When people are asked to describe what elements are needed to set up a company, the answers often tend to come in boxes – a leadership box, a finance box, a manufacturing box and a selling box.
However, in today’s multichannel world, traditional methods of operating a company and marketing and selling its products have changed. The very definition of each department has altered beyond what people in the mid 20th century would have thought of as normal.
The UK public relations industry has always nervously eyed the role of sales in its organizational structure because, well, we should walk the talk. We should attract new business by doing what we do best, which is raising our brand and our profile through the subtle art of media management and influence.
But if all of your competitors are also doing this, how do you become “different”? How do you stand out?
Phil Lewis runs a management consultancy called Corporate Punk. Every day, he meets expert leaders seeking to plow a different furrow. Looking for new ways to shape their business and improve its position through a clever retooling of the company collective mindset.
I asked Phil whether it was possible to create a culture of selling across an entire organization, tailored for the 21st Century. How does he help companies take a different view of their commercial ecosystem and help them to make the best of it and have his entire team on board?
Years ago, when we first met, you were looking after strategy for an advertising agency. Even then, your focus on the intent and purpose of any campaign was refreshingly different. How does this approach parlay into the bigger picture of management consultancy and what is Corporate Punk’s ‘special sauce’?
“I’m not sure we could have developed our approach without our collective creative industry experience. Watching agencies succeeding and failing to bring the creative and innovative best out of their people over many years was the inspiration behind Corporate Punk.
“Traditional management consultants interpret people as figures in a spreadsheet. Rational units who work in uniform ways. Robots needing a tune-up! That was fine in the 20th century, where success was driven by efficiency – by optimising performance on the factory floor. But these days success is driven by increasing revenues not decreasing costs, and by competing on differentiators other than price. That means that the humanity and creativity of people is most business’s biggest asset. Most management consultancies have no idea how to maximise this. We do.”
How does a company maximize its potential to attract new business and grow in an increasingly noisy cluttered marketplace?
“You have to be unafraid to be radically different. That doesn’t mean looking different, it means behaving differently to everyone else. The world does not need another mediocre creative industry or consulting business.
“Take your convictions to their end point: explore them, state them firmly, and build what you do around them. Most businesses lack the courage to do this. In turn, they end up missing their mark. People think that it’s brave to be different. I’d argue it’s braver to be bland: your survival chances are lower.”
What do you think has been the biggest millstone for companies that traditionally rely on their sales people to be its only selling tool?
“Businesses only have two functions; to make things and to sell things. These are company-wide responsibilities: if you are not doing or supporting one or the other (occasionally both), you are not really contributing. People’s failure to grasp this fundamental truth is a major millstone in my experience. Within the creative industries, a belief that selling is not critical to success – or that it’s someone else’s responsibility – has long held many businesses back.”
How does a company get all of its employees to buy in to the idea of being part of its selling culture, and what are the advantages of doing so?
“I remember hearing Alan Weiss, a famous US consultant, describing selling as ‘identifying whether we have an opportunity to contribute’. And that was a major lightbulb moment for me. I went from perceiving sales as a grubby, ‘wide boy’ style endeavour to a process that can be genuinely additive to both parties involved. Overnight, it pretty much cured me of my fear of selling.
“Businesses that have a strong and healthy sales culture are those that can mobilise most effectively to achieve new, interesting and disruptive things. Find a successful disruptor that can’t sell! No-one at Corporate Punk gets away without selling. And they wouldn’t want to. That’s how it should be.”
When employees tell you “I’m not a sales person” or “I can’t sell” how do you respond?
“Seek to understand what’s driving their fear of sales – because fear is all that’s holding them back. Fear of rejection is the most common problem. But if the sales process is about identifying opportunities to contribute, then by definition it’s two-way. A client that needs your contribution will rarely reject you if that need is clear. A client that doesn’t need your contribution is one that you should be happy to walk away from. Fear plays no part in that equation.”
Companies love to say “We’re different” but it’s often the case that they are all saying the same thing. How do you help companies to identify their unique elements and turn them into selling points?
“I think it starts with understanding what – if anything – an organisation is doing that is genuinely different. Difference can’t come from personality or promises; it is only driven by expertise and experience. In my mentoring practice I work with agencies and other creative businesses who need to uncover this. You might be surprised by the extent to which companies bury, ignore or walk away from their actual points of difference. That’s another common way that fear shows up.”
What gives you the most reward when you have completed a project?
“I only care about the answer to one question: were things better as a result of my and the team’s involvement? I don’t care how hard the journey is, if the answer’s yes, that’s reward enough for me. Corporate Punk is my attempt to cut away everything that doesn’t directly deliver that outcome. “
There is a maxim in the world of sales that goes “Always be selling”. In this commercial world of multiple, noisy routes to market, PR agencies need to create not just a point of difference in their communications, they need to create a point of difference in their mindset; the whole approach to the generation of new prospects and opportunities.
That difference comes when a company has a visible personality and – to quote another sales aphorism: “The buyer buys the seller, not the salt”.
Phil Lewis runs Corporate Punk, a management consultancy… that isn’t. Because it doesn’t slash for efficiency. It helps clients build for innovation, resilience, growth. Instilling agility, embedding better, happier ways of working. You can contact him on 07972 143966 or by email.