What I Learned from a French-Speaking Sales Rock Star – by Mike Weinberg

Mike Weinberg photograph

I love sales calls. I love making them, going along with others, observing, reflecting and writing about sales calls. If I was to take a swag at the number, I’ve probably observed (as either a sales exec. or a coach/consultant) 170 salespeople on approximately 1000 sales calls. That’s a lot of data and even more fodder for developing coaching content. I’ve seen it all – from the boardrooms of Fortune 100 companies to the breakrooms of rural manufacturing operations and everything in between. The 5-minute standup in the corner of a lobby to the 3-hour marathon in an auditorium. The good. The bad. And the ugly.

Last summer I spent a few days in Montreal. What a great city and what a wonderful experience. My preconceived notion of French Canadians was way off. Everyone with whom I met was gracious and friendly. I had the opportunity to work in the field with several salespeople and a great young sales manager. It was a fantastic few days highlighted by an enlightening full day with a French-speaking sales rock star. Patrick is actually French, as in France-French, but he’s lived in Montreal for many years. He sells super-premium exclusive food items to chefs in fine restaurants.

The title of this post is slightly misleading. Patrick did speak English, quite well. But we spent the day calling on French chefs and every sales call was conducted completely in French. It was a surreal experience for me. I didn’t understand a word, but learned a ton. And unequivocally, I can tell you why this guy conducts some of the very best sales calls I’ve ever seen.

Happy. Positive. Likable.  Patrick was a joy to be around. He was charming. He smiled at every receptionist/hostess, and chefs always smiled when they greeted him. He was excited about his business and loved what he was doing. People buy from people they like.

Gravitas. Executive Presence.  While still demonstrating a great deal of respect for his customers, Patrick approached and spoke with them as peers. He had excellent physical and voice presence. His posture was comfortable and confident. I’ve learned that chefs can be a bit like doctors. They tend to have big egos. They expect to be addressed as “Chef.” They demand or command respect. Patrick had a perfect balance – showing deference, yet not coming off as subservient or intimidated in any way.

Same Side of the Table. Seen as an Advisor. Not Contrived. No Sales Voice.  On almost every call, Patrick positioned himself next to the chef, on the same side of the table. It never once felt like he was “presenting” at them. He was there as an advisor to see how he could help the chef achieve his goals, improve his product. There was a completely different dynamic on these calls than I see with most salespeople. Nothing seemed contrived or salesy. He didn’t use some “sales voice” and speak with a completely different tone and cadence than he did when not on sales calls (why do salespeople do that?). I didn’t observe the typical buyer auto-reflex resistance to being sold because Patrick didn’t create that tension with his approach.

A Dialogue. Talk-Listen Ratio. Call Structure.  I witnessed textbook structuring of sales calls. It was clear from the outset of each meeting that Patrick’s idea of a sales call looked a lot more like a conversation than a product or catalogue presentation. Most calls started with banter and then evolved into a Q &A dialogue with Patrick transitioning into suggestions for products that might benefit the chef. Even more impressive was the fact that on no call did Patrick ever speak more than 50% of the words. In many cases, he conducted the call so that the chef was speaking two-thirds of the time. God gave you two ears and one mouth, and that’s a great percentage to use them in sales!

Superb Use of Sales Materials and iPad.  Most salespeople fumble when it comes to elegantly using materials, handouts, electronic aids. The most common thing I see is over-dependence on materials where the aids end up becoming the “main thing” as opposed to the “assistant” to help drive home a point or paint a visual picture. Patrick masterfully and naturally brought printed product sheets into the conversation. And while I’ve seen an iPad deployed on calls a few times recently, unfortunately, salespeople used it more like a book to flip through pages (and present).  Patrick found a way to quickly grab the iPad when appropriate, and used it to highlight a certain item or show a beautiful image of a product for which he didn’t have a live sample. It was smooth and I was impressed.

Mustang Convertible. Fashionable.  Patrick wasn’t wearing worn out khakis and a company logo’d golf shirt. He was quite fashionable in his trendy jeans, cool shoes and lightweight black blazer. He dressed to fit the role. He was selling high-end goods and he looked like it. He was driving a bright blue almost new Mustang convertible and having a blast doing it.

Exhausted after a full day of running (yes, running at times) around downtown Montreal, he dropped the top for our ride back to the hotel. Not five seconds later he calls over to an attractive young woman getting on a bicycle. “Katie, great to see you.” She comes over to say hi and rides away. He puts the car in first gear and smiles at me, “That’s the pastry chef at one of my accounts.” It really did feel like I spent the day with a sales rock star.

Je ne parle pas Francais. But for a guy who’s been on a thousand sales calls, I sure learned a lot that day.

 

Mike Weinberg’s specialty is new business development and his passion is helping companies, sales teams and individuals acquire new accounts. He is a sales coach and consultant on a mission to simplify sales. Originally from New York, Mike resides in St. Louis with his wife and three children. He has been the top-performing salesperson in three different organizations and served as a chief sales executive in two companies. Mike loves sales and returned to his calling as a sales coach at the end of 2010. You can find him on twitter @mike_weinberg or follow his blog at http://newsalescoach.com. Mike’s book, New Sales. Simplifiedis available on Amazon.com.