How to sell when you're not a salesperson

CFO James Brazier's new role at Billion Dollar Boy involved sales. How hard could that be?

by James Brazier
Last Updated: 13 Mar 2020

I joined Billion Dollar Boy, a fast-growing marketing agency with a focus on influencers, twelve months ago as group CFO.  My professional experience up until that point had been predominantly in accounting but more recently in strategy at BT, a role in which I built partnerships with other companies. 

With this experience behind me I assumed I would be able to do a great job of both CFO and sales person for my new employer. However, upon joining Billion Dollar Boy I realised that it wasn’t going to be quite so plain-sailing. 

In week one of my new job I strode into my very first sales meeting, armed with my laptop and a pitch deck to which I had already made some upgrades. I proceeded to do what I thought was an amazing job – a slick presentation entirely steered by the order and content of the slides in my deck.  

Then the questions started, and they kept coming.  I could answer a small number adequately but for the most part I didn’t know where to start and it all began to fall apart. Thankfully I knew the person quite well and I could tell she was giving me an easy ride.  If I hadn’t been already acquainted with her, she could very easily have punched many more holes in what I was saying.

An hour later I left the meeting feeling a little flushed, with a rather different view of sales and of my ability as a sales person. I saw I would have to quickly adapt my thinking and approach significantly, with one of the main challenges being to get over my own pride.  

Over the past twelve months I have spent a lot of time with our CEO, Ed East, including in sales meetings.  He is naturally a very good people person – he’s very easy to warm to and to trust - but he’s also worked hard to adapt that instinctive ability into a powerful business tool.

My overarching conclusion from the time I have spent with Ed is that "people buy people" – they do not buy a formulaic sales pitch from someone who barely knows the product or the brand.  This means that the very best way to convince the person sitting opposite you to buy your product is to show them that you love the product and you really believe in its benefits. 

In order to do this you have to start your pitch by staying quiet, which might seem counter-intuitive.  Let them tell you what they need before you start selling, and then be ready to change your pitch at the drop of a hat. You will only be able to do this, as I discovered in my first meeting, if you know your product inside-out, if you know a wealth of case studies for that product and if you know your brand and its values and believe in those values yourself.

Finally and crucially, do not rush into any meetings before you can do all of these things very well. Rushing will only slow you down and leave you feeling like I did after my first go.

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