In this podcast episode, guest Ambrose Blowfield discusses how content is king and how it's pivotal for selling in the modern world.
Carl Lewis: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Ambrose Blowfield from New Zealand.
Ambrose, welcome to the podcast. Tell us about yourself and your company.
Ambrose Blowfield: Thanks, Carl. I was born in Britain, London and raised between the UK and Switzerland. I did a bilingual international business degree, which allowed me to study in France and the UK because it was bilingual with French. Then I joined the American giant Procter and Gamble to work in sales.
Then I thought, "There must be more to life than working in Europe where I was raised." So, I moved to Australia and New Zealand and have been here for over 20 years. For 17 years, I've been training and coaching, mostly in sales, but a bit in marketing, to small to midsized businesses worldwide. I've worked with clients in over 20 countries.
Carl Lewis: I've also worked with small and midsized businesses for the last 20ish years. So, you're a sales guy. My wife says I am, but I do other things.
Ambrose Blowfield: I think you are. You're charismatic and engaging.
Carl Lewis: I have my moments. So, how has the pandemic affected the lives of salespeople and sales?
Ambrose Blowfield: COVID stopped most countries we're selling, coaching, and training people into from getting face to face. And one of the major opportunities a business has is using salespeople to engage with customers. COVID removed the ease of engagement.
Those who remained proactive, kept making calls, switched to virtual meetings, etc. did well. They gained market share almost just for the discipline of doing it. Those who relied on face-to-face meetings suffered. But it's the same way with any recession or the global financial crisis – the guys who weren’t proactive struggled.
Carl Lewis: Definitely. Salespeople have a unique chemistry. They like to engage, and they're typically gregarious. How did the pandemic affect them personally?
Ambrose Blowfield: At the Sales Mastery Company last year, the goal was to help as many businesses as possible – whether we were paid or not. We're proud to have helped over a thousand last year via free webinars, coaching, and advice. One of the constant messages I gave small business owners was, "Call your customers and ask them how they're doing."
The best thing a salesperson or business owner can do is show respect and care for the other person's situation. What our clients got from that was a real breakdown of their relationships with their customers – in a good way! People were being revealing. They said, "My husband (or kids) are driving me nuts," or “I miss going to the office." Those barriers are down forever now.
Those who persisted in treating people like humans and genuinely lent an ear, were kind, etc. have gained massive market share off the back of good loyalty and respect.
The second thing is about personality. The traditional salesperson is one of two things: warm, cuddly, friendly, engaging, charismatic, and wants to be your best friend or dominant. Either way, they’re very expressive in how they speak their mind, but they're driven and hardened. We view that persona as someone from New York versus someone from the South who might hug you. I'm generalizing – but that's the personas working in America I've gotten.
And the warm, bubbly, friendly types struggled because they crave human contact. Hugs, shaking hands, watching body language, etc. That amazing strength of reading people was removed or reduced when they entered the virtual world caused by COVID.
Carl Lewis: I was complaining to my wife that I don't mind working at home – I have for a long time – but I didn't have everybody else working at home too. And now everyone’s all up in my business, like my habit of sneaking out for a salad and a beer at lunch.
Ambrose Blowfield: I traveled extensively before Covid. For 9.5 years, I traveled 100+ nights a year. There’s a 3.5-hour flight between Australia and New Zealand and a five-hour time difference in the summer. Then, with North America and Europe, there’s an 11- or 13-hour time difference. I've loved being at home since COVID, but like you said, you have to adapt.
Carl Lewis: Definitely. So, how does a salesperson take advantage of virtual meetings versus the one-on-one engagement they're used to?
Ambrose Blowfield: There are a few ways. To anyone selling virtually, via any platform, the magic word is the same one we've been teaching for 17 years about writing and delivering great presentations: Engagement. Good speakers engage you.
Virtually, you don't have the advantage of shaking someone's hand and sharing a space. Without that advantage, you have to work extra hard at the rapport. In sales, it's all about serving others. So, in the rapport-building phase, you have to engage the people on camera.
Remember: You're excited by what you want to say, but they're excited by what they want to say. You have to get them talking and interacting throughout the virtual meeting. Ask, "Does that make sense? Are you okay with that? Do you have questions? Comments? Ideas?" Engaging them is so important. Engagement is king, whether it’s virtual meetings or face-to-face presentations to school kids, customers, or government departments.
Carl Lewis: But it's easier to read the room when you're in the room, right?
Ambrose Blowfield: Yes. In New Zealand, we have 5 million people. For male sports, rugby is the number one sport by a mile. It's almost a religion here. Like the Canadians love their hockey, we love our rugby. And the All Blacks have a mantra: "Be where your feet are. Be present, be in the moment, focus on this moment. Don't get caught up." Entrepreneurs and business owners should take this philosophy. Be where their feet are. The phone call/conversation you’re on is the only one that matters.
Carl Lewis: I agree. And a lot of those businesses got online for the first time during the pandemic, right? Business portals, eCommerce, B2B portals, etc. How is that going to affect sales work? People think, "If you’re online, you don't need salespeople." What's your take?
Ambrose Blowfield: Because of my degree and the companies I've worked for, I've taught a lot of sales and marketing in the last 17 years.
Five years ago, although the internet was developing rapidly, so was social media. And it wasn’t just the pandemic that caused eCommerce to accelerate; it’s been doing so for the last 20 years. America has dominated the world in many aspects of retail and eCommerce. I chose sales for a reason: Because even though customers can access more information from websites, social media, internet forums, and ratings sites, salespeople add value in two ways.
First, it’s to ensure you're selling value in your products and services. To ensure you negotiate your benefits versus negotiating down on price. Because if you're a small to midsized business, you can’t buy as big as Amazon or Walmart, and if the game becomes money-driven, which a lot of eCommerce is heading toward, you’ll lose. Therefore, you need to make sure the sales function comes in to negotiate and engage.
The second thing a salesperson can do that, thankfully, websites can’t do (yet) is open the customer up. Salespeople can ask engaging questions, and that's the heart of sales. It's what I was taught from businesses like Procter and Gamble that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars training and developing their team every year.
Engaging people is asking questions. If you go to Amazon and buy a book, Amazon says, "People who bought that book also bought this one." That's a prompt. It’s run by software. A salesperson could ask, "Where do you want to be in five years? Where do you want your business to be? Where do you want your family to be? What are your fears? What challenges keep you up at night?" You can uncover that in sales, but marketing and eCommerce never get that deep.
Carl Lewis: I agree. Several weeks ago, you mentioned you had a working title for a new book, Shut Up and Sell or Shut Up to Sell. Something like that.
Ambrose Blowfield: Shut Up to Sell.
Carl Lewis: Explain what that’s about, please.
Ambrose Blowfield: It's like Who Moved My Cheese? Or Chicken Soup for the Soul. You want a name that will stand out.
Sales is service, and you would have to search hard to find small, niche industries where that’s not true. Our purpose in life is to serve others – and the purpose in sales is to serve others. Not to push products onto people, but to put it in their mind they want your product. It's a bit of reverse psychology.
A problem in sales is that we watch movies and TV shows and look at people in English expression. People with the gift of gab. They speak well and are engaging and charismatic. That sells movies, but it’s not what customers want. Customers want to be heard. They want to hear their own voice way more than they want to hear the salesperson's voice.
They want several things from a salesperson. They want to feel respected, heard, and empathized with. We need to shut up more as salespeople. You mentioned personalities. Two-thirds of humans are introverted. We've trained 15,000 small businesses around the world, and most small business owners are introverts. They're not natural salespeople. It suits them that customers prefer to speak. It suits them that two-thirds of people don't want to talk too much. So, they need to shut up to sell more because the customer does the speaking.
Carl Lewis: Absolutely. Most of the small businesses I know were started by accountants.
Ambrose Blowfield: Interesting.
Carl Lewis: Yeah. And it's interesting to watch them twist themselves into salespeople.
Ambrose Blowfield: I've had that conversation thousands of times: "How do I, as a technically driven person or operationally focused person, become more confident? More persuasive?" And the secret is creating structure, process, and questioning in the sales element.
Carl Lewis: You mentioned that eCommerce came along, and now it's almost like a contest to see who can sell this product for the cheapest and get the biggest market share. How does a salesperson in that environment overcome this mentality of "I have to give a discount to compete with the internet"?
Ambrose Blowfield: That’s been a battle for salespeople forever. The first thing to remember is that unless you're a small to medium business that can buy bigger than everybody else, the race to the bottom is not one you’ll win. Ever. Allegedly, Amazon spent $500 million in five years before they turned a $1 pure profit. That's a long time to wait. Most small businesses don't have a bank of $500 million.
Know what you can and can’t win. You can’t win economies at scale by buying better, so adding value has to be your strategy.
The second thing is, Amazon and Walmart aside, look at the fastest selling brands. Look at the highest selling by unit. Consider shampoo. If it's anti-dandruff, it’s probably Head and Shoulders around the world. With floor cleaners or washing powders, it’s probably Tide in the US, Ariel in the UK, and Persil in Australia. If you look at the best-selling brands globally – cars being Toyota, hamburgers being McDonald's, cola drinks being Coca-Cola, etc. – none are the cheapest.
That's an important lesson because as a business owner: The best-selling brands by unit are rarely the cheapest; there's always a home brand or budget brand that's cheaper. But being the cheapest doesn’t always give you the highest volume. We need a mental shift to accept that. The moment we do, we'll try to sell on value and adding value to relationships.
Carl Lewis: That's a great lesson. Great example.
Ambrose Blowfield: Thank you.
Carl Lewis: I seldom buy the cheapest anything. I almost purposely find the cheapest one and reject it.
Ambrose Blowfield: You think, "I deserve better." Or you ask yourself the purchasing scenario question. Another change in the pandemic was that trust was damaged. People started doubting and questioning business, government, and medical leaders. That hasn't changed. It happened during the great financial crisis, too. We need trust, and when we look at a cheap product, we think, “What was taken out of it to make it so cheap?”
There's an economic theory called the Giffen good that says there's a price point at which all goods are not trusted. When I was in high school and university, they used potatoes as the example. If potatoes are $5/pound, we probably don't buy them, but because rice is a different starchy product people buy instead, at $2/pound, you’ll go for it. For 50 cents a pound, you go, "Yeah, I'll buy more potatoes."
But if potatoes are one cent a pound, you probably won't buy them because you want to know what's wrong with them. It's not a race a small to medium business will win, so don't bother. It's not a race that's ever been won globally.
Pick anything. Glasses, watches, clothing, shoes, airlines. Although Southwest Airlines in America is an interesting anomaly for the airline industry because they’re a budget airline that sells based on amazing service. Their brand is about service. They have to be cheap.
But of the best-selling airlines in the world, the budget airlines aren’t on top.
Carl Lewis: No, they're not.
Ambrose Blowfield: No one is the cheapest and the best seller.
Carl Lewis: These days, Southwest is the airline that seems to have the most customer fights and fisticuff occurrences.
Ambrose Blowfield: I've seen a few YouTube channels on American and United breaking someone's guitar once.
Carl Lewis: Yes. I'm not sure the budget flight is the way to go.
So, what's more important: a salesperson's personality or the sales process they follow? This debate has been around forever.
Ambrose Blowfield: You hinted you might ask that, so I thought about it. I debated saying, "I could argue it both ways," but I can't. It’s absolutely the process. Some of the best salespeople in the world are highly introverted, "non-traditional" salespeople. Often technical. And the reason they're good is they shut up to sell. They control the conversation with the customer by questioning and comparing. Without question, it’s the process.
However, different personalities use the process differently. Whether they're the dominant personality type, the hard-nosed salesperson, or the warm and bubbly, extroverts need the process to rein themselves in and slow down a bit.
Introverts crave the process because it gives them confidence and security through the conversation. So, 100% the process. That’s what my book focuses on. And it's one of the main things we teach. We've written 300 courses over the years, and it's my favorite area because you can pick up the introverts and slow down the extroverts.
Carl Lewis: I agree. I've always said you can take an introvert, give them a good process, and make them into excellent salespeople. They just need the process for confidence.
Ambrose Blowfield: Brands are their reputation, how they feel about someone, how they feel about a business after they've consumed a product or service. And one of the key things about strong brands is consistency. So, if you have a team of one, 10, or 110, they should be treated consistently.
Something that shocks me when I travel is that every food court in every airport in the world has a long line for McDonald's or Burger King. Why? Because they’re consistent: Their service is consistent, you know how the packaging feels, you know how it will taste. They're not lining up for nutritional value because there's typically someone next door making salads or something in a hot wok that's more nutritious. Consistency is king.
Carl Lewis: Absolutely.
Ambrose, my last question is forecasting the future. Technology is changing. In the past 18 months, we've seen technology adoption in ways beyond what we ever imagined. What will a sales career be like in the next five to 10 years? If you're a business owner and hiring salespeople, what do you look for now?
Ambrose Blowfield: First – and this is non-negotiable – you want someone aligned with your core values and principles. Because ultimately, if they don't believe in your core values or culture, they'll never fit, no matter how high performing they are. They’ll clash with you because you’ll make a decision they don’t like. For us, giving is a core value. We always tie the fair amount of our income upfront; we give to many charities and support/mentor others. We've had people work for us who aren't giving, and eventually, they struggle with the fact that we're giving away our time and money. They don't get it. If we tell them to help someone for free, they say, "I want to make a commission." And we say, “They don’t have any money. Just go help them because they need help, and we can help."
So, it’s non-negotiable to avoid a clash of culture. You have to go deeper with your interview questions and do a reference check to find out who this human is.
At Procter and Gamble, it's popular in the US to recruit. In the UK, I was one of 15 that joined from 3,500 applicants. They spent a lot of time understanding our attitudes, drives, and work ethics. That will always pay back better in the long term than someone who comes with a database or little black book of contacts because eventually, they run out of contacts.
You're looking for work ethic and attitude, then skills. Salespeople must be good at problem-solving, listening, and asking questions. Ideally, they’ll be naturally engaging. They need a service mindset. So, you go from that. There are hundreds of sales skills to develop.
Then I would touch on industry and product knowledge and names. That’s the last step. The mistake I see with small to midsized business owners is, "I've hired this guy. He's been working in the industry for 20 years. He has loads of contacts." They literally reverse it. They say, "What can he bring me today?” They didn't investigate who he is as a person or the fact that he's lazy. They didn't investigate his core values.
So regardless of a pandemic or technology, that's the order of preference for recruitment.
Ambrose Blowfield: You need salespeople to be more marketing aware and marketers to be more sales and relationship aware. That’s something my wife and I – we run the Sales Mastery Company and themarketingcompany.com – have been passionate about teaching.
We've always taught salespeople how to market. It’s their responsibility to have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, do market research, think about the brand of the business, the product, the service, and themselves. It’s their responsibility to see if they can be more efficient at time management, where we might have said, "That's the IT person's job," or "It’s the operations manager's job to look at productivity." The tools are all here.
Our daughter was privileged to be on a scholarship at Houston Ballet Academy before the pandemic hit. We brought her home to be safe with us in New Zealand because she’s only 16, and it was scary to think our borders would close and she'd be stuck in America without us. But the technology in our devices is greater than what NASA in Houston had to put people on the moon in the '60s. And that was an incredible feat.
Salespeople have it here. What salespeople don’t have is excuses. They can't say, "The system's not good enough. The software's not good enough. It's too expensive. I can't access training." They can if they’re proactive, have the right attitude, and work hard.
Carl Lewis: I like your take on that. The last thing I want to do is hire a salesperson with a list of customers from their old job.
Ambrose Blowfield: There are no ethics in that.
Carl Lewis: It tells me they’ll be with me two or three years and then repeat the process. I don't have the energy for that.
Ambrose Blowfield: I'm with you.
Carl Lewis: This has been great, Ambrose. I appreciate your time and input. I'm sure our audience learned some things.
Ambrose Blowfield: Thank you, Carl. I love helping people, so if someone contacts me on LinkedIn from anywhere in the world and asks a question, if they're positive and trying to grow, I'm happy to help. And on salesmasterycompany.com/podcast, we have a free sales tool to help people get started.
Carl Lewis: That’s great. We’ll pass it on. And to everyone in our audience today, stay connected.