When did my agency journey begin?

My journey began very much by accident, I was 19 years old and following a 3-month period of unemployment (which made me value the need for work as part of life), I joined a sales team. I had recently departed a role with a market research company (which I suppose is where really where my journey started), however, I shall add a little context to help paint a picture of my experiences.

Whilst at the Market Research company, we had to do two simple roles, the first being to rate call handlers on pre-recorded calls or to call a call centre and record the calls during which time we would conduct secret shopping. These recordings were those that you hear when calling a customer service line, those that precede with the statement “this call may be recorded for training purposes”. This was slightly more interesting and less daunting than the other task.

The other task was cold-calling households to ask a pre-determined number of questions. When I look back, I think that there was likely a part of me that dreaded going on these calls at the time. I’m unsure whether this was the fear of not being able to get the answers, the monotonous repetition or the discourtesy of the disturbing someone during their day or of an evening. In any case, I found a way forward and made it work. Looking back, each of these ‘issues’ were simply irrational and unsubstantiated. The fear of not being able to get the answers was a lack of confidence in my own ability, the monotony was my problem not necessarily indicative of the task itself and the ‘disturbing someone’s time’ was simply an excuse. With the latter, they could always say no and most people were very polite, so there was no reason for this be used as an avoidance tactic.
It was my responsibility to make it interesting and looking back, I learned a lot about how to engage people in conversation, certain manners and etiquette that are important whilst on a call and how to research and analyse data based on behaviours.

This put me in good stead for my role in sales. My hours were 8:30 to 5:30 with an hour for lunch and 15-minutes or so in the morning and afternoon for a break. It is interesting that this is how I begin to explain the role because this job was very much a routine and for someone like myself who enjoys variation and spontaneity, this was simply a job. This job certainly was not the most enjoyable of roles, as the breaks were very much needed! With this said, I have since undertaken much more stressful roles, worked significantly more hours and done at a higher-level of focus without any breaks. The latter point isn’t impressive, but what it does state is that with purpose, the breaks become less of a vocal point. Instead, breaks become a part of the day to focus on your well-being so that you can perform at your very best, rather than a time to get away from the ‘work’.

I cannot say that I’ve really viewed work as separate to my life, however, more recently, I’ve taken steps to find a more balanced approach to life, rather than allowing my business endeavours to become all-consuming and detrimental, as is the case with many business owners at one time or another.

In everything you do need to find an interest in it, you need a passion and a drive, but one of the most important points is that whatever you are doing needs to make you feel fulfilled. Being satisfied, content and fulfilled are all different to being happy. I read a brilliant article a number of years ago on how people who strive to be happy were fighting a losing battle, as happiness is a consequence. In my eyes, this is much like money, money is a consequence of actions. You can strive to be happy, but happiness is temporary. Sometimes you will be sad and at other times will experience a range of other emotions. Feeling fulfilled is deep-rooted. Am I happy every day at work? No, not necessarily. The question is, does the work we do make me feel fulfilled? I can honestly say that it does. It’s important to look deeper than that instant sense of gratification, particularly reinforced by social media and the world in which we now live in. At novi, we try to make the company a place where people have the flexibility to define their own schedules and define their own futures. We have a structure, process, software, set deliverables and a framework of services to be provided, however, the service provided by our key account management team is at their own discretion.

During the time in my first sales role, I had to complete hundreds of call attempts each week. I was given a day of shadowing and then expected to commence straight away, we had the occasional training session, perhaps once every 6 months or so, but nothing substantial nor formalised and it was entirely dependent upon when you started in role as to when the training sessions fell. With some new starters, they would go several months before training occurred.

Every staff member had to make a number of sales or you would be let go. There was a little leeway, increasingly so the longer that you had been with the company (as everyone has a bad week every once in a while), but fundamentally it relied on sales occurring as a constant. It’s a tough pill to swallow for many, but your worth in the company is determined by your contributions to the company. With this said, in any good company, such as novi, this isn’t just about sales (after all I didn’t sell well at the beginning). Contribution to the company comes in many guises and (probably) most importantly, the investment in oneself to strive for continual improvement.

So how did I start to make sales and sell well?

Put simply, I listened and watched those that were best at it. I positioned myself to be next to those who were selling well and learned from them. I did not sell as well as they did, at least not at first (for the reasons stated earlier), but I did start to make an increasing number of sales eventually. My morale compass was too high to be the best salesperson in the room, but I did use the time to learn how to become better at it.

As time went on, I worked on improving my technique. The first few moments on the call matter, you need to balance your tone correctly for your audience and say exactly the right words to convince them to stay on the call. From then on in the first few minutes are a balancing act of getting them to open up by asking questions, but also providing sufficient information to inspire them to continue on the call with you. Everyone says they are too busy, but we are all so very polite and like to ask. This is fine when you know the person and they know you, once a relationship is formed then they will likely dedicate time for you. When a person doesn’t know you then you are way down in the pecking order of importance. With any initial sales call, especially outbound, you have less than a minute to convince them, in fact, (even without data to back it up) I envisage that the success of a call be determined within the first few minutes, statistically speaking.

I’m by no means saying that there is only one way to do so, this should be tailored according to what works best for you and for the person you are talking to. Know your audience and understand who you are speaking to prior to the call. CompaniesHouse.gov.uk has information about the owner, age and sometimes address, by searching for their name on Google, you can find information to help you form a picture in your mind as to who you are speaking with. However, with this said, there was always a balance to be had, too much time researching is too little time talking to people and in sales the minutes count. As I say to many people, you can be the best composer in the world, but if no-one hears your music, then can you really be defined as the best? A successful company is not simply solely defined by the amount of sales that it makes, but it is certainly one of the most important metrics. Without a certain number of sales (and these must be profitable sales) then money and time cannot be spent on other areas of the business. My point being that there is a maximum amount of time that you can invest in something before you are no longer able to recoup that time with the output.

Your tone matters and thus so does your body position, if you slouch, this affects your diaphragm and just like with singing this compromises the quality of your speech. You need to speak with sufficient volume, but not too much and at a pace (in order to get your point across in a limited time), but again not too quickly. It is a balancing act and there is no individual metric for success. The key thing in sales is selling something of benefit. It’s not ‘sales’ in the negative sense if someone wants or needs something to improve some aspect of their life.

Since the sales role, I’ve worked for a couple of other agencies, one small agency that could barely be regarded as a company, this one sold too much and under-delivered (I shall tell more about this another time) and another that didn’t sell sufficiently and over-delivered due to incorrectly defined processes and inconsistent offerings. It was only at the latter job, at the PLC, that I was defined as an Account Manager. With this said, it was my unique combination of Sales, Market Research and multiple other roles that have enabled me to have a wide-ranging perspective on Account Management and to some degree be placed in position

Just to clarify, I do not see Sales and Account Management as one in the same, however, I do see the two roles as being very closely connected. Many skills from Sales can be used in Account Management and vice-versa.

In closing, following on from this post, I am going to posting a serious of smaller posts on “The Ultimate Guide to Key Account Management”. This stems from an 11000 word guide that I’ve been working on for our team during recent weeks. I welcome any thoughts, perspectives and feedback that you might have.