How To Figure Out What Your Brand Is Doing For You


Wednesday, 9.27pm

Sheffield, U.K.

How is branding important in consultative sales and how can you make the best use of your brand?

Entire books have been written about brand – what they mean and how you get one. Some people think that it’s as simple as a logo, while others talk about the entire experience people have when they interact with you in any way.

Branding can be looked at very simply for our task of consultative selling. You just need to ask how your customers and prospects feel about you?

If they like, admire and trust you, that’s great. That’s the place you want to be.

That’s what many modern internet influencers have built a business on. They know that if you listen to their podcasts or read their blogs and find that what they tell you or show you is good then, when they eventually ask you to support them by buying something, you’ll be much more likely to want to reach into your wallet.

It’s very clear when people do something because they want to help you and when they do something because they want to help themselves.

Take the Tim Ferriss podcast, for example. It’s one of the most widely listened to business podcasts in the world.

Tim started it as a distraction when his previous book, which he’d worked on really intensely, failed to take off. Burned out, he started a podcast, interviewing successful people and trying to find out the routines and habits that helped them get where they were.

Now, if Tim mentions a product on his podcast, it sells out within days. That’s because he offers a trusted shortcut. He’s done all the work needed to find information, test it and bring the best bits to you. Now all you have to do is take those results and use them.

The best blogs and podcasts and companies make you feel a certain way about them. These days it’s increasingly not about what they say, but about what they show you.

That’s an area where companies that keep a tight rein on marketing struggle. They can’t make themselves more human and, let’s face it, no one is really interested in what a company does. They’re interested in what it means for them. And they’re nosy – they want to see what other people are up to.

So, an easy way to develop a brand is to be radically honest. Show it like it is. Show your work, show what you do, give people a peek behind the scenes.

This is vital in consultative sales, which happen only when people trust you. The more you show of yourself, the more information they have to judge whether you’re consistent, authentic and trustworthy or an opportunistic con artist.

So, if brand is how you make people feel, the products you offer are what you help them do. The product is the hammer you’re selling.

Take a site like Monevator, for example. That started as a finance blog about getting rich slowly. The authors have put a lot of work into making it easy to understand the options open to you.

If you want to start a pension or choose a collection of cheap index trackers, the site tells you how you can do it quickly and easily. You can save thousands by making a few simple decisions, starting with actually opening an account.

Once you use and trust a site like that then there is a good chance you’ll buy products that they recommend. In my case, it’s often books. It takes me seconds to decide to get a book if it’s recommended on a site I trust. That’s the power of its brand.

The biggest mistake people make about branding is thinking that brand is about the physical things in front of you – the logo, the fonts, the packaging. And it is that – but it’s more. It’s about what sort of feelings you evoke in the people you work with.

In consultative selling, this comes across in the way you act with a prospect. The biggest problem with selling something intangible is that people can’t judge whether you’re any good or not. You might just be good at talking. You might be showing work that someone else has done – but they’re not sure whether you can actually do it yourself.

If you insist on someone signing a contract before you’ll show them anything at all, you’ll find the task of selling to them much harder. The secret is having lots to talk about. Lots to show and tell about what you’ve done.

Here’s the thing. Advice is cheap to give. Ideas aren’t worth much. In a consultative sale, the money comes in because you are hired to execute – to deliver on a promise. To get hired, you have to show that you know your stuff, and that comes from good old show and tell.

The way in which you do your show and tell – in front of a customer and in the various media open to you – will set up and reinforce the brand you’re trying to create. Ideally, you want people to know you before you talk to them. If that isn’t possible, you want them to feel good about you quickly. The worst thing is to have people feel apathetic.

The approach to take in modern consultative sales is probably this. My advice is free or low cost. I give it away on my blog and in my books. My time is what you pay for – and paying for my time is well worth it because of the results I’ll deliver for you.

In other words, spend all your time creating your brand. The products you sell can come later in the process, when your prospects are comfortable with you – even if you’ve never met them in person.


Karthik Suresh

As a reminder, this is the third post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

What Does Being Ethical Have To Do With Anything?


Tuesday, 10.13pm

Sheffield, UK

No one ever admits to doing anything shady. Do you?

Yes you might just add something onto your expenses once in a while or increase your commission just before signature on the off chance that no one will notice. Perhaps you have to say that the thing you’re selling works in dusty conditions even though you know it doesn’t because you’ll be fired.

The fact is that in business you often have to bend the truth. After all, everyone is only looking to hire someone with experience, someone who has done the job several times and is also the cheapest on the market. If you’re relatively new, you might have to big yourself up, talk confidently – after all, confidence sells.

So where do you draw the line. At what point do you realise that you’re doing something that’s unethical. And does it matter?

It might seem a little strange to jump into the ethics of selling so quickly – after all you’ve just started reading this book. Surely that’s something to worry about later – after you’ve got your customers and business. Can’t you retrofit ethics into your business?

I think it’s important to start with understanding your own position on being ethical in selling, especially when it comes to consultative selling.

The aim of a consultative selling process is to help your prospect arrive at the right choice for him or her. David Maister, Robert Galford and Charles Green write about this as being a Trusted Advisor.

Trust has to be earned. As the saying goes, it takes a lifetime to build up a reputation and seconds to destroy it. The problem is that sometimes you have to make hard choices – between what you get or lose and what is the right thing to do.

Sometimes it’s the other way around. You’re doing everything right, but your client is the one that acts badly. That hurts as well. You learn not to trust people like that.

Here’s a suggestion on how to approach ethical selling.

Let’s assume you’re not in the business of outright lying – selling something you know is complete rubbish.

What you have is valuable to your customer, but also has pros and cons. What do you do in that case? More importantly, what will the salesperson you hire do?

For starters, the way they act will probably depend on the way in which you pay them. If what they make is heavily dependent on a commission on the sale, then they’ll do everything they can to flog your product, including lying through their teeth.

If they’re on a salary and don’t lose or win based on the sale, then their primary interest will be in serving the customer. They’ll probably take a more objective view.

In my experience, a pure salesperson compensated on the first basis struggles to make any sales at all. There’s a conveyor belt of them, moving from firm to firm as they come in, get all excited, make some noise, find it’s actually quite hard, then move or get pushed out.

On the other hand, quiet consultative folk, possibly the ones in charge of the business or experienced at doing the work, have one conversation, figure out what the customer needs, put in one proposal and end up getting some business.

If you run a business that is designed around a hard sell process, you’ll attract a certain kind of staff and create a certain kind of culture. The problem is that the bad will drive out the good in this situation.

What you really want is a team around you that are dedicated to serving the customer first and making money second. It may seem idealistic, but if you do good work and add genuine value, then you will be entitled to a fair share of that value you create.

If you truly create value, the compensation will follow.

It’s also important that you have a clear idea of the kind of clients you want to work with. Isn’t it better to have a small number of clients who value your advice, that you can really serve and pay attention to closely and get along with rather than a large number who don’t trust you?

As Warren Buffett says, a good rule is to only work with people you like, admire and trust.

When it comes down to it, however, there’s only one thing you need to remember to know that you’re acting ethically.

You know the golden rule – treat others in the way you would like them to treat you.

To really operate in an ethical way – follow the platinum rule. Treat others the way they would like to be treated.


Karthik Suresh

As a reminder, this set of posts is part of a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

The One Thing To Understand About How Sales Works Now


Monday, 8.56pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I had my first real lesson in how sales works as I sat in the back of a lecture hall listening to Neil Rackham, the author of Spin Selling, talk about his research into the secrets of successful selling. I listened and took notes as Rackham took us through how organisations changed over the last few decades, morphing from lumbering, inefficient beasts to lean, hyper-competitive machines, operating in the age of the Internet.

The world of sales has changed too, as a result. The approaches and lessons of the past cannot be applied blindly today. We need to examine them critically, look at what works, what doesn’t work and what we need to do differently to be successful now.

This starts with understanding the basic framework in which everything happens. Broadly, there are two extremes when it comes to something you can buy. At one end are Transactional products – simple and easy to compare. At the other end are Consultative products, a thing that you might not even realise you need but know you do when someone sits down and works through things with you.

Think of the last time you wanted to buy a book. A book is a good example of a transactional product. It’s the same product whether you buy it in a bookstore like Waterstones or a platform like Amazon. You don’t need someone to persuade you to pick one copy of the book over another. You can go off a recommendation, read a review and pick the place that is most convenient or cheap to get the book. You might even pay more in order to support your local bookstore. And the end, however, it’s a transaction and you simply exchange money for the book and get on with your life.

On the other hand, perhaps you’ve done a construction project, like a home extension. You didn’t just go out and buy and off the shelf extension. Instead, you talked to a few architects, selected one you liked, worked through a number of options, asked them for their opinion, looked at drawings and visualizations and eventually made up your mind. You couldn’t have done all that just by yourself – your architect was your consultant and advisor through the process and helped you make decisions by giving you the benefit of his or her information and expertise. This was a consultative sell.

Decades ago, before the Internet, things didn’t work quite like this. If you wanted a book, you walked into the local store and browsed the racks. Perhaps you spoke to the person behind the counter and asked for recommendations. You might have looked through the paper and read reviews of must-read books for this summer. In fact, there probably weren’t too many times you didn’t have to go into a store and ask someone’s advice, whether you were buying a new set of forks or a new car. The number of transactional sales were quite low then.

When you were in the store, you might be quite happy to pay a bit more if the service was good or if the next available store was several miles away. You’d pay for service, whether you were having your tyres changed or selecting furniture. You wouldn’t have known the options anyway – perhaps you went round three or four shops – but there was no guarantee that you couldn’t find the same thing at 20% off a few miles further on.

In this environment, the job of a salesperson was to help customers pick something. Many of the traditional selling approaches worked on the basis that the salesperson knew more than the customer and was going to spend their time together passing on their knowledge, working to “close” at the end. And that approach worked for a long time.

Then the Internet came along and changed everything. In less than ten years, many products became entirely transactional. Think of all the things you can buy online now without talking to a single person, from pencils and book and shaving cream to cars and televisions and insurance. All you have to do is do some research, compare your options and choose a product. If you know what you want, or are willing to find out by doing some research, you can then simply go on the best platform and buy it.

This has meant that that traditional rump in the middle – where you could go into a store and pay a little bit more for a little more advice has started to disappear. The relentless onslaught of the Internet is making product after product, market after market, more and more transactional. The traditional salesperson’s role is disappearing and being replaced by an online order form.

How about when you don’t know what you want? That’s the other end of the scale and it’s flourishing as well. In situations where you don’t have the expertise to evaluate your options yourself then you need some help. The individuals and organisations that do well here have the ability to help you when you don’t quite know what you need help with. For example, you might have an ache in your forearm, but you need the help of a doctor to tell whether it’s a simple muscle strain or the onset of rheumatism. If you need to carry out a major business transformation you might need to hire experienced consultants who can work with you to create and drive a process that works for your business. That needs a consultative approach.

All this means that different sales skills are needed for transactional and consultative selling. Transactional selling means you have to be great at optimising, at squeezing every last bit out of your systems and workflow and operations. Consultative selling means you have to be good with people, working with them, listening and coming up with creative and useful ideas and approaches. If what you do is repetitive and simple, it will be automated and become transactional. If what you do is human and creative, you’ve got some time still.

The first thing you have to do is figure out where you are and what you need to learn to sell in your business. You have to specialise in one end or the other – either be the best transactional salesperson out there or the best consultative. If you’re in the middle, you’re going to be squeezed out of business.

In this series of posts, I’ll start with consultative selling and then move onto transactional selling later – perhaps in another book.

As a reminder, this set of posts is part of a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.


Karthik Suresh

Why Should We All Learn How To Sell?


Sunday, 7.32pm.

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s time to try a little experiment.

I started writing this blog a little over a year ago. I didn’t really have a plan. More just a vague feeling that I wanted to write and the way to write was to get started and write.

It also took some time to figure out what I wanted to write about. Was it long detailed technical pieces about my field? Was it a short braindump every day? What form and structure and tone would be appropriate?

Well, actually, I didn’t figure any of it out. The process of writing every day meant that all those things simply emerged. And they are still emerging and developing so I’m not really sure where they will end up eventually.

There are some patterns, however, that keep repeating.

All my posts, the last few hundred anyway, start with an idea, which I draw. It might be a concept diagram, a rich picture, a graphic organiser.

They aren’t really sketchnotes – some of my early posts are – but a sketchnote is full of elements, complicated and beautiful but also hard to digest unless you’ve done it yourself.

Then, the words simply fall out of the graphic. The process of drawing the idea makes the writing much easier.

Now, after nearly 200,000 words posted (199,095 to be precise) it feels like it’s time to try something new.

Robert Pirsig, writing in Lila, says that he writes things down on little slips of paper to get them out of his mind. The act of writing down means that his mind is free to let go of those ideas. That letting go is important if you want to let new ideas in, like pouring away old tea in a cup if you want to get any more in.

That’s what this blog has felt like for the last year. A place to collect all the ideas and thoughts and things that I’ve come across that seem interesting or thought provoking or worth knowing.

Perhaps it’s time to get a little more focused.

It’s coming up to the last quarter of the year. For many of us that means looking ahead to 2019 and making plans for what we’re going to do. And a big part of that plan involves thinking about sales.

Whether you work in a company as a salesperson, run a profit centre, are expected to make rain, work as a freelancer or consultant on your own or are looking for a new job, knowing how to sell is an essential part of your role.

I’m talking about selling as one of the things you do. Not something that happens at head office in a different department. No. It starts with you. You’re at the centre of this picture that I’m looking at.

So, when you think about what selling involves, some things start to push themselves forward. There’s your customer, of course. Their business. How they make decisions. Then there is your business and your product. There’s your business and the team and network around you. Then there is your story – the story you’re going to tell to create a relationship with that customer. And then there’s the market – that big thing that acts as the backdrop to everything you do.

Many people have written about this. From academic textbooks to pop psychology, from ra-ra look at me books to biographies and how-to manuals, there’s lots out there to read and think about. So, why is it worth writing anything else about it?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by stories of success – how someone use a particular approach to get where they are now. There’s the promise of a blueprint – do what I did and you’ll get the same results. Or there’s the fear that you’re so far behind that there’s no point in trying because you’ll never catch up.

The thing is that all these stories and ideas and concepts and blueprint are models. They describe a particular view of reality, not reality itself. They certainly don’t describe your reality, and my reality. So, it seems to me that it’s worth looking at a wide range of models and picking the ones that help us understand where we are better.

And so that’s the point of this experiment.

Over the next 30-90 days, I’m going to meander through the sales function. I’m going to try and pull together models that help explore the picture that has you and your customer at the centre. And my hope is that these models will help you and me question where we are when it comes to doing sales, and take action to improve how we do it.

What I’m also hoping is that what emerges from these posts is something of a first draft of something that will eventually become a book. Like Pirsig did with Lila. An emergent text rather than one that tries to sell a particular point of view. The kind of book I’d like to read to work out what I should be doing.

Let’s hope it works out.


Karthik Suresh

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