AS a schoolboy, I captained my school’s “B” side field hockey team. I would be the first to agree that I was a lousy player. The only thing going for me as captain was that the other players were all marginally worse than me. So by default, I was chosen to lead the team against other school teams. As I say, my side was the “B” team made up of 11 boys who would never be good enough to get into the “A” team or represent their school in any major championships.

As team captain, I had the opportunity of working with one of the school’s more sensible and approachable teachers. He would patiently turn out and watch our weekly practice sessions and was always on hand to provide words of encouragement to both individuals and the team.

After a run of four or five matches in which we were soundly trounced, it became apparent that the chance of winning any of our forthcoming games was, at best, remote. So, before the next game, I devised a cunning plan (at least it was cunning in my mind). I convinced myself that all of the players were heartily sick of losing and I could motivate them by taking away the expectation of winning? So before the next game, I told the team we would lose so we should strive to minimize losses by playing a defensive game. It came as a total surprise when the teacher soundly castigated me for a defeatist attitude towards the game. “After all,” he asked, “if you can’t project confidence in your team, how can you expect your team to put any effort into their game?”

We played the next couple of games and as expected, lost again. Our coach explained that there was nothing wrong with the team. Sure, we weren’t going to make the “A” side but then we weren’t playing against other top notch teams. Our matches were all scheduled against other “B” sides which, in truth, were no better or worse than we were. Believing that we could win and not being intimidated by the other teams was the first step to winning.

I would love to recount a happy ending to this story but regrettably, we finished the season not having won a single game. Nonetheless, we played hard and we enjoyed playing each of the subsequent games. What is more, we all approached each game with the belief that there was nothing to stop us winning.

One of my sales executives has just come back from Davao with a potentially large sale. Yet within a few short days of her return, we received news that the account might be lost to a competitor. Asked to follow up with the client, she made a couple of desultory phone calls and then reverted to me telling me we would almost certainly lose the account. Fortunately, I had one of my more senior team members in Davao early the following week and he visited the client.

Sure we had almost lost the account, but we had not lost it!

His approach to the client was that the business was, as far as we were concerned, in the bag. Any hesitation by the client or desire to award the contract elsewhere could be overcome by persistence, quality products, creative pricing, attractive terms, and a strong relationship. So it was that a few days later, we received a purchase order for a little under P10 million.

Some sales are going to be lost to cheaper competitors; to vendors who “incentivize” the purchase. But carrying this belief to a sales call is to court failure. A positive approach to selling is important. I used to be scathing about motivational sales training. I argued that telling people they were winners and pushing people to work harder was not a lasting way of guaranteeing top sales performance. I still believe that there is no substitute for effective selling skills. The salesperson who approaches clients in a professional manner and concentrates on identifying and meeting needs will always be more successful than the salesman who enthusiastically talks about his products and services (no matter how much he might want and expect to win the sale!). Nonetheless, a positive approach to selling and a firm belief that every sale can be won coupled with exemplary selling skills will go a long way to bringing in consistently better sales results.

Terry Hockenhull is a long term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant, and currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.

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