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The Power of Sales

Our very special guest writer Ruth Badger, business women extraordinaire, looks at everything under the sales umbrella. She writes about how to improve you conversion rates, setting targets and everything in between.


To say selling is my forte would be a lie! It's my passion, obsession and true love in life! I have been selling and making money since the age of 6 when I started trading in erasers on the school playgrounds. Out of all the elements in business, sales is the most feared. Although many people claim they are champions at it not many people can consistently sell. In my experience normally the people who think they can sell can't and the people who think they offer good customer service are the sales people. I spend my whole life talking to "sales" people about the difference between selling and order taking. In this blog I will share my personal sales traits and thoughts on why I love and excel at selling and how this can help you in your business.

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My two golden sales rules

I have two golden rules when it comes to selling:

  • Under promise and over deliver

  • People buy people

The above sayings may be cheesy but they underpin my business ethos and rule my sales ethos. My rules maybe very simple but in the real world of business they are the two that are broken most frequently! How many times have you called a business and been promised a call back that never came? Or how often have you been in a retail store or restaurant and the staff have been huddled in a group and not acknowledged you?! I believe that people, their attitude and personality have the ultimate influence over a customer behaviour. Manners, a positive and pro active outlook leads to sales.

High, sustainable levels of sales are built on good relationships, regular communication and expectations being met. Remember, the next time you have a new client, the way you speak to them and gel can influence the outcome of the deal!

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Targets lead to success

One of the key factors to my personal sales success is always working to targets and it changed my career. Many people remember the car task from my series of The Apprentice and comment on my ability in it. What they don't know is what made me stand out from the rest of the group was I set myself a target and they didn't! I set my target based on what the sales people in the garage did on a Saturday and didn't stop until I exceeded it. This led to me selling six cars in one day and them selling two. Sales targets are benchmarks and ensure that sales staff understand what needs to be delivered. Having commercial targets which are well communicated lead to growth within a business. Having targets is a must for staff motivation as good sales people will up their performance just to be on top of a sales leader board!

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Sales communication

The closer we are to our businesses the less effective we are at communicating about them! The importance of good questions and effective, simple answers is massive and if done correctly increases sales conversions. I find it baffling that some business owners can't communicate what they do in a clear and understandable way. I had a client who provided strategic solutions to its industry and when I asked him what that meant in plain English he struggled to tell me! The business actually provided till systems that paid for itself within a year via the savings it made the business! I recommend that you take a look at your website, sales literature and verbal communication and check that you are communicating in effective terms what you offer. A simple exercise I do in every business is to ask:

Who are they?

I am looking to establish what experience the business and owners have and where the passion and history come from.

What do they provide?

I am looking for a simple list of what the business does and cost if applicable.

What makes them different?

Why should a customer use you? Is it quality, service or cost?

I provide all of the above information to all of my sales staff and use it as a grid for my marketing communication. Match simple communication about your business with a good fact find establishing that your client needs and this will give you sales success.

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Don't forget to listen

I have met many sales experts, gurus and plonkers in my life and all of them are "peacocks". A peacock is a beautiful creature that puts all of its feathers on show and then when no one is around it puts them in and looks like a turkey! Sales people who talk and talk about themselves are over bearing and will never thrive. I don't believe in sales experts or gurus and I have never claimed to be one! My main sales ability comes from the fact that I listen more than I talk, not because I am polite but because if you don't have a requirement for what I am selling I move on and waste no time!

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The order taker vs. the sales person

I had an interesting conversation with a sales person who said they had no sales leads, what they actually meant was they didn't have customers knocking on their door placing an order! The difference between a sales person and an order taker is that a sales person gets off their backside and hunts for business. They must also be open minded to where they get their business from where as an order taker waits for the marketing team to hand deliver the customers to them. Order takers are not sales people and are bad for businesses. In order to sell, you have to be pro active. Use your brain to identify your target audience and identify how to communicate with them and generate business. To ensure I address order takers, I pay two levels of commission on sales within my business. If my business has generated the lead they get a lower level of commission, if they have cultivated a new business lead or account or managed a client into re-ordering they get paid a higher level of commission.

Reward sales not orders!

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Find out your client's budget

My biggest bugbear is sales staff talking about a good lead when they haven't established the budget. In my office we have a sign on the wall which says "No wonga, no Badger!" and all of my staff know not to pass a lead through to me unless they have sanity checked if the client has affordability. I can fill a year with non paying customers as I'm sure many businesses could!

Why sales people find it so hard to discuss money is beyond me. Leaving it until the closing stages will result in a lower conversion and a great deal of time wasted! I have a simple but effective question that I use to establish budget and identify what is important for the client - "What are the 3 most important elements to this deal"

The Most common answers were:

  • You can deliver what I need when I need it

  • You provide the quality I need

  • The deal is affordable

At this point the customer has raised money so I will go straight in with the "what's your budget?" question. If they don't list money in the 3 elements I use this as an opportunity to say "I can deliver all of your requirements but as you didn't mention money I need to establish what you are looking to spend?".

Either way a customer never gets into my sales pipeline without a clear expectation on budget having been discussed!

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Conversion and sustainable growth

Anyone who says they have 100% conversion is a fool or a liar! Lead to order conversions vary from business to business but it is crucial that each business understands what their conversion is!

From 2002 - 2005 I managed to increase the turnover of a business by £10m by focusing on lead generating and conversions. The success came from me tracking completed leads, their marketing source and improving the sales process but also identifying why leads didn't complete and working on these areas. A high volume of leads in business go cold because of lack of contact. Improve your conversions by managing your sales staff's activity closer and this will have an impact directly on your bottom line!

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Be proactive

The difference between a successful business and an under performing business is all in their sales staff and how proactive they are. I am not known for my mild manner when dealing with sales people and I have been seen to hit a sales person on the head with their phone when they have complained that it's not ringing! Take a fresh approach with your sales people and do the same as they will soon get the message!

Outbound calling is a crucial part of a sales job and should be a compulsory part of chasing clients post meeting. Call clients who haven't ordered for six weeks to account manage and always to follow up on e-shot or other appropriate email campaigns.

Being proactive is a general principle I like to apply to my business across the board. If you've missed my previous blog posts, you can read more about being proactive in my previous post.

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Know your numbers

I left school failing my maths exam but that has never held me back from selling. One of the most painful experiences of my life at the moment is watching The Apprentice candidates talk about money when selling as they clearly can't add up! It is crucial that all sales people know their product AND their prices, discounts and margins. Selling is not about volume in turnover, it's about profit! I always ensure myself and my team understand the finances prior to talking to any customer.

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About the author

Alison Wild Bcom Hons MAAT MATT Taxation Technician Commercial Tax Pensions Insurance And Marketing Specialist AuthorAlison Wild BCom (Hons), MAAT, MATT, Taxation Technician is a highly respected industry professional who has been working with and advising SMEs in areas including tax, pensions, insurance and marketing for over 25 years. She is a member of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and Association of Tax Technicians (ATT) and also has over 20 years' experience as a residential landlord.