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I used to think I knew exactly what “sales” was: it involved someone with a fake smile and cheesy one-liners conning people into buying things they didn’t want or need. I briefly tried sales jobs on a couple of occasions when I was desperate for a job, any job. One was teleselling advertising space, the other involved knocking on doors to sell some kind of home soundproofing (I can’t even remember what it was, apart from that we were targeting homes close to the airport). I failed totally at both, and though I’d have liked the money, I wasn’t too upset that I wasn’t good at “sales”.

I think the basic trouble was that, deep down, my subconscious was convinced I would have been conning anyone who bought from me – and maybe I would have been. I didn’t have the same problem when I worked in a bookshop. It was a specialist bookshop, the leading one in its field, and people came in specifically wanting the books we stocked. I just really had to point them at what they wanted. That wasn’t “sales”.

That attitude has melted quite a bit since then, especially since I’ve been selling my copywriting services and mixing with other businesspeople whose roles involve more obvious selling. None of them have fitted my “salesperson” image.

Late last year, I did a proofread/edit job on a book by John Kettley of the Sales Masters Guild  on how to sell. I learnt a huge amount just by reading through it, and as a result I attended two SMG training days, last Wednesday and Thursday, led by John along with Olivier Carion. They covered much the same areas as the book, but the interaction, bouncing ideas back and forth, made the learning even more powerful.

What the SMG teaches is the absolute antithesis of that “salesperson”. As John put it at one point, the difference between a salesman and a conman is that a salesman believes in what he’s selling, and a conman doesn’t. In fact, although “closing” was covered, most of the emphasis was on finding out what the customer actually wants – and, if they don’t want what you have, don’t waste your effort trying to sell to them.

Even more, though, the training was about understanding yourself and your business, and perhaps the most important single thing I got from the sessions was that I finally understand what it is I offer that’s special to me – that I’ll write about anything you want, because research is never boring. I knew that before, but I didn’t know I knew it.

Any business training, of course, is partly a networking event too, and I met some lovely people: some I knew already, some I knew online but had never met, some who were new to me. They were great to spend the days with, and I hope they’ll continue to be important colleagues.

So thanks to John and Olivier, and I’d definitely recommend anyone to have a look at the Sales Masters Guild, whether for one-off training or for their longer-term course. Or simply to buy John’s book, How to Build a Business that Creates Wealth

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