 seconds. All that is except one ….he got his laptop out…unfolded it on my table and began the spiel ….but after 20 seconds he caught my eye… (I was looking out of the window) ….so he stopped and said “You’re not interested are you?” I said “Not in the slightest….because none of this is about me” He stopped….and got back to talking about me. (He eventually got the contract)

After confessing to him that I earn my living by training and coaching business people to sell really effectively (Money back if not absolutely delighted) I told him another true tale of a client I had a few years ago. They were a soft drinks logistics (transport) company with an ‘exclusive’ wine storage business on the side (for investors in wine). They were very proud of their reputation in both market places but of particular interest to the MD was the wine storage part of the enterprise. So proud in fact that they had a very fancy sales presentation video made about the wine storage side of the business to show prospective clients.

So anyway, one day (with their soft drinks logistics hat on) they were given the opportunity to quote for the lucrative distribution contract for a company we’ll call ‘Bovine Rouge’ and did very well in the initial part of the bidding process. So well in fact that that Bovine Rouge’s MD asked to meet the logistics MD. The meeting went well until they said “Lets show you a bit more about us”…..brought down the blinds turned off the lights and ran the proud video. When it ended the lights went on and the logistics guys sat back and waited for the “Wow…that’s really impressive…..where do we sign?!” But it never came.

Instead the Bovine Rouge MD said “Ladies and Gentlemen thank you for showing us who you are….. it’s quite interesting…….very professional…but I’m afraid that’s not our business.”

And that was that.

I was even out with a salesman of financial services in NY once (who had been asked by a client to just, “Pop in and pick up a contract”)…..wreck the ‘top-of-the-range deal’ in an instant by, for some inane reason saying, “While I’m here let me just remind you about the service you’re buying” …and launching into full blown canned demo. After about a minute the client said “Just a moment …is that that crappy graphics package you had in the old version? I didn’t realise it was in this one too……we don’t want that…..take it out and give us a discount!”

The thing is a presentation has its place but only when you know precisely what the customer (the one you’re sitting in front of now) wants to buy. Then, when you prepare the presentation (never the canned one) for use late on in the process- you focus only on those specific problems and solutions requested by the client. Forget everything else….he’s not interested. In the crowd scenario at a trade show or when you’re speaking at a conference then you can produce and deliver a lively high level demo or presentation; that’s OK.

But face to face across the desk one-on-one never (never) ‘the comfy canned presentation’.

That smile on his face is a glaze….just before he falls asleep….eyes wide open.

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]



“ What’s a ‘Strategy’? ….it’s a…you- know…a ‘thingy’ ! “

(The above answer to my question, “Could you define the word Strategy?” came from one of Asia’s top public company CEOs…he wasn’t laughing. He told me I could tell this story but not his name

The truth is most people in business haven’t got a clue what differentiates a ‘strategy’ from a ‘plan’…. or from a ‘goal’ or from an ‘objective’.

I am regularly told by executives ranging from Directors of huge public companies down to young entrepreneurial start-ups :

“Our strategy is to increase turnover by 10%”

“Our strategy is to undercut our competitors”

“Our strategy is to ensure that all our sales staff receive two week’s off-site training per year”

Or even as one London based client told me “Our strategy is to have no strategy”.

None of the above is a strategy!

Not ‘understanding’ the difference between having a real strategy and having a strategy in name only, results in large High Street chain stores believing that all they have to do to profit like a ‘Pound Store’ is to cut their prices and sell more packets. Or large airlines, in competition with highly profitable Easy Jet or Ryannair, to come up with a decision to cut some of theirs. Or to state that: “Our sales strategy is to get everybody working harder …knocking on more doors. That’s what we’re going to do! ” The results of these misguided ‘strategic change’ ideas is usually somewhere between non-existent and suicidal.

To set a strategy is to take into account the entire environment, your corporate desire, market atmosphere, audience, current situation, future assessment and have each item backed up with hard detailed facts and evidence. ‘Strategy’, demands that you can answer questions like: “ ‘Double your profit in the next 12 months eh’?…..What makes you think you can?” (And the answer isn’t “Because we did it last year”)


“ You say you will, increase your ROI by 10%’ …. Compared with what?’ “


Your strategy is in fact your whole business philosophy .

And it is from this alone that springs your action plan, your goals and your objectives.

To start you in the right direction so that you can start to create a real ‘business strategy’, here are eleven questions you must be able to answer in some detail.

1) What is our raison d’etre? What problems does our business solve for our audience? What outcomes and solutions do we, (our people, our company and our product or service) provide? What makes us different from our competitors?

2) Who are our target audience? Describe in detail (The right answer isn’t, ‘everybody’)

3) What do our target audience want? What major headaches nightmares issues and problems do they typically have that we can solve? What will be the knock-on effect of not solving them?

4) What do we want? In most markets we can chose to be somewhere between The Rolls Royce or the cut price runabout. There is profit in both but the ways of going about achieving it are different. So what will make us happy to get up and deliver each day?

5) Are items 3 and 4 (above) congruent? Is what we want compatible with what our audience wants? Is there a good fit between our business and theirs? (Don’t invent answers that look good…you’ll only be kidding yourself). If what they want to receive and what you want to deliver are different you have a strategic problem. [ e.g. The company I employed to do my gardening at home were excellent gardeners but the owners were more interested in proving that they were ‘right’ in any minor dispute than preserving my custom. They are no longer my gardeners]

6) How do our audience know about us? What do we do to make sure we are in the eye of our target audience in every possible way? [e.g Is our website an exercise in corporate vanity or an effective problem solving advertisement? The big test: Would a Martian landing for the first time in front of our home-page know in 14 seconds (average surfing time)what problems we could solve for them?] If your answer begins with, “ Well…errr…….” You have a problem.

7) How do our prospective audience contact us? The complete absence of (or cunningly concealed) phone numbers and email addresses on marketing materials is alarming. The speed of reply to enquiries even more so.

And FINALLY, now that you have a lot more strategic information:-

8) What is the current market for what we offer?

9) What is the future market for what we offer? (And “Business as usual”.. is not a credible answer)

10) So (based on the above) how are things changing?

11) So (if this is how things are) where are we going?

This is not the definitive: “How to Really do Strategy” book. Answer each question honestly and don’t worry if you duplicate ideas or add things that I’ve missed.

It’s just a way of showing you how to start coming up with an effective ‘thingy’.

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]



“We’re making you a really generous offer here”

There is a little list of common phrases sentences and questions which unintentionally murder (or at least ‘self-harm’ any persuasive encounter.

Successful business persuaders never use them…or at least they struggle not to. The vast majority of average sellers, persuaders and managers use them all the time then wonder why they fail to persuade or why they lose their followers.

1) “We’re making you a really generous offer here.”

(Or, “We think we’re being very fair” ,or “I’m sure you’ll agree this is a very reasonable deal” etc) indeed any of these and similar stock phrases is an instant subliminal deal killer. The speaker clearly thinks that pointing out what a ‘great deal’ the customer (employee subordinate) is getting will make them think, “Wow…until Bob said that I hadn’t realized how great it was. Now I will definitely sign up!!.” Instead, from several buyer research projects, we now learn that quite the opposite feeling is generated. The customer actually thinks (or worse ‘feels’): “What did he just say?!! he’s clearly suggesting that I must be pretty stupid if I haven’t already figured out that this is a good offer. I don’t like being thought of as stupid by him; I’m not stupid….. I think I’ll leave it

2) “So…did you close it?”

Probably the commonest sales manager question to returning sales executives around the World. It is also the biggest sales executive ‘morale killer’. Getting to ‘yes’ (and the signature-on-the-line-that-is-dotted) is generally quite very tough. And, ‘sorry no…not at the moment’ and ‘we’re still thinking about it’ and ‘ we’ll let you know soon’ are ten times more likely to be what the sales person has just heard. As no seller wants to have to admit to their manager, “Sorry no.. I didn’t get it today”, they find answering the question disheartening. So Mr (or Ms) Sales Manager…what alternative uplifting question or questions could you ask next time instead of “So ..did you close it?” (OK.. manage the situation more motivationally…Don’t look at me…Think of something…. It says ‘MANAGER’ on your door…so ’Manage’)

3) “You really must improve.”

At the end of the ‘Annual Appraisal’ or ‘360’ or whatever you call your annual performance review it is quite the norm to hear SM’s or SD’s tell the subordinate that they must ‘work harder’ ‘do better’ or generally ‘improve’ their performance in one or more areas. And yet these vague and woolly terms mean absolutely nothing to the person they’re aimed at. I recently asked a team manager (in a team building seminar in Skandanavia) if they all understood their group’s current overall performance targets and their own individual goals and targets. The manager confidently told me (in front of his team) “Yes in my team they definitely do!”. I then asked the team “So DO you all clearly know your team and personal targets?” To a man they all said in unison, “No we don’t”. The art and science of permanently improving and changing people is to make sure that what you’re asking for is measurable ie ‘with numbers’. (“What gets measured gets managed” ). Exactly how much money? Exactly how many calls? Exactly what date you will you launch? Once these are agreed there is no lack of clarity and people know what is expected of them. That’s how to trigger the improvement you seek.

By the way the opposite of the quote above is equally true: “What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done”

4) “To be honest with you….”

Along with the first example in this article, “To be honest with you” sets of quite the opposite thought process in the other person’s mind to the one intended. Far from changing the tone of the meeting from high level generalities into confidential specifics…it just doesn’t; it sets up doubts. The throw away phrase, “To be honest with you….” actually triggers the thought (or feeling): ‘So what he is actually saying is that he hasn’t been honest so far; well I don’t think I trust him now’ . So as trust and honesty are the two golden requirements of selling you’ve just wrecked the whole foundation on which you are endeavoring to ‘persuade’. Back to square one!!

5) “Well yes I’m sure that’s one way.. but first of all we were thinking…”

In Dale Carnegie’s 1935 magnum opus: “How To Make Friends and Influence People” (still in print today!) . He states that, in order to influence another person, you have first to make them feel good about themselves. And people feel good about themselves when you make them feel important. The problem is that most of us when they endeavour to persuade regard the words out of our own mouths as 10 times more important than anything the other person wants to say. So if the other side opens a meeting or negotiation with an idea that is either ignored or quickly shut-down by your side, how important does that make him feel? And if he doesn’t feel important how open is he going to be to hearing your idea?

Top business persuaders know that their first duty is always to hear out the other side’s idea(s) first and even discuss it (them) at length (how ever bonkers you think they are) before presenting their own idea. It is only this way that the other side might be open to hearing what you have to say. Being too early with counter proposals is a sure route to disaster ….but still most of us do it (sigh!)

6) “Don’t hesitate to call me”

Quite simply the human brain can’t hold a negative thought. If I tell you, “Don’t think of pink elephants” what do you think of? ………… quite! If I say “Don’t worry” or “Don’t get upset” then what part of those phrases remain and what words are discarded?

In exactly the same way if you sign off a sales letter or a meeting by saying “Now remember…don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions” What subliminal instruction are you sending to the other person? Exactly…now you know why they don’t call you; you told them not to.

You can add to the self-harm list yourself (e.g. at trade shows) “Can I help you?” (On the phone) “How are you doing today?” and (in a one-to-one meeting) “Sorry I really must take this phone call”. You are not immune but neither are you a special case to whom none of this applies

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]



“I could have told you that would happen!”

People in my family and many of my friends, are blessed with ‘20/20 hindsight’ …they love to be ‘right’…they frequently remind me that they “told me so”. They particularly love my business mistakes and mishaps and use these as a reason to predict my imminent downfall. They have been predicting it now for several decades.

One particular very close family member recently told a mutual friend (who of course immediately reported it straight back to me) that: “Bob’s biggest problem is that he doesn’t know his own limitations”. They may be right.

Indeed there is a whole medical/psychological condition (identified in 1999) called the Dunning Kruger effect in which “..persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is”. I’m open to the possibility that that’s me… but I’ve rarely claimed abilities outside my range of knowledge or experience; people seem to assume I have them.

In the 30 odd years that I was an ‘employee’ I was frequently targeted as the person who’s ‘fault’ some major corporate catastrophe was. I was also frequently promoted upwards out of jobs I’d ‘failed’ at into jobs I wasn’t really qualified to do so no wonder I made mistakes. I once told my boss that I knew nothing about a managerial position I was told I was being given. “But I don’t know anything about this market“, I wailed. “I know you don’t” he replied…”But everybody thinks you do!”

On another occasion (as a new sales director), without asking permission, I hired entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Nekker Island in the Caribbean for a week as the top prize in a sales competition. The top 12 global sales executives would spend a week in absolute luxury and he company would achieve its annual sales targets 4 months early; Result! News of this incentive rapidly spread through the company to the very highest levels and clearly those ‘in-the inner-power’ circle made sure the CEO was made aware of my permission-less transgression. Indeed a few days later I received a very loud and extremely vitriolic phone call direct from the CEO. “Idiot” “optimist” “ fool” “stupid” “a*s*h*l* “ were some of the more polite names directed at me. Finally after 15 minutes the tirade stopped and I readied myself for instant termination. But instead he said, very quietly, “Right official reprimand over!………………..well done!! ” and put the phone down. The ‘mistake’ sales competition was a massive success.

Being prepared to take a risk and/or make mistakes, I have discovered, is really important for your corporate success. ‘Postit notes’ ‘Nitrous Oxide’ [170 years later still today’s main medical anaesthetic] and ‘Tippex’ are all the result of well known mistakes. Thomas Edison in US and Joseph Swann in UK between them made 1700 mistakes before coming up with a working electric light bulb. Edison was once asked if he was disheartened by all his mistakes. He replied “Not at all I’ve just learnt 1700 ways not to make a light bulb”.

As a result I am starting to formulate a business philosophy:

· You rarely get sacked for doing things. You may be severely reprimanded but sacking is usually a result of not doing things.

· If you ask middle management for permission to do something different they will generally say ‘No’ so why ask them? If it says ‘Manager’ on your door then go and MANAGE!

· Mistakes only become failures if you repeat tomorrow the things which didn’t work today

· If a subordinate asks for guidance on resolving an issue ask them what they think should be done. (i.e. Bring me solutions not problems). When they tell you have the courage to reply “Go on then!” (With every pair of hands you get one free brain.) I learnt this one from a great manager of mine at Reuters, ’Dave Brocklehurst’ Thanks Dave.

Finally, I have a client in NYC right now into whose corporate structure across America we have introduced a “*c*k-up of the month club”; the person who this month has made the biggest corporate mistake but with good intentions, is rewarded with a weekend away (with partner/spouse) in the nearest big city all expenses paid. But if they (or anyone else) then make the same mistake next month they will immediately be placed on the official termination list because we now know something that doesn’t work. They tell me sales turnover is already up this calendar year by 29%…..I maybe wrong !

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]



So you’ve finally done it’….(Well done)

You’ve ‘Left Your Laptop at Home’ !!….so what now? No presentation No planned pitch…. what to do instead?

Vast volumes of research conducted over the past 40 years continues to show that consistently effective sellers do one thing differently: they ask more ‘conversational’ questions. Not some hard closing technique…Not some smart ass objection handling…not interrogation style question-rap- sheet but a pre-planned dialogue led by the seller’s questions into problem areas which the seller knows he can fix.

There is no hurry over this process and no urgent desire to offer solutions; in fact the research shows that the longer this investigation phase goes on (with the prospect doing most of the talking about his problems[ the ones you know you can fix]) there is more likelihood of that prospect starting to mentally create his (or her) desire to find a rapid solution.

Effective post-internet sellers now use questions to demonstrate insight. And ‘insight’ is what the majority of modern buyers say they want. Why?… because with the internet all companies (in all markets) look just the same. So instead of the all too common ‘talking brochure’ sales executive (and that’s still the vast majority of today’s sellers) one type of rare seller stands out.

This is the person who plans before each meeting to offer insight so valuable during that meeting that, at the end, the potential customer feels he should pay the seller for his time. As a habitual seller since the early 1970s I always imagine each new customer playing a continuous silent request in his head “Show me something I didn’t already know about a problem I didn’t realise I had…Then show me the unanticipated solution” And it seems to work.

As you can’t ‘describe’ either ‘insight’ or ‘value’ to a customer you have to get them to arrive there by themselves and ‘conclude’ that they need your solution, by pre-planning the questions you are going to ask. There are plenty of books about sales questioning technique but remember the most powerfully persuasive questions are those that probe the implications or ‘knock-on effects’ of ignoring apparently small persistent current issues. We humans are very much more persuaded by focus on problems and their solutions than by the potential of great lifetime opportunities.

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]



The first BIG sales lesson “LEAVE YOUR LAPTOP AT HOME”

Your first meeting with a potential new customer is dangerous.

You may have been planning what you’re going to say to him or her or maybe not planning at all just “see how it goes’. Trouble is mankind (a social animal) has been evolving for half a million years and in that time ‘nature’ has equipped each one of us with a subconscious survival radar. Stay or Go…Flight or fight….Friend or Foe? Our human brains are never working harder than when we are in these social settings. It is instantaneous and uncannily accurate and women’s radar operates five times faster than man’s

In fact our potential customer’s brain radar starts to subconsciously assess us as we ‘take that first walk’ ….the one from his office door to his desk.

At Rank Xerox (my sales alma mater in the early 1970’s) they used to tell us that the customer makes that buying decision as we approach his desk…it’s just that he doesn’t realise it. And it turns out they were right.

It seems (according to 21st Century behavioural psychologists) that rational ‘thought processing’ in order to reach a conclusion is largely an illusion; we actually make decisions based on how the other person made us ‘feel’. In other words ALL human decision making is mostly ‘emotional’.

Good looking felons regularly get away with their crimes in court….Stupid charming people with ‘charisma’ often get top jobs just because they look good…..Average looking but brilliant candidates get more rejection letters.

We ‘average’ to ‘ugly’ looking souls (with little or no ‘looks’ nor charisma nor charm) just have to try to tip the scales a little in our favour.

We can benefit from some of the work on human communication carried out by Prof Albert Mehabrian in 1967. He said that his research showed that human communication is based on 55% what things ‘look’ like; 38% what they sound like and only 7% on the actual rational facts and content.

In American political circles they call it ‘The Optics’: it’s not what was intended to be communicated that counts but what it ‘looked like’ after the event.

So on meeting a new customer go all out to make them feel good about themselves. Let them be right even when they’re wrong. Smile..look happy. When they start talking you stop yapping: never miss a good opportunity to Shut Up!. Ask them all about their stuff and their problems and listen at length- no interruptions. Plan far more beforehand what you’re going to ‘ask’ them rather than what you want to ‘tell’ them.

Act in a confident manner even if you don’t feel it…confidence is very attractive. If you don’t feel it fake it…every successful person does it because it works. President Lincoln was once asked by a journalist if he was ever frightened as a young man. He replied “Of course I was frightened but I pretended not to be…..and very soon I wasn’t” Recent academic research has shown that: Fake it ‘til you make it is a very effective strategy.

So next time you meet a prospect for the first time stop trying to impress with a spate of words and a carefully crafted presentation. Take it from me the customer doesn’t want to hear it and they will tune out within 30 seconds. Instead fake charisma, charm and interest and confidence and leave your laptop at home. I guarantee you will start to get miraculous results.

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]



How Not to Exhibit Yourself

The British satirist and comedian Peter Cook once wrote a sketch around the idea of an interview between a pompous failed business owner and a TV reporter. “And have you learnt from your mistakes Mr Streebgreebling?” asked the interviewer. “Indeed I have,” replied the businessman. “and I’m pleased to be able to tell you today that I can now repeat them all perfectly!”.

Whenever there’s an avoidable tragedy somewhere in the World all those involved with clearing up the aftermath and reflecting on the cause always use those words in subsequent interviews: “Lessons must be learnt”.

Now a ‘trade show’ obviously isn’t a potential life threatening disaster. But the waste of money, waste of opportunity and waste of time caused by the lack of commercial understanding of exhibitors and their staff is alarming. “Lessons have not been learnt”

This week I attended a large food industry trade show in North London. The major brand leaders were there on their massive stands and so were the one man band start-ups in their tiny stands. There were some really innovative products, services and franchising opportunities too; the food industry has moved on since I was last involved 40 years ago! But it was clear as I walked around the show that the quality of ‘exhibition sales technique’ has not moved one inch or one centimetre.

The top three suicidal sins were spread evenly across all exhibitors at this food industry show…large and small…in roughly the percentages shown below:

– On 75% of all stands, at any one time, large numbers of sale staff were on their phones like zombies or texting…(mostly texting) as potential customers walked by.

– On 85% of all stands at any one time exhibitor staff were lined up along the edge of their nearly empty stand facing outwards in ‘repel all boarders’ mode chatting to each other, looking bored or having a bit of a laugh (or texting) as potential customers walked by.

– On 95% of all the stands (even those whose staff engaged us properly in conversation) we were fed some very tasty morsels (well it was a food show) BUT we were not asked once for our contact details or ‘scanned’ with a view to following up. So we walked away.

Trade shows are expensive ventures and justifiably so when you consider that the available research indicates that 70% of those who get tickets to attend are able to make or directly influence buying decisions. Just ‘being there’ is not good enough.

When any of us rent expensive space at tradeshows we need to bear in mind that we are buying an opportunity to ‘sell’. And the ‘selling’ bit only happens when we engage potential customers in conversation. It is useless to hang about believing that potential customers are going to engage us! With so much else to see it is practically hopeless to imagine that we automatically stand out from our competitors. The truth is: We all look the same!

So before contemplating your next trade show attendance as an exhibitor, work out what is going to make you stand out and look different? What is your USP? It’s not so much what you ARE as a company, nor is it your name emblazoned across the entrance to your stand. Instead tell the world the key problem that you fix because that is the ONLY thing that might interest a customer. The people on your stand should wear a smile on their face at all times (“A man without a smiling face shouldn’t open a shop” <Chinese proverb). Phones should be powered completely OFF while you’re on the stand (Instant termination offence).

Stand away from the edge of your stand so that customers feel encouraged to ‘come aboard’.

And most of all GET THE PROSPECTS’ NAME AND CONTACT DETAILS before they leave. You are not there mainly to give out YOUR card! The hard-truth is that ticket holders get so many on the day they’ll never remember afterwards who you were or what you do.

You are there to vacuum-up as many names and contact details as you can.

(OK if you can get an actual ‘sale’ that beats everything!) But for a start go for names and follow up contact details…as many as you can get from potential customers who showed the slightest interest

This is only a fraction of what you need to be doing to succeed at your next trade show.

Finally one thing you sometimes see on a stand is a ‘gold fish bowl’ or a box next to a sign requesting that you throw your business card in with a view to taking part in a raffle draw after the show to win a prize (anything from an iPad or a laptop to a spa retreat or some free offer). Many people are reluctant to throw in their card in case they subsequently find themselves hassled by spam emails, phone calls or junk mail.

The truth is they shouldn’t worry; less than 7% of all those who throw in their cards are ever contacted!

Another massive wasted sales opportunity.

Lessons are never learnt.

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]



Rational decision making:…..a bit of a gamble.

People (your prospective customers) rarely say what they mean or mean what they say. So how do you know which of your prospects are likely to turn into ‘sales’ and which are not so likely?

A recent investigative experiment into the neuroscience of decision making may offer a very good way to separate your prospects from your suspects. The ones you should give time to and the ones you should give-up on.

The Experiment:

Sightseers outside the Tower of London were approached randomly and offered, as a free gift, a £20 note. This was a genuine offer, no-strings-attached. As each person moved away clutching their prize they were waylaid by the person who had just given them the money. This time they were offered an additional £10 note which they could win for the toss of a coin: If it came up ‘heads’ they would be given the additional £10 gift. However if it came up ‘tails’ they would not get the £10 and would also have to sacrifice the £20 leaving them with nothing.

Sixty people were approached during the morning and the results were recorded.

In the afternoon of the same day another sixty sightseers were approached. This time each person was offered a genuine free gift of £30. This time as the money was handed over the gift giver said “Unfortunately I have a few expenses to pay in order to be able to giveaway free cash so I have to take away £10 from the amount I was going to give you, which will leave you with only £20. But I am prepared to offer you a chance to regain that £10 on the toss of a coin. If it comes up ‘heads’ you can keep the £20 and add the £10 to make it up to £30 again. If it comes up ‘tails’ you will not get the £10 and you will also have to surrender the £20.”

So what do you think the majority of people did in the first case? And what do you think the majority of people did in the second case?

The results were quite decisive. In the morning the majority nearly 80% decided not to gamble and opted to keep the £20.

However in the afternoon the over 70% opted to gamble and take a chance to win back the full £30.

The point is that both situations were actually identical.

In both cases the person approached had the opportunity to walk away with a free £20 note. No gamble! Or toss coin and end up with either £30 or nothing. What was different was the way in which it was perceived.

The difference in perception, was that in the first instance the gift receiver had a nice little £20 gain right out of the blue. They were then offered a chance to gamble to gain £10 more. The majority chose not to gamble and opted to preserve their ‘win’

In the second instance the gift receiver had a potential £30 gain from the start. The joy generated by the potential of this gift was shortly afterwards dashed when £10 was cruelly snatched back reducing the gain by over 30%! The result was a ‘perception of ‘loss’ of something they once enjoyed (albeit briefly). The decision, when offered a chance to regain the loss, was to ‘throw-caution-to-the-wind’ in a wild attempt to regain the original amount by taking a chance. In this case the majority chose to gamble.

So will he?…. won’t he?

So what does this tell us about which potential new customers are more likely to buy?

It seems that the same process comes into play when we’re deciding whether to stay with an incumbent supplier or set out in another direction with someone new. If our regular supplier continues to give us good reliable service (with the occasional little surprises of exceptional beyond-the-call-of-duty service ) then we count that subconsciously as a series of little wins. In such a case we may go through the motions of an occasional out-to-tender exercise but the incumbent is actually pretty safe.

However if we perceive that a ‘once reliable’ supplier has started to let us down occasionally and become complacent then we begin to feel that we are losing something. And it is in these situations we are much more likely to take a chance and gamble on appointing a new (unknown to us) supplier.

It is for this reason we sellers must always endeavour to get a prospect to talk about the problems they perceive with the existing situation. If they mention the name of the existing supplier (or internal department) never join them in criticism but just say “I’ve heard they are very good”. Then if they’re truly unhappy they will frequently say: “ Maybe but…” and for some peculiar reason, proceed to tell you much that you need to know about what’s going wrong. You can often encourage prospects to add to the list by saying: “Is it just those things?” whereupon they will start to add to the list as if they think you’re not yet convinced. It is in these situations that most successful sales are hatched.

On the other hand if they’re reasonably happy with a current supplier and just doing an annual spring-clean/ price checking exercise they won’t have much of a list of perceived problems to share. They might be smiling and enthusiastic: “That’s great ….we’ll let you know soon” but it is unlikely that they will change to you.

It is for this reason that, in my experience, RFP’s and RFQ’s (Request for Proposal; Request for Quotation) are not good things if you receive one out of the blue. If the first you know about a project is derived from receiving an RFP/RFQ you are usually very late to the table. It is because they are frequently part of a regular bi-annual exercise or the boss has said, “OK our exsiting supplier still looks good….but we’d better get a couple of alternative quotes in…just to make sure.” And the resultant RFP is subsequently written round the strengths of an existing supplier rather that allowing you to emphasise your strengths.

(I recently failed to get two jobs for precisely that reason…..They had been recommended to use my company by existing clients of mine to achieve a specific objective BUT they ‘knew’ the other supplier…..he had always gone down well with the troops…. They ‘knew’ what to expect….. And the clients involved told me so both times.

Never mind ….sooner or later the existing supplier will get complacent and sloppy in which case the client will ‘toss a coin’ and take a gamble on me……Or you if I were to get complacent.

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]



“Oh?! [Silence] I guess that’s it. …Err? [ Silence] Any Questions ?”

I was thinking of calling this article: ‘The Blue-screen-of-Death and how to avoid it’. But then I thought that was a bit melodramatic. Now I’m not so sure.

The people who write hit Broadway musicals know a thing or two about the vital importance of ‘strong endings’. That’s why they always save their best tune for the last part of the show..especially the finale. They want their audiences to be leaving the theatre humming that song…the one they can’t get out of their heads. The tune that sells it to the next 500 audiences. Maybe the next 5000 audiences. It is a well known aphorism for success on Broadway: “Leave them singing your song!”

Alas…99% of the business presenters I’ve seen in the past 40 years just haven’t woken up to this fundamental requirement for their own presentation. They plan and design all their slides…..they then use the slides to prompt them through their live presentation (usually in a motionless, no eye-contact, monotone but we’ll let that pass for now). But then …..all of a sudden (and often to their own surprise it seems to me) they press the button once again but instead of another nice pretty slide they get ‘The Blue Screen of Death’ That ominous, featureless, vertical, luminescent, blue rectangular desert that tells them: ‘Yep..that’s all you gave me. You’re on your own now. So…what’s the plan?’

From the audience angle we then witness the rapid collapse of a human being grasping for a lifeline: the body language first..often arms become folded…a bit of lip-biting …some swaying…eyes like a deer caught in the headlights. (Brain clearly racing). Then the Voice-tone cracked and all spoken sentences suddenly constructed as questions:

“Oh?!…well?…err?……… I guess that’s it?….um?.[Silence]….So…err? Any questions?…[Silence]…mmm?….nobody?..[Silence] None at all?……[gritted teeth smile] ..OK well we seem to be about 10 minutes earleee… soooo [Looking desperately at event organiser] should we break for coffee?.. [Pleading] ….OK? Yes …errr?..Thank you!”

Now…let me ask you. If you were in the audience would you be inclined to buy an idea…a product…or a service from the person who has just delivered that ‘finale’. Indeed the presentation delivery prior to that last part might have been a quite bit (or even a lot) above average. But the complete failure by the speaker to plan a decent, strong, powerful, confident, conclusion has just rendered all that effort null and void.

The concluding part of a business presentation is so important for achieving a successful outcome that (although I’m not advocating learning it off-by-heart in advance) if there was one thing you might consider learning off by heart in advance it would be your concluding paragraph.

The concluding part of a presentation is often the only thing that wakes-up an audience . In fact if at any point in your presentation you say the words “So finally in conclusion let me summarise the main points again” you will hear pens pencils and notepads shuffling in the audience as they capture your golden nuggets of wisdom.

And it’s so easy to do it well:

To construct a proper memorable presentation conclusion follow this:-

1) There should be nothing new in the conclusion- just a precis of the important headline things you’ve just been telling them. [ Try and ensure that there are not more than three]

2) Tell them how they (as individuals) will benefit (or avoid a problem) by following your ideas.[ People will follow you only if they see a personal (not corporate) benefit]

3) Tell them what it is you want them to do as a result of this presentation. [Research shows that audiences expect to be asked to do something at the end; don’t disappoint them]

“So in conclusion let me say this. You can now see why continuing with the spigot grafter is a dangerous even suicidal strategy. Why the new electro welder will eliminate those problems in less than six months. You can also see now that while it may seem expensive it will actually save us several million in the next decade. The current worrying cost overruns even on the most pessimistic forecasts will disappear and that will rapidly translate into the sort of profits that will ensure the company’s future, your future, your jobs and your pensions. So I ask that the Executive Committee supports this change and invokes the implementation plan you have already seen and allows the work to begin at the end of Q2. Ladies and Gentlemen that’s all I have to say. What questions do you have?”

Practice delivering this last section in a confident, low-register, un-hurried voice. (Keep Winston Churchill in your head). If you have to learn it off-by-heart then do….but at least make sure that you have said those words several times out-loud before you deliver the presentation. And notice that it is far stronger to say at the end not: ‘Do you have any questions? but instead always say in an authoritative (and very much stronger) manner: “What questions do you have?”

And finally to be really persuasive and memorable and “leave them singing your song”….after you have taken questions simply have the real last word.

You do this by repeating once again (before you leave the stage) your prepared concluding paragraph. You’ll bowl them over!

Like”Oh?! [Silence] I guess that’s it. …Err? [ Silence] Any Questions ?”

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]