Lara Morgan is one of the UK’s top sales people and knows a thing or two about tense trade negotiations. In 1991, at the age of 23, she started her first business, selling luxury amenities to the hotel trade, learning to broker deals around the world, before selling the company for £20 million in 2008.
You sold your business nearly 10 years ago. What are you involved in now?
I’ve invested in a range of businesses, which I support and mentor. My core focus is Scentered.me, a mindfulness, lifestyle and wellbeing therapy brand.
I’m also invested in Gate 8, a travel-friendly luggage business; Kitbrix, which is a sports bag organiser; Dryrobe, an outdoor sports robe that allows people to get changed and stay warm, and Global Amenities Direct, an accessory manufacturer consulting with hotels on how to make a remarkable impact through products.
Do you still help them to sell?
Yes, I make introductions and attend big meetings, especially if by attending I can help move the process forward. The aim is to help my investments build a strong niche in the market and to ensure the strategic direction is original, innovative and that we have traction.
Pacific Direct, the business I started more than 25 years ago, sold in 110 countries, so I have come up against most of the issues these businesses might face at this stage in their development. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a lot of experience, with a particular expertise in export growth and sales motivational leadership.
What kind of sales mistakes do growing businesses make?
A lot of entrepreneurs get caught up in the bright lights of running a business and sometimes they forget the basics. They love their products and the attention these bring, but are they really making sales?
Social media has increased the problem. People talk about how lovely people are being on Twitter or Facebook, but they need to convert that goodwill into money or it’s valueless.
I have caught myself doing this before. It’s easy to get distracted by praise but you have to strike a balance between new marketing channels and the old-fashioned process of hardcore sales meetings and actually asking for orders, monitoring the pipeline and conversions quality, and determining best value by costing excellence.
It’s important that businesses allow sales people the freedom to negotiate. For that, you need to make sure that they know what they can use as bargaining chips and that they understand the profit impact when they give without getting back.
It’s also vital to know that repeat customers are priceless: retention time matters.
Absolutely. Ultimately, I’m a sales person and I can sell you anything. But I will sell you something of value, at a better margin and I’ll make sure you need it before I offer it to you. I’ll sell it to you at the start of an appropriate and beneficial long-term relationship.
People I sold to 20 years ago are happy to have me back because they know I never sold them something that turned out to be useless. That’s how you build a good reputation and win repeat business. Business gets easier when a sales person works tirelessly to be the expert in his or her field.
Are you a born sales person?
Not really. I’ve practised my art a lot and learned a few critical things. When you show a buyer a product, you present it as a value proposition. It’s a conversation – not a chat – about what it can do for them. I go by an old adage: ‘Features tell, benefits sell.’ I’m a good sales person because I’ve learned to sell benefits.
Always remember the person usually buys for themselves first, so know who the decision-makers are, and what the chain of events and timing are on the deal, so you have fully qualified priorities.
Did you know this when you went to your first sales meeting?
There is a huge advantage to being naïve. When I was 18, I was given a list of the top 500 businesses in Hong Kong and told to sell some promotional giveaways. I was at least smart enough to realise I was better off listening than talking, because I knew nothing.
All I did was listen to my customers’ challenges and then I could solve them, because sales should be a problem-solving industry. Anybody who assumes they know it all at the start will fall on their face.
You’ve sold in a lot of countries. Did you change your approach every time?
Every country, every time. I always learned a little about the country and its traditions because I was selling their industry, not mine. I made zero assumptions, had my eyes open and was willing to learn. Each scenario was different.
Today you can get a lot of information from the internet but 20 years ago, for me, it was taxi drivers. When I arrived in a new country I wanted to know about the best hotels, the new ones, so I would ask the guy who was driving me around. Nobody tells you stuff like that at sales school!
What are your top three tips for effective selling?
1 Provide regular training for you and your sales team, both internal and external. The amount sales people can learn from each other’s experiences in the field is unbelievable. Shadow others to learn.
2 Study the competition. Never knock the competition in sales meetings but know what you’re selling against and nail down the benefits of your products over theirs.
3 Never knowingly break a promise. It’s heartbreaking for a sales person to guarantee something and then the supply chain lets you down. Making sure that doesn’t happen comes back to planning before and after you approach someone to sell them something.