Jon Farrington – Episode #120

by Richard Wilson on August 10, 2011

The following audio interview  is borrowed from our platform and was originally recorded for our sales training program.  In this interview, we get to hear from Jon Farrington, an expert in sales.  Jon is an author, thought leader, and business coach within the area of sales. His team is ran out of London and Paris and he helps his clients assess sales professionals and implement sales best practices within their own business.  (Download this file in Mp3 format)

Interview Transcript: 

Ashley:             Hello everyone and welcome to Expert Audio Interview.  Today we are joined by business coach, mentor, author, consultant, and thought leader in sales space Jonathan Farington, Chairman of the JF Corporation and CEO of Top Sales Associates based in London and Paris, thanks so much for being here today Jon.

Jon:                  Absolutely my pleasure Ashley.

Ashley:             So what are you doing now, how is Paris and London?

Jon:                  Well, yeah I am actually switching between the two; we’ve got an office in bothLondonandParis.  Essentially JF Corporation we brought everything under one roof about 18 months ago, and if you could imagine the football field, so on the left field we have the JF brand which is my blog, my consultantacy, candidate assessments, and all of that good stuff.  And then right field are all of our online initiatives which we started almost 6 years ago.  So that is Top Sales World, which of course is the sales hypermarket, also professional.  We’ve got top 10 sales articles, last year we ornated the top sales awards and we held the first one last December, so that’s becoming an annual event, and currently we are working on a new project called sales leadership zone which will be specifically for sales leaders, sales managers, team leaders, anyone involved in managing groups or teams of sales people, so that’s quite a [inaudible 01:21] and that will launch around about July, and then finally which is interesting to ask this question, because I just finished a call, I’m writing a new book with Linda Richardson and Kenta Rosen which is aimed at sales leaders and that should be on the bookshelf, hopefully in the bookstore by December.  So apart from that I’m really leading quite a sedentary life.

Ashley:             And you’ve had other books published as well right?

Jon:                  No I’ve not had any hardbacks at all, what I have concentrated on was e-books and I’ve got about 22 e-books out, and I mean something like 1,000 articles, but this will be my first book and then following that next year I am going to follow it up with another one called ‘Tougher at the Top’ so exciting, I’ve got them both now.

Ashley:             Right so how did you get to where you are now, I mean I’m assuming you weren’t always this good at sales as you are today, is there a time you weren’t as good?

Jon:                  Well absolutely there’s always a time when anybody is never good, they end up being and it’s simply, really simply how much you want to be successful, and my story is very simple.  I went to university and I didn’t want to go into farming.  My father was a farmer, my family is a farmers so I agreed that I would become a surveyor, and because that was always the right thing to do, and in those days surveying—the surveying department was part of the state agent, in other words the [inaudible03:00] you called them.  And what I noticed one day after that three months toiling with my exams, I noticed that the guys that were actually selling property were earning far more money than me, and were driving faster and smarter cars.   So I thought you know it really can’t be that difficult, and it was quite interesting because I took to it, like a duck to water and [inaudible03:24] did it.  Within 9 months another realtor became available was up for sale, and so I went to my father and asked him if he would lend me the money to buy it, he said okay I’ll come along and have a look, he said yep okay, and so he bought it for me.  I was very fortunate and so there I was I had been in sales for 9 months and now I’ve got my own business, so we expanded quickly within 2 years and added another 6 offices, and then the time was right.  All the large insurance companies in theU.K.started buying realtor offices, and so I sold up, and that was just the right time to get into I.T. in theU.K.   So this was the early 80’s I guess, I went in at the ground floor all the way like to the ground floor and a contractor just brought out first laptop they called it.  I called it a luggable; it was the size of a small sewing machine. IBMjust brought out the first desktop, the PC 64 which had one floppy drive, no hard drive at all, and it was an exciting time.  So I spent the next 10 years working my way up in I.T. in sales, in sales management, V.P. sales, and then finally got into the board room, and then I entered into corporate life and I ended up working withIBM.  I worked with Anderson Consulting, [inaudible04:52] Industries.  And then in 1993 I decided I wanted to do my own thing, and that’s when I formed JF Consultants. [inaudible05:04]

Ashley:             So how did you become better?  Did you have a mentor, did you do a lot of training, what was your process in bettering yourself?

Jon:                  No to begin with I was self taught and I had some very, very basic ideas of what selling was all about, and the problem with that is if you enjoy a certain level of success, then you can continue to believe you don’t actually need anything, you don’t need any training, which of course is totally false.  For a number of years I continued with the skills that I had, which were natural, and I guess based on my own personality.  And someone told me at a very early age that people buy people they don’t buy products for sale, but if you bought the right personality you might be successful.  Now what’s actually happened over the last 30 to 40 years, 40 years ago people believed that personality sold, [inaudible 06:00] were very much [inaudible], because this is really what they were advocating and evangelizing about.  It’s all in the mind to be successful in sales.  Then we went through a period sort of like around about the 70’s, 80’s when process selling came to the force and in came the sort of [inaudible 06:24] target, Neil Rackman came in with spin, and then we all began to believe that this is the new, this was the new life itself, this was consultative selling, and then I think shortly after that someone came in and said actually it’s collaborative selling and then we all sort of jumped onto that bandwagon.  The point was though I think all of us that was serious about being successful in selling realized that we needed to veraciously digest this information as much as we could, and wants you start on that path it never ends.  Today I am absolutely still hungry for new knowledge, and it stays with you, and that’s one of the secrets to success.  And then so after we have the collaborative selling [inaudible07:12] arrived, people didn’t know exactly what it is, and I don’t think actually many people still know what it is.  My good pal Nidal Adelshien actually became the first person to coin the term in July 2006.  So that’s almost 5 years ago and in conversation with him again I said, okay are you any the wiser, and he said, no, no, no I’m not it’s still a philosophy it’s not something, it’s not tangible you can not describe it.  I said oh okay it’s a lot of people making a lot of money isn’t it?   And then of course along comes social media, so all of that blends in, but really if you go back to our initial point, and this is your question, I think only 5% of sales professionals today ever hit the peak of their selling parlous.  I think 80% of what I call everyone which is basic selling skills, traditional selling skills.  They sell products, they sell solutions, another 15% make it to level 2 and they become consultants and they sell business solutions, they sell profit—but only 5 % really, I think really make it, because they commit themselves and maybe devote themselves to being the very, very best.

Ashley:             Do you think that social media has made the sales industry easier or more difficult?

Jon:                  Well your help suggests, or should suggest it makes selling easier, but I think it’s a double headed monster.  I think it’s made sales people lazier, but it’s also made them more efficient than they used to be.  So where it would take you maybe two or three days to find the information that you needed about a certain company that was in the decision making process, decision making union, you know who are the real movers and traders in any company, what you can do now of course utilizing Jig Saw, utilizing LinkedIn, a whole host of solutions, I-Sell for example, you can get all that information within about 30 seconds so that the functions of the selling cycle or buying cycle depending on where you’re coming from, life has gotten so much more easier and we have to believe that it is more efficient, but like all good things you know I believe where it has taken a lot of the personal factor out of selling, and I’m not being old school when I suggest this, but I still believe that selling certainly at the top end, big tipper selling is a face to face phenomenon it really, really is.  People do not buy products and solutions when the playing field is so level, when prices are the same, people are selling the same way, if anything [inaudible 10:05] superior selling skills, superior personalities, and our ability to tailor and [inaudible 10:14] solutions specifically for the buyers needs.  I think that’s [inaudible10:17]

Ashley:             So in that sense does social media make it easier to create a better connection up front?

Jon:                  Well no not really, I mean you can find the names of the movers and the shakers you know the sea level lounge residents, it’s another thing all together to get through to them, to connect with them and make them want to meet with you, because you know as my good friend [inaudible 10:49] quite rightly said you know in today’s world buyers are even more busy and crazy than ever.  That’s the reality, so no I don’t think it helps you to connect, it just helps you with the processing that’s all.

Ashley:             I guess my question stemmed from the ability to really get to know someone more over social media, and reason being, because as a user of social media you share a lot more about yourself than you maybe ever would online, is that some tool that sales people can use to better know how to speak to customers or potential buyers?

Jon:                  Well I don’t think social media is ever going to improve communication skills. It will improve the volume of communication. And I think what’s important, I know lots of people, I’m not overly active on Twitter; I use it to connect with good buddies and I use it to see what they’ve got to say for themselves. Because my buyers, my customers aren’t on Twitter. It’s as simple as that. They use it as a social tool, they don’t use it as a commercial tool. Linkedin, completely different. All of my clients have a Linkedin profile. I’ve had, I’ve gained a lot of business by being on Linkedin, by people looking me up, seeing my profile, then contacting me. And asking me to contact them then. And actually, amazingly, I’ve also had a lot of people contacting me because they’ve read my blog. Quite often I receive an email that says Jonathon I read your blog every day and it’s really interesting, I really enjoy it, thank you very much and by the way can I talk about training my sales team?

But if you like, this is the wonderful thing, here’s a guy that is actually already sold on what I’ve got to say before I speak to him. Huge advantages from blogging. But I think the point I would make finally here, I think it’s very important that before we engage in lots of social media activity and we dive into Twitter and we dive here and we dive Facebook and wherever. But if we’re using it purely as a business aid, then we need to find out and ask our clients where they go and then that’s where we should go

Ashley:             Yeah I mean that’s how I found you was through your blog

Jon:                  Well there you go then

Ashley:             So aside from maybe technical training, are there other skills that you think are important for a sales person to have to be successful in the sales space?

Jon:                  Absolutely. I work with what I call the success formula. I’ve worked with this now for almost 35 years. And it [Inaudible 00:13:44] it’s the basis for all of my coaching, my evangelizing and my training and the formula is this; attitude, plus skills plus process plus knowledge equals success. Now, there’s a reason attitude comes at the front. If you could imagine a pyramid at the bottom the foundation is attitude because if we’re got the right attitude then we’re more likely to be prepared to go and gain the skills that we need to be successful. We’re more likely to adopt the process that we need to be in control of our daily selling life and of course we’re more willing to go and seek the knowledge. So attitude comes at the bottom. When you’ve got skills and there’s a whole gambit of skills depending on what level you’re selling at, so if you’re internal sales, external sales, consultative sales, collaborative sales, there will be a set of skills that you must put on board and of course they become much more sophisticated as you go further up the food chain.

Then there’s process, so we got attitude, we’ve got skills and then we have process. Now process brings us control and when you talk about process most people think CRM. Yeah of course CRM is very important but it goes beyond that. Process is all about personal time management, planning, all of those things. You have to be in control. A sales person that is not in control, will not be successful today. Not in today’s competitive environment.

And then finally that little bit at the top of our pyramid, that’s knowledge. Now, when you first say knowledge to sales people or sales managers, they go yeah, yeah, product knowledge. Well actually no, of course product knowledge is important. If you don’t know your product inside out, you’ve got no chance of being able to duct tale it to create a solution for your prospective client. It goes broader. It’s a much broader skill than that. It means industry knowledge, it means sector knowledge, it means industry knowledge, commercial knowledge, knowledge of your own company but it also means knowledge of yourself. Understanding your strengths, your limitations and what you need to move forward and move up to a higher level

Ashley:             How do you think a sales person can better work on those skills? Is there training they need to go through or do they simply need to read things? How do you think is a good approach?

Jon:                  Well what I like about your question is that you actually are suggesting that sales people should actually take responsibility for developing themselves and I like that idea.

In the old days, what sales people would do, is they would only ever get trained or accept any training or accept an expansion of their commercial bandwidth, if the company paid for it. Well you know, with all the cutbacks that we’ve seen in the most devastating financial meltdown in this century, companies are naturally cutting back because training now appears on the financial sheet as a cost. There is no tangible return. So the first thing a shareholder wants to see is a reduction in those sorts of costs.

So, sales people need to take full responsibility for their own training and developing. They need to work with the [Inaudible 00:17:02] in my view. If it’s to be, it’s up to me.

The great thing with the advance of the internet means that all the way around the internet there are resources available. There are article sites available, there are free webinars on a daily basis, I mean for example, our site top sales world; free podcasts, free articles, free interviews, free advice, anything you could possibly need.Readingbooks is still en vogue, it hasn’t gone out of vogue and with the whole host of books out there to read ad self improve. And that actually is one of the defining characteristics of the top five percent players that I was discussing earlier. One of the characteristics is an ability and a willingness to self develop

Ashley:             Now, I’m curious, is there one skill that you think is most important to master in sales?

Jon:                  That’s so difficult. I really should say to you no. There isn’t one skill because if you just focused on one skill and you ignored all the other essential skills, then you’re sure to fail. But if anything, I really do believe, people often say are successful sales people born or are they created? And I have to say this, they are created but they’re born in the sense that they have certain personality traits and characteristics. I don’t think you can be successful in sales if you’re a wilting flower, if you’re a retiring violent, if you don’t have a reasonably outgoing personality. I think it’s important. And I once said, about 20 years ago, I got together with a team of psychologists and we were creating a sales profile. What is it that makes a really successful sales person? And they were reading out a load of characteristics and said well this is what we assume; you’ve got to be cold hearted, you’ve got to be this and they got to one on the list and they said you’ve got to not like people. And I said what? And a psychologist said this. Well surely sales people don’t like people. And I said where did you get that from? He said well there’s always trying to con people. And I said oh my word, what very old fashioned views you have.

And that’s the point, if there’s one characteristic, you’ve got to like people, you’ve got to be interested in people and you’ve got to understand people and so develop your personality. It doesn’t matter about being liked. Sales people go well you know he’s going to buy from me, he likes me. No, people don’t buy from people they like, they buy from people they respect. That’s the important thing. So never worry about being liked and the best compliment a buyer can pay a seller, is to describe them as being professional. That’s the greatest compliment

Ashley:             Is there a different then between being respected and being personable or do you think the two go together?

Jon:                  Well personable to me sounds a little bit soft and weak frankly. Personable means nice and is there a more blander word than nice? It’s so un-descriptive isn’t it? whereas respected you go ok and you look for an extension to the dialogue. Ok so you are respected. What is it with people respecting you? It’s not a stand alone word and so many people in the world that I respect simply because they’ve earned my admiration for being what they are. They’ve either been skillful, they’ve been professional, they’ve been superior, whatever it is. So yeah, I don’t like personable I’m afraid

Ashley:             What makes your approach different than maybe what some standards are in the industry for sales, do you have a different approach?

Jon:                  Well I think everybody, all of my colleagues, I’m very fortunate to be working with, as part of my inner circle I call them, with about 60 of the top sales experts. And they’re not self styled sales experts. That’s always the secret. If somebody says to you so and so is a top sales expert, ask them who said so because if that’s how they describe themselves, they’re probably not. If other sales experts describe you as a sales expert or a guru then that’s the ultimate accolade, then it means something and it means your probably because if you were self styled, they would find you out. And I think all of them have got their own styles and they specialize in certain aspects. I mean my particular specialty is sales leadership and leadership. But I’m also passionate about customer care. I think my style is based on experience. As I described earlier, I started off in sales, I worked up to sales management, then VP sales, then I broke into the board room, I’ve been CEO, I’ve been chairman. And all of that gives you a certain level of experience. So rather than saying when you’re coaching and mentoring people, well this what you need to do. It’s so much more impactful to be able to say, this is what I did and these were the results and I’d like you to try it. It worked for me and it worked for XXX. I calculated to someone a couple of weeks ago, because somebody asked me question, well how many people have you trained Jonathon and the fact is since 1993, I’ve actually trained more than 70,000. All of that gives you experience, so from a certain perspective, I would say, there is no substitute for experience but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be very good when you start out. Experience just gives you that little bit extra. And your style; your training and mentoring style becomes to a certain extent, anecdotal. And that’s always strong

Ashley:             Do you have a list of top three tips that someone could take away from you for being successful in sales?

Jon:                  Yeah. Success isn’t something you kind of sort or want to achieve, it’s something you have to achieve. The most successful people I know have expected to be successful and because they’ve expected it, they’ve sought out the people that can help them be successful. They’ve recognized the barriers earlier on and they’ve developed a plan or a strategy to get over those barriers and they actually want it and I do believe, I really genuinely do believe, that anybody can have anything they really want. You can’t have anything you want but you can have anything you really, really want. Because you want it so badly, you bring about it’s happening. So that’s the attitude, that would be the first one.

And the second one, we’re going back to my triangle and I apologize but it just works, develop your skills, seek out those that can help you develop your skills to become the best. Somebody’s got to be the best so why not you? That’s the reality. And thirdly, yes process is important and it does appear in my formula ahead of knowledge but certain harbingers of doom are suggesting that by the year 2020, 80 percent of today’s world sales population is going to disappear because of automation.

Which means that in theUnited States, right of today, there are 13 million frontline sales professionals. So that means that there are only going to be 2.6 million by the year 2020, if these forecasts are accurate. Now I don’t subscribe to them totally but there is some truth in it and we’re seeing it more in B to C, that we are in B to B. So I would say that the professional that survives and thrives will be the one that not only has the right attitude and the right skills but also have very deep knowledge of their particular market sector and their industry. So that when they talk to their clients, they are actually a specialist. And they can discuss industry issues, not just sales and marketing issues. But they would be my three tips for making it lots to come

Ashley:             Now, what about techniques? Is there a certain technique or a certain maybe soft skill that you think is most important to have when working in sales?

Jon:                  Well it depends, are you talking about starting up in sales or are you talking about becoming a top 5 percent achiever?

Ashley:             Maybe starting out more

Jon:                  The five essential basic skills that any sales person, whether they’re working in an internal sales position or an external sales position should contemplate on and they are negotiation, presentation, communication, business development and the personal element. If you can get those five things right as a starting point, then you’re on your way. I think they’re both so important

Ashley:             And maybe just to close, do you have one mistake that you’ve learnt from or something that you saw that has cost people thousands of dollars that could be prevented in sales? Is there some take away that you have there

Jon:                  Yes. It’s called assumption, the very best sales people never assume anything. They clearly work to earn the right to their customers business, the worst thing that happens is when sales people become complacent; oh well they’ve been buying from us for 12 months, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, they’ll give us a call if they need anything. And while we’re sitting there in our office with our feet up being terribly complacent and being very smug, that in fact we own this customer, of course our competitors are being very active and they’re getting in there. It’s like an relationship, it’s like a marriage, you cannot afford to be complacent and unfortunately what happens over time, when you think about a seller buyer relationship, right at the beginning, there’s loads of foreplay going on from the seller, they’ll do anything to get that business, there’s free meals and there’s meetings and they’ll drive to the end of the earth to get that meeting and they’ll give discounts here and they’ll do this and give free gifts and goodness knows what, just to get the order. As soon as the order is received, you see a slight decline in service and it’s complacency creeping in. And actually what’s happening from the buyer perspective is the complete reverse. Buyer’s enthusiasm for this relationship  increases, the happier they are with the products, the services and the solutions and the seller’s interest and enthusiasm decreases. And this creates a huge relationship gap. So the biggest and most important tip that I can ever give up and coming sales people, even established sales people; for goodness sake, always treat your clients with respect, never to become complacent and always work to earn the right. Always, always.

Ashley:             Great. Was there anything else you want to add Jon?

Jon:                  No! And of course you got me on my favorite topic and I can talk for absolutely hours and I just hope I’ve been able to answer your questions as knowledgably as you’d hoped for

Ashley:             You have, thanks so much Jon

Jon:                  Thanks so much indeed Ashley

Ashley:             Take care, bye



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