Secrets of Selling

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In his new book, Sales Tales, Conor Kenny explains what makes great sales people. Here’s a flavour of the book.



28 May 2014

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It’s a funny thing but, more often than not, people will avoid telling you they’re in sales. They might be ambassadors, representatives, executives or ‘in marketing’. It’s as if ‘sales’ is a slightly tarnished word.  It’s not, nor should it ever be seen that way.

There is no service, no profession, no industry and no business that does not require sales, salesmanship and a sales strategy. Sales is a function that belongs to everyone, though it’s one that many people shy away from. It’s at the very core of strategy, every vision and every plan. It’s a skill. And, when you see how common ‘average’ is, you can build a fantastic career by being in sales.

Of course, great sales people are not just great sales people, they’re simply great people who are in sales.

Over many years, I’ve learnt by listening, observing and by looking at what people did that had a good impact on me. The list below is not scientific, it’s just my view and my perspective on what makes great sales people great:

•    Humility: Great sales people are humble. They never let their ego get in the way
•    Trust: You trust them instinctively. They have earned that
•    See good: They focus on the good, not the weakness. They forgive customers who are difficult
•    Positive: ‘Cheerful’ and ‘positive’ are among the words that describe the most successful sales people. The opposite isn’t very inviting
•    Honest: They are honest – always
•    What’s right: They will only do what’s right for their customer, even when that means saying “No”
•    Knowledge: They know what they sell and how it benefits their customer
•    Confident: Confidence is essential in selling and great sales people are only confident because they believe in their proposition
•    Learn: They have a desire to learn throughout their career
•    Judge: They don’t. They listen and welcome alternative perspectives
•    Curious: They have a natural curiosity and an innate ability to question
•    People: They simply love being around – and with – people
•    Fast: They are driven by fixing problems – and fixing them quickly too
•    Brand: They know their brand, its behaviour, culture and personality
•    Personality: They are who they are and never try to be someone else
•    Listen: They are good listeners above all else
•    Promises: They are passionate about delivering what they promised
•    Value: They like to add value, which usually means effort
•    Work hard: They work hard and usually longer hours than their contract requires
•    Shortcuts: They don’t take them
•    Accessible: Great sales people don’t turn off their phone
•    Balance: They understand the importance of not working every hour
•    Fair: They understand a good deal must be a good deal for both parties
•    Say “No”: They know when to say “No” – when it’s a bad deal for the customer
•    Winning: They don’t see a good deal as a win – they see it as a draw
•    Persistent: They don’t quit, even when they’re told to
•    Standards: They have high standards in every part of their life
•    Emotions: They rarely let them get in the way
•    Focus: They keep their eye on the goal, not the journey
•    Rejection: They don’t allow rejection to interfere with their goal
•    Energetic: They move fast, not slow
•    Character: They have charisma, even if they don’t believe it themselves.

Another way to see the qualities of great sales people is to pause for one moment and think about the sales people you’ve met who really impressed you. You’ll find that the characteristics you admire and trust are all within the list above. We don’t often sit back and analyse these traits but they exist, they work and they’re the DNA of really good sales people.

Above all else, the key quality of a great sales person is that you trust them. Some years back, I had the great pleasure of working with Ireland’s most iconic brand, Guinness. John Mullins was my daily Guinness business contact. John is Guinness through-and-through. John loves Guinness and Guinness loves John. It has been a life-long love affair from the age of 16. Although he ‘retired’ many years ago, he still hasn’t left.

I travelled with John many times and his innate charisma, authenticity and razor-sharp mind taught me lessons that I still use today. Passion ran through everything John did. It’s infectious and most of all, it builds confidence. For me, in a long career, John stands out as one of the greatest influences on my journey and really understanding how to sell.

A man from Spain wanted to build an Irish pub back home. He came to the brewery at St James’ Gate. John was representing Guinness and I was representing The Irish Pub Company. The man hummed and hawed and price kept derailing his thinking. He was a nice man and didn’t want to offend. Eventually, he came out with it: “But if I build this pub in Spain, with local craftsmen, I will save myself €30,000”.

My heart sank. At last, the truth was coming out, the sale was doomed. Not for John Mullins. Quick as a flash, John looked him in the eye and in a solemn voice said: “That would be the most expensive €30,000 you ever saved”.

Our Spanish guest paused with a jaw inclined towards the floor. In broken English, he replied: “Okay, we go ahead”.

A unique combination of charisma, character and authentic confidence, coupled with strong beliefs and doing the right thing, brought a sale back from the dead. Now you can see why Guinness won’t let John go.

A beautiful letter
And lastly, great sales people communicate. In the heart of Edenderry lies Patrick Larkin’s Pub. Three generations have successfully run it, through three different eras. Today Patrick Snr is handing the reins to Patrick Jnr, just like his father before him.

Some years ago, I received a letter from Patrick Snr. It stood out for two reasons. First, it said “Thank you” for the work we had done together. In itself, that was rare. But, second, in the body of his beautifully-inked letter he talked about his customers. His line is forever etched in my memory: "I have had the privilege to live with the people of Edenderry and I have been proud to serve them”.

It was the word ‘privilege’ that stood out and then the ‘proud to serve’ phrase. It made me think about myself and the many people in sales that I’ve met. How many would use these terms? How many wanted to serve? It’s no surprise that the Larkins’ business has endured when many have fallen.

Conor Kenny is the Founder and Principal of Conor Kenny & Associates, Ireland’s leading independent training, mentoring, HR, learning and professional development company for the hospitality industry.??
Sales Tales: True Stories of How Great Sales Happen, his first book, is available from good bookshops and the publisher, Oak Tree Press (, price €14.95.



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