Little red book of sales: how the B2B seller can take a great leap forward!

I first came across Jeffrey Gitomer, a friendly and atypical sales star, at a conference in Exeter a few years ago. The first book which I read of his is the famous “little black book of connections”, a simple educational book which explains how the best sellers listen to their instincts, have confidence in their lucky star and believe in serendipity.

Jeffrey Gitomer
In this little black book, Gitomer humorously described how when a plane was coming in to land, he was persuaded to lend $50 to a rather unprepossessing individual who said he had lost his wallet. He claimed that he needed a bit of cash to get home. Gitomer gave him the money needed to take taxi and get to the other side of town, and handed over his business card, just in case. In all honesty, he thought he would never see the money again. A short while later he got a phone call from this person who, despite his modest appearance, turned out to be the boss of a large company. So Jeffrey Gitomer not only got his initial bet back, but he was able to work with this major boss, who had noted his business card and was interested in his profile.

From the little black book to the little red book

The main virtue of this work, apart from its entertainment value, is its insistence on the fact that a sales rep must never show his impatience. Quite the contrary – he must know how to wait and cultivate relationships before wanting to make even a penny in turnover. And in particular, never to approach important people as if he was a vacuum-cleaner salesman. Reading this little black book could only lead to another one, the “the little red book of selling”, a best-seller in the marketplace, which I’m proposing to analyse today, following the previous methods of selling which we have studied : SPIN Selling, Selling Fox and Solution Selling. Something to start off the year with the good resolutions of a patient, but nevertheless determined, seller.

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Jeffrey Gitomer

4 essential principles for a good seller

The little red book of selling is a reference work which has sold 3 million copies. In it Gitomer details with rare frankness 12 and a half principles for becoming an exceptional salesman. I’m not going to summarise his 12.5 principles in this article: one article would not be enough to go into all of them. Instead I’m going to detail the four principles which have had the greatest influence on my professional life, and which have changed my vision of selling for ever.

No. 1 – You are not selling a product, you are selling yourself

Neil Rackham said it in SPIN Selling: in a complex sale, the customer does not buy a product or a service, he buys the seller and their business relationship. Therefore, the name of the sales rep becomes a brand which he is promoting.

But what is personal branding ? In defining it, Jeffrey Gitomer draws our attention to three elements: create a [Grab your reader’s attention with a great quote from the document or use this space to emphasize a key point. To place this text box anywhere on the page, just drag it.]

demand for your product by channels other than the company’s advertising, establish yourself as an expert (and not a salesman), and get perspective, remove yourself from the fray and establish a new standard, being perceived as an innovator. Gitomer thus wonderfully defines social selling (and well ahead of the term becoming trendy).

This first point is very important, as it highlights the changes in the role of the sales rep as we know him today, when this job is undergoing (benefiting from?) major changes. The sales rep must become a partner, a consultant, and not simply remain a seller. He must support the customer and advise him, before thinking of the money. Giving before receiving is an effective means of building a reputation: by going beyond the simple role of seller, the sales rep positions himself as an expert whom customers will recommend to their peers.  Because the most important thing is not the number of people you know, but the number of people who know you.

 

No. 2 – Make your prospects laugh to create a good sales environment

Jeffrey Gitomer
For Gitomer, humour is a universal language, which nevertheless remains difficult to master perfectly. This point is essential: it is about the aim which Gitomer emphasises above all others, and repeats in all his writings: creating a good sales environment. Humour is a way of breaking the ice and creating a connection which goes beyond the simple seller-buyer relationship. Laughing is mutual approval, as Gitomer reminds us, and so is a sale. It is therefore a first step to success.

But humour is a double-edged sword, and Gitomer does make some recommendations: mock yourself on subjects such as some little personal faults, or experiences you have had, whilst keeping the tone light and subtle, OK. Mocking your contact though (or even worse, ethnic subjects) and repeating the same jokes, is not on. Because adding humour to sales doesn’t mean “telling jokes”: it is an extra bonus you can add to your “storytelling” (which for Gitomer is as important and effective as the sales pitch).

There is a tendency to think that humour is a gift, an innate quality that you either have or you don’t. For Gitomer, it’s a skill you can work on, and which takes time to master. Learning the techniques of a comedian, how to make a bland subject funny by observing comics, training yourself and testing out your jokes on family and colleagues – these are some of the ways you can make progress in this area.

No. 3 – If you are not talking to a real decision-maker, you have lost already

Jeffrey Gitomer
This is a subject on which Gitomer and I are in total agreement. You often hear complaints from sales reps such as “I can’t get access to the decision-maker”, or “he never calls me back”, or “she moved the appointment three times!”. For Gitomer, the reason is obvious: those people don’t have a lack of opportunity, they have a lack of skills. Fixing an appointment with a decision-maker is first and foremost about arousing their interest, creating a desire. If the customer is not interested, there is every chance that he will not turn up to the meeting. And in that case, the Solution Selling method which we have looked at in this blog is important, as flagging up a need to a prospect, and guiding him to a solution, is to arouse his curiosity and bring him towards a purchase. However, Gitomer advises being brief in the sales pitch: it’s not about leaving a message on the customer’s telephone, on a stand or at a side-event at a conference. First of all you sell an appointment, then a solution.

But with whom should you fix an appointment? Gitomer’s response is simple: always aim above the person you need to reach. “Should you make an appointment with the marketing director? No, I target the CEO.” The reason is that the number of sales made by a sales rep is proportional to the number of decision-makers he meets. Making an appointment with a person who then has to ask permission, is to take a risk, as the decision will be made internally without the sales rep being able to defend his offer.

It is therefore very important to sort out your contacts, and target the right person: updated databases will enable you to find the right contact to tackle at the right time. Sales Intelligence tools in effect greatly improve knowledge of the customer, and identifying the prospect you need and defining his context then becomes a lot simpler than before.

No. 4 – Do you want to succeed? Kick ass!

Jeffrey Gitomer
Fig. 1 : this drawing is freely inspired by an illustration in the Little Red Book of Sales<

It is the first principle which Gitomer lists, but I wanted to keep it to the end, because to me it’s the most important. You may well have read up on everything about sales, learned all the methods and techniques, but if you are not capable of self-discipline, none of it will help.

A lot of sales reps put the blame on other people to justify their own failure. But are they really irreproachable? Have they put their best efforts into achieving their goals? The best thing to do if you want to succeed is to set your ego aside and learn, try, fail and start again.

Everyone knows their own faults, knows what efforts to make and in what areas they need to improve. But not everyone is capable of getting up earlier in the morning and going to be later than other people to achieve their goals.

The little red book as an antidote to poor social selling

Jeffrey Gitomer’s little red book is interesting for a host of reasons, and reading it ought to be prescribed as a medicine for all “social selling” charlatans. On the one hand, true social selling is exactly what Gitomer describes. It can, and must, be based on professional networking tools, but it can also be done with a little black book in which you write the name of your contacts. The tool does not replace the method, it is only useful if the method is good. On the other hand, there’s no point at all in just collecting contacts like a workaholic. Be selective and aim for excellence. Furthermore, there are not millions of CEOs on LinkedIn.

Then, you have to be interesting, not the interested party. It’s quite difficult, and “social sellers” who share articles which they have neither written, read nor even understood, are not interesting. Finally, the act of selling requires energy, method and discipline. You have to apply yourself, work hard and not just shower the world with emails. Fewer emails in the inbox. Jeffrey Gitomer’s method is not particularly “digital”, it is a method of selling, is fairly direct and very clear. A good seller in the digital age will know how to read between the lines and apply the right tools at the right time.

So now you know what you need to do to become an exceptional sales rep. But do you have the will to do it?
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