Business Maverick


Dearth of a (good) salesman: There is an art to selling when done right, says entrepreneur extraordinaire Richard Mulholland

Dearth of a (good) salesman: There is an art to selling when done right, says entrepreneur extraordinaire Richard Mulholland
From left: Startup entrepreneur and bestselling author Nic Haralambous | Leadership expert Rich Mulholland. (Photos: Supplied)

Richard Mulholland believes that the act of selling is ‘beautiful and not crass’ when done right — involving two parties, a business and a customer, getting value and feeling they have both won at the end of a sales process.

The act of selling generally has a bad reputation, especially when it is not done right. 

The mere thought of salespeople often conjures up negative emotions as they are perceived as being relentless and annoying in their dogged pursuit of a sale. Think of all those unsolicited calls you have received from phone companies or insurance providers trying to persuade you to invest in a new product. There’s a reason people don’t answer calls from unknown numbers.

But entrepreneur Richard Mulholland believes the act of selling is “beautiful and not crass” when done right — involving two parties, a business and a customer, getting value and feeling they have both won at the end of a sales process. 

“If you want to only make money through a sales process, I don’t think you will motivate the right type of sales and salespeople in your business. You won’t motivate the right type of thinking,” says Mulholland. 

He believes that a sales process should involve understanding the problems plaguing customers and providing solutions to those problems. 

“We, as entrepreneurs, are trying to make money. But our job also involves making sure that we leave more value for the customer than what they paid for. If we leave every interaction like that, then we win because we are also selling our story about why we sell to the customer.”

Mulholland joined fellow entrepreneur Nic Haralambous in a Daily Maverick webinar on Wednesday about his newly published book, Here Be Dragons. The book is a comprehensive guide for using powerful storytelling techniques to change minds, drive sales and solve problems.

Storytelling is something Mulholland knows about because, as the founder of Missing Link Presentation Powerhouse (a video production company), he trains business executives to build a compelling sales narrative in which the customer becomes the hero of the story.

Mulholland’s new book is not only pitched at entrepreneurs, but is useful for navigating everyday situations.  

“At face value, the book is for salespeople. The first mistake people make is that they don’t realise they are salespeople (even though they are not in the profession). We are all trying to sell ideas, persuade people about our concepts and ideas to make people take action.  

“The book is even useful for anyone who wants to motivate for a raise or sell their ideas to other humans.”

Back to entrepreneurship. To improve their sales execution, Mulholland implores entrepreneurs to start by drafting what he calls a “story-seller manifesto”. The manifesto — much like a business vision or plan — should detail and help entrepreneurs understand their reason for existing and selling. 

Mulholland says a common mistake made by entrepreneurs is focusing mainly on driving up their sales volumes for profitability, and not the quality of sales or whether value is being created for the customer. In other words, the focus is often on the number rather than quality of sales.

“We shouldn’t be interested in selling for the sake of selling. Higher sales for a business aren’t the same as better sales. You probably need fewer and better clients than generating many sales. You need to make fewer better sales. People need to understand why they are selling. And if we understand the reason, we can solve a meaningful problem that our customers have.”

Instead of entrepreneurs and salespersons pursuing 100 different customers to conclude a sale, Mulholland says the focus should be on fewer customers. Targeting fewer customers and understanding their problems will give entrepreneurs a greater chance to provide solutions to their problems and ultimately get more business from them. 

If an entrepreneur has a “story-seller manifesto”, which is understood and embraced by salespeople, then the act of selling wouldn’t have a bad reputation. 

Sales, says Mulholland, will then be respected and held in high regard. DM/BM

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